All 49 members of the Washington State Senate joined today to send a letter to federal government leaders requesting resources and assistance with finding missing Native American women. This action comes after the Legislature approved HB 2951 during the recently completed 2018 session, which tasks Washington State Patrol with studying the issue that disproportionately affects indigenous women.
“Our state and nation has a major gap in reporting and directing resources to missing Native American women, which makes finding and keeping them safe more difficult,” said Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima. “While the bill passed in our state will begin focusing state resources on this problem, we need federal engagement to make any solution work.”
Washington State Patrol already manages a special unit for reporting and investigating missing persons. Efforts include a 24-hour reporting hotline, creation and distribution of missing person posters, and assistance for local law enforcement and families. However, these resources do not always reach Native American women, making it more difficult to track missing persons and provide adequate resources and support to families.
The legislation calls for Washington State Patrol to collect data on the number of missing Native American women in the state, identify unique barriers to providing effective state resources to these communities, and develop recommendations, including proposed legislation, to address the problem.
A recent Department of Justice report found that four-of-five Native American women experience violence in their lives, leading to a disproportionately higher rate of them going missing.
“The lack of resources and systems in place to protect Native American women make them more vulnerable to violence,” said King. “We’ve seen our neighbors in Canada undertake a national effort to address this problem, which is necessary to make this effort work in the United States as we know this issue goes beyond our Washington state border.”
Under the bill, which was signed into law by the governor on Thursday, Washington State Patrol and the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs must convene meetings with tribal and local law enforcement partners and work with federally recognized tribes to explore partnerships. Washington State Patrol would also work with the federal Department of Justice to increase information sharing and coordinate resources. A final report with results and recommendations would be due to the Legislature by June 1, 2019.
The letter sent today is addressed to FBI Director Christopher Wray, and was also sent to the president and all members of Washington’s congressional delegation.