The demand to address the widespread and long-standing issue of missing Native American women is growing in Washington state.
A day after Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill directing the Washington State Patrol to study ways to increase state resources for reporting and identifying missing Native American women, the state Senate released a letter asking the FBI to do more to address the issue nationally.
The letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray, signed by all 49 state senators, asks federal authorities to collect data on missing and murdered Native American women and share it with all law enforcement agencies. It was released to the public late last week.
“It is an issue that needs to be addressed not only in the state of Washington, but nationally,” said Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima.
A recent report from the National Institute of Justice found more than 80 percent of Native American women have experienced violence, while the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2016 homicide was the third-leading cause of death for Native American women between ages 10 and 24.
In 2009, the FBI concluded a two-year probe into the deaths of 16 women on the Yakama reservation from 1980 to 1993. An FBI spokesman said during that investigation that there may be as many as 32 unsolved cases on the reservation involving missing people and deaths.
In June, the FBI announced that remains found near White Swan in May 2016 were those of Felina Blanch Metsker, a Harrah woman who was reported missing earlier that year.
The bill signed by Inslee was sponsored by Gina McCabe, R-Goldendale. House Bill 2951 directs the State Patrol to work with tribal agencies and governments, and the governor’s Office of Indian Affairs to study how to increase state resources for reporting and identifying missing Native American women. It passed both houses unanimously.
McCabe said she became aware of the issue when a Native American constituent approached her, and after watching the movie “Wind River,” a fictional account of an investigation into the murder of a Native American woman.
At its conclusion, the movie notes there is no official count of how many Indian women are missing, McCabe said, which moved her to sponsor the bill late in the session.
The goal, McCabe said,is to create a database listing all missing women and to issue alerts when new ones are reported.
Yakama Nation Tribal Council Chairman JoDe Goudy was not available for comment on Friday.