Native Americans make up about 2 percent of Washington’s population, but statistics show that indigenous women face a peril that exceeds their slice of the population.
A recent report from the Washington State Patrol shows that Native American women account for 7 percent of the state’s reported missing women. And a study last year from the Urban Indian Health Institute found that Washington has the second-highest total among the states of missing or murdered indigenous women.
Still, the issue is not unique to Washington. Because of poor coordination between law enforcement, mistrust of authority that leads to underreporting, a lack of attention from the media, and a variety of other reasons, the plight of missing and murdered indigenous women has long been a blight on this nation.
Allowing cases to linger and failing to bring perpetrators to justice emboldens those who would commit violence in their community.
Washington has taken steps to begin addressing the issue. A law passed in 2018 enhances data collection and the tracking of cases, and a bill signed this year by Gov. Jay Inslee is designed to improve communication between tribal leaders and various state agencies.
In Congress, U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, has joined with two Democrats to introduce the House version of Savanna’s Act, named for a North Dakota woman murdered in 2017. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., is among three senators shepherding the bill in that chamber. Among other things, it would require annual consultation between U.S. attorneys and Native American tribes on sexual violence, training for tribal police, and rules for reporting and sharing crime data.
Those efforts, at both the state and national level, aim to correct decades of injustice that tears at the fabric of our communities.
The Washington State Patrol in recent months conducted 12 outreach forums around the state to help identify barriers to the reporting and investigating of disappearances, then compiled a 36-page report. A quote from the Native American Coalition in the report sums up the issue: “Missing and murdered indigenous women have disappeared not once, but three times – in life, in the media and in the data.”
It is time for that to change.