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Tacoma has high number of missing and murdered Native American women, report says

Lisa Earl (second from left) of Tacoma is comforted by Lucia Earl-Mitchell as they stand with Puyallup Tribal Council members (from left) David Bean, Annette Bryan and Clinton McCloud along with about 300 others during a rally to end police brutality on the Capitol steps in Olympia on  Oct. 20, 2016. Lisa Earl is the mother of Puyallup tribal member Jackie Salyers, who along with her unborn child, was shot and killed by a Tacoma police officer.
Lisa Earl (second from left) of Tacoma is comforted by Lucia Earl-Mitchell as they stand with Puyallup Tribal Council members (from left) David Bean, Annette Bryan and Clinton McCloud along with about 300 others during a rally to end police brutality on the Capitol steps in Olympia on Oct. 20, 2016. Lisa Earl is the mother of Puyallup tribal member Jackie Salyers, who along with her unborn child, was shot and killed by a Tacoma police officer. toverman@theolympian.com

A report ranks Tacoma sixth in the nation for cities with missing and murdered Native American women and girls.

Tacoma tied with Gallup, New Mexico in the report released Wednesday. Both cities had 25 cases. Seattle was No. 1 in the nation with 45 cases.

Tacoma’s numbers reflect 13 missing, 10 murdered and two unknown cases.

The study by the Urban Indian Health Institute, a division of the Seattle Indian Health Board, looked at data from 71 cities. It found over 500 cases where women and girls had gone missing or been murdered in urban areas.

Tacoma victims include then 2-year-old Teekah Lewis who disappeared from a Tacoma bowling alley in 1999 and Teresa Davis who went missing in 1973.

It also includes Puyallup tribal member Jacqueline Salyers who was fatally shot by a Tacoma police officer in 2016. The killing was ruled justified by Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist, a decision Salyer’s family disagreed with.

Murder is the third leading cause of death for Indigenous women, the report states. Though some of the cases in Wednesday’s report went back to 1900, two-thirds are from 2010-2018. The mean victim age was 29.

The report states that 71 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives live in urban areas.

The plight of missing and murdered Indigenous females has become a social cause in recent years in the United States and Canada. Those that seek to bring attention to the issue say it still doesn’t get enough public awareness.

Poor relationships between Indians and community institutions such as law enforcement and the media were cited in Wednesday’s report as a reason for incomplete reporting and lack of public awareness.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, joined Washington Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, along with other lawmakers to address the report’s findings at a press conference Wednesday in Washington D.C.

“We cannot remain silent while countless missing and murdered indigenous women and girls are being ignored,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer D-Gig Harbor. “This report shines a light on the crises happening in Tacoma and across the country.”

A law enacted in June requires the Washington State Patrol to work with the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs, tribes and others to improve the investigation of missing Indigenous women and management of information. A report is due to the Legislature by June 1.

Craig Sailor has worked for The News Tribune for 20 years as a reporter, editor and photographer. He previously worked at The Olympian and at other newspapers in Nevada and California.
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