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Task force on missing indigenous women proposed to continue

by BY RENEE DIAZ/WASHINGTON STATE JOURNAL/WNPA
| March 13, 2023 5:07 PM

OLYMPIA — A state task force on missing indigenous women, created in 2021, will be extended at least two more years if a Senate-passed bill is approved by the House and governor.

The bill, Senate Bill 5477, sponsored by Sen. Nikki Torres, R-Pasco, would implement recommendations identified in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Task Force.

“Crimes against indigenous people, especially women and children, have continued to plague our state and our nation,” said Torres. “Despite making up only 2% of our population, 136 indigenous people in our state have been identified as missing by the Washington State Patrol. That’s as of January. This is unacceptable.”

The bill is part of the Legislature’s efforts to identify the root causes of the number of Native Americans who have turned up missing or murdered in Washington, Torres said.

The Task Force consists of members from the Senate, the House of Representatives, federally recognized Indian tribes in Washington, the Seattle Indian Health Board, the NATIVE project, the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, the American Indian Health Commission, the Governor’s office of Indian Affairs, Attorney General’s office, leadership in law enforcement, lawyers and indigenous women or family members who have experienced violence.

Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, Sen. Ron Muzzall, R-Oak Harbor, and Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, are current members of the task force.

“Over the last two years, listening to the families share their tragedies has been a very powerful experience,” Dhingra said.

According to a 2021 report from the National Congress of American Indians, Native American women face murder rates almost three times those of non-Native women, with an alarming 80% or more having experienced violence.

The bill requires law enforcement agencies to enter a missing person case into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. If a missing person is not found within the first 30 days of the initial report or if an investigating agency suspects criminal activity, law enforcement agencies must enter a missing person case into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

“We owe it to these families to not only identify solutions to this ongoing problem but to implement those solutions as quickly as possible. That’s what this bill is about,” Torres said.

The Task Force has worked with Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Whatcom County, on House Bill 1177, to create a cold case investigations unit in the state Attorney General's Office.

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