A lawmaker from the Yakima Valley has renewed his plea for a federal cold case task force office in Central Washington focused on missing and murdered Indigenous women.
On Dec. 8, U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr and U.S. Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt requesting a cold case task force office for missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives be established in Yakima through Operation Lady Justice.
Newhouse recently sent another letter, to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland, to ask for their continued support in addressing the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women, according to a Wednesday news release. Native women have faced disproportionate rates of murder and violence for decades.
He also renewed his request for a cold case task force office in Yakima, saying it’s needed now more than ever. Native Americans represent 1.9% of the state’s population, according to 2019 population estimates by the U.S. Census, but account for 6% of Washington’s active missing persons cases.
“The actual number of missing Native Americans is likely much higher, as Native persons are often inaccurately reported or listed as white in law enforcement databases,” said a March 10 Washington State Patrol tribal liaison update, which cited the population statistics.
Dawn Pullin, a Spokane Tribe of Indians citizen, is the tribal liaison for Eastern Washington. Patti Gosch concentrates on the west side of the state.
Their update on the State Patrol’s blog, InsideOut, includes a link to the agency’s list of active cases of missing Indigenous people. It’s the first time the State Patrol has released a list of names and includes the missing person’s current age, date missing, reporting agency, case number and contact number.
Newhouse’s congressional district is home to the Colville Tribes and the Yakama Nation, two of the 29 federally recognized tribes in Washington. Dozens of women and men have gone missing, have been found murdered or have died mysteriously on and around the 1.3 million-acre Yakama reservation, which is in Yakima County and northern Klickitat County. Many cases are unsolved.
“There are currently 32 open cases of MMIW on or near the Yakama Nation reservation alone. Despite these sad and staggering numbers in our community, the closest Cold Case Task Force Office is currently located in Billings, Montana,” Newhouse wrote in his recent letter.
The cold case task force offices — staffed by the U.S. Department of Justice, the Interior Department and special agents from the Bureau of Indian Affairs — delve into past cases of MMIW and violent crimes on and around tribal lands.
Establishing one in Yakima would be a tremendous step forward, Newhouse wrote. He hopes the Cold Case Task Force, Operation Lady Justice and the work to address this crisis will remain a top priority for the Biden administration.
“We must continue working to ensure Native American women will no longer face violent crimes that go uninvestigated or unsolved, and that work must begin in the communities most affected,” he said.