Proposal Would Create Alert System For Missing Indigenous People

Above Photo: People Gather Outside The Yakama Legends Casino Events Center In Toppenish, Wash. Before The First Meeting Of The State’s New Task Force For Missing And Murdered Indigenous People On Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021. Emree Weaver / Yakima Herald-Republic File.

Washington State – A bill proposed in Olympia would create an alert system for missing and murdered Indigenous women and people, the first of its kind in Washington and the United States.

House Bill 1725 would create an alert to help identify and locate missing Indigenous women and people. Similar to “silver alerts” for missing vulnerable adults, it would broadcast information about missing Indigenous people on message signs and in highway advisory radio messages when activated, as well as through news releases to local and regional media, according to a news release from state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

It would be the first alert system specifically for missing and murdered Indigenous women and people in the country, the news release said.

State Reps. Debra Lekanoff, D-Bow, and Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, are sponsoring the bill, which they are working on with Ferguson. The bill was pre-filed for introduction Monday.

Lekanoff is on the executive committee of the new state task force on missing and murdered Indigenous women and people. Task force members will assess systemic causes behind the high rate of disappearances and murders of Indigenous women and people, Ferguson said in announcing the task force.

The 23-member task force had its first official meetings on Dec. 2-3, which were hosted by the Yakama Nation and included an in-person listening session at Legends Casino in Toppenish.

Of the 110 people on the Washington State Patrol’s list of missing Indigenous people, 27 have ties to the Yakama Nation or Yakima area in Central Washington. Many cases are unsolved. The historic crisis extends throughout and beyond the United States.

“Too many Indigenous mothers, sisters, wives and daughters have been torn from their families and their children raised without mothers,” Lekanoff said in the news release. “This crisis impacts every one of our families and communities and it takes collaboration among all governing bodies, law enforcement and media to bring awareness and stop these horrific crimes.”

Indigenous women and people go missing and are murdered at rates higher than any other ethnic group in the United States. In Washington, more than four times as many Indigenous women go missing than white women, according to research conducted by the Urban Indian Health Institute in Seattle.

Alert systems, especially when combined with widespread social media attention, can bring fast and positive resolutions to what could be dangerous or fatal situations for those who go missing. Washington is one of 37 states with a “silver alert” system for missing vulnerable adults, according to the news release. States that report data on “silver alerts” report a high success rate.

“The rate of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Washington is a crisis,” Ferguson said. “We must do everything we can to address this problem. This effective tool will help quickly and safely locate missing Indigenous women and people.”