MMIP gathering in Toppenish

People listen to Cissy Strong Reyes speak about her sister Rosenda Strong during a gathering for missing and murdered Indigenous people Friday, Feb. 18, 2022 at Pioneer Park in Toppenish, Wash.

In the year since the Washington State Patrol released its first public list of active cases of missing Indigenous people, the tribal liaisons who update it have adjusted its content, organization and presentation.

The list released March 1 shows another change. It includes the names of 15 people reported missing who were located in February, noted State Patrol tribal liaison Patti Gosch. She works with Dawn M. Pullin, a Spokane Tribe of Indians citizen and the tribal liaison for Eastern Washington.

Of the 15, four were missing from the city of Yakima and the Yakama Reservation. Two people reported missing from Yakima and two reported missing to Yakama Nation Tribal Police were found.

It’s the first time the State Patrol has included the names of missing Indigenous people who were located.

There are 105 active cases of missing Indigenous women and men on the March 1 list. The names include 26 women and men reported missing within the Yakama Reservation and in Yakima County. The Toppenish Police Department has one case; there is one with the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office, two with the Yakima Police Department and 21 cases with the Yakama Nation Police Department. The 26 include one case with the Klickitat County Sheriff’s Office. The reservation boundaries extend into Klickitat County.

They are among dozens of Native women, men and children who have gone missing, have been found murdered or who have died mysteriously on the approximately 1.3 million-acre Yakama Reservation over decades.

The State Patrol’s list is provided by the National Crime Information Center, or NCIC. The computerized index of missing persons and criminal information is accessible by criminal justice agencies and can be a crucial tool. “We recognize how important it is to enter all missing into NCIC since June of 2020 because people are being recognized as missing and are being located,” Pullin said in an email.

Authorities in Washington state began entering missing persons cases into NCIC on a regular basis after passage of 2020 legislation known as Cody’s Law. It was named for Cody Turner, who has been missing since late July 2015. His mother, Michelle Joe, is an advocate for missing people and their families.

Along with working with Washington’s 29 federally recognized tribes, Gosch and Pullin get the list from NCIC and work to update it in response to questions and input from tribal citizens throughout the state.

“It’s been a very beneficial communication tool between the Washington State Patrol tribal liaisons and tribal law enforcement and the public,” Pullin said. “The public will reach out to us to clarify and inquire. As a result, the information published on our website is improved and more accurate.

“Just recently, for example, tribal law enforcement replied to our missing list and let us know that a juvenile on the list was not missing, but was incarcerated and, as a result, our missing list has been reduced by one. That is one example at how WSP is going to chip away at the list.”

Initially, the State Patrol released its updated list of missing Indigenous women and men once a month, then moved to twice a month. That made a noticeable difference, Pullin said. “We noticed that the more frequently we published the list, the lower the numbers and they dropped,” she said.

Technical issues prevented its publication for a few months, then Pullin and Gosch began requesting the list directly from the NCIC to ensure an updated list would be published at least once a month.

She and Gosch have also worked to ensure the list is as complete as possible. Getting accurate data about missing Indigenous people remains a challenge; until the past few years, numbers weren’t available at all. Racial misclassification is also an issue. Gosch and Pullin have added missing people after confirming they are Indigenous, and remove others as necessary.

They also began adding people who have been reported missing from other states who have a connection to Washington state tribal communities or are acknowledged by the tribal government. The first was Leona Sharon Kinsey, a Puyallup tribal citizen who was living in La Grande, Ore., in late October 1999 when she disappeared.

Gosch and Pullin would have to be notified, though, “because we cannot access out-of-state data and do not have a way of identifying these missing,” Gosch has said.

It’s important to keep the missing visible, Pullin said.

“We cannot find what we cannot see,” she said.

Reach Tammy Ayer at tayer@yakimaherald.com or on Facebook.

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