Washington Governor Jay Inslee on Thursday signed into law a bill that creates the nation’s statewide alert system for missing Indigenous people.
The law creates a system similar to Amber Alerts and so-called Silver Alerts, which are used for missing children and vulnerable adults respectively in many states.
The system will notify law enforcement when there is a report of a missing Indigenous person. It will also place messages on highway reading signs, radio and social media, and provide information to the news media.
The law attempts to address a crisis of missing Indigenous people — particularly women — in Washington and across the United States.
Although it includes missing men, women and children, a summary of public testimony on the legislation notes that “the crisis began as a women’s issue, and it remains primarily a women’s issue.”
Unknown number of missing women
A 2021 report by a government watchdog found that the true number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the United States is unknown due to reporting issues, distrust of law enforcement, and jurisdictional disputes.
But Indigenous women face murder rates nearly three times higher than white women overall — and up to 10 times the national average in some places, according to a 2021 summary of existing National Congress research. American Indians. More than 80% have suffered violence.
In Washington, more than four times as many Native women go missing than white women, according to a study conducted by the Urban Indian Health Institute in Seattle, but many such cases receive little or no attention from the authorities. media.
An alert system will help alleviate some of the problems with investigating missing Native persons by allowing better communication between tribal, local and state law enforcement and creating a way for law enforcement to report those cases to other organizations.
The law also expands the definition of “missing person in danger” to include Indigenous peoples, as well as children and vulnerable adults with disabilities or memory or cognitive problems.
Other states act
This action is the latest action taken by the state to address the issue. The Washington State Missing and Murdered Women and Indigenous Peoples Task Force is working to coordinate a statewide response and held its first meeting in December. Its first report is expected in August.
Many states, from Arizona to Oregon to Wisconsin, have recently taken action to address the crisis of murdered and missing Indigenous women. Efforts include funding better resources for tribal policing to creating new databases specifically targeting missing tribal members. Tribal law enforcement agencies that use Amber Alerts for missing Native children include the Hopi and Las Vegas Paiute.
In California, the Yurok Tribe and the Sovereign Bodies Institute, a Native-led research and advocacy group, uncovered 18 cases of missing or killed Native American women in the past year in their recent work — a number that they consider it a vast undercount. An estimated 62% of these cases are not listed in state or federal missing persons databases.