Family, friends of woman missing from Wapato plead for information

Kathryn Schwartz of The Dalles, Ore., holds up a missing person poster with information about her niece, Rachel Norris, who has been missing since her apartment in Wapato burned early Nov. 14. On the left is Samantha Miller, a friend and co-worker of Norris' at Legends Casino. To the right is Yakama historian and scholar Emily Washines, an advocate for missing and murdered indigenous women and their family and friends.

For women and girls on the Yakama reservation, the threat of terror and violence has been a harsh reality for too many generations.

Go to the Herald-Republic’s website and find our special section on missing and murdered indigenous women, The Vanished. It’s not light reading. The introduction to the section alone might keep the reader up at night, haunted by grim fact stacked upon grim fact.

“A report from the National Institute of Justice found that more than 4 out of 5 Native American women have experienced violence in their lives,” the introduction notes. “In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control reported that homicide is the third-

leading cause of death among Native American women between the ages of 10 and 24. The Department of Justice has reported Native American women are 10 times more likely to be murdered than other Americans.”

The Herald-Republic’s current list of murdered, missing and mysterious deaths on or near the reservation — compiled from our archives, police reports and web and social media sources and going back roughly 40 years — has three dozen names, and we know it’s far from complete.

In recent years, however, the mostly silent scourge of violence on the Yakama lands and among its people has slowly emerged from decades of darkness and secrecy. There is much still to do and many more tragic stories to tell — but they’re finally being told.

Emily Washines, a Yakama Nation scholar and historian, has been on the front lines of this struggle for years. Not only does Washines research the cases of local missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, she also toils to help the families of victims as they deal with their loss and grief.

Washines recently learned that she will have an extra resource in her fight to help Native victims. The Yakima Valley Community Foundation has revealed that local philanthropists Doug and Laurie Kanyer have provided money to establish Native Women in Action, a fund aimed at bolstering Washines’ efforts to find answers, give comfort and procure justice. The Herald-Republic published the story March 8.

“We want the stories of our community’s MMIW to be known so systems and people are motivated and resourced to collaborate and investigate, so ultimately families may find closure and begin healing,” Sharon Miracle, president and CEO of the foundation, said in the release.

“This is a community response to a community crisis,” Washines said.

It’s a crisis that goes back at least to the mid-1800s. Washines spoke on the topic in January 2019 at a memorial service for missing and murdered women and girls at Central Washington University and told a tragic but all-too-familiar story.

“In 1855 there was a woman, her daughter and baby in a cradleboard. They were out on the land, likely digging roots,” Washines told the crowd. “Miners on their way up north, to gold mine in Colville ... raped and killed them.”

According to the book “Kamiakin Country,” such violent acts against Native women and children were preludes to the Yakama War of 1855-58. It’s the only book that dares to draw the conclusion that the war’s true cause was that men were defending their families, Washines said.

“Can you imagine if your grandmother was raped and murdered and for 164 years you only heard silence from the outside community?” she said.

Today, efforts by Washines and others are breaking those many years of silence. We wish her all the best and thank her for taking up this fight as she works for the safety and justice of Native women and girls whose very real vulnerability stems from the simple details of where they live and who they are.

Cheers also for Yakima Valley Community Foundation for its support, and for the Kanyers, whose previous largess has benefitted the Yakima Valley Museum, Mighty Tieton, the Yakima Light Project and many other art- and education-related events in the Yakima Valley. The foundation and the Kanyers are not revealing the size of this particular gift.

Every effort to draw these stories and details out of the darkness and to work for resolution is worthy of support — and applause.

Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Bob Crider and Bruce Drysdale.