There have been dozens of verified violent and mysterious deaths and missing persons in recent years on or connected to the Yakama reservation, especially among Native American women and girls. It easily elevates to the level of crisis. The Yakamas are not alone; no tribe or stretch of tribal land is immune to this miasma.
Just as clearly, any steps being taken to help resolve these mysteries, prevent more deaths and disappearances, and help ease the pains suffered by victims and families fall under the umbrella of public safety.
For those crystal-clear reasons, the state needs to make an exception to Gov. Jay Inslee’s statewide government hiring freeze and follow through as quickly as possible in finding and employing a tribal liaison for Eastern Washington.
While we appreciate the efforts of Patti Gosch, the Western Washington liaison who was hired in November and has been “working hard at covering both sides of the state,” according to a recent Washington State Patrol statement, the intent was to have two people in these positions. Interviews have taken place and WSP has narrowed the field to a single candidate, but the freeze has placed this vital hiring on indefinite hold.
Gosch is part of WSP’s government and media relations team. She has extensive experience working with tribes, a job prerequisite.
The Legislature allocated funds for the new tribal liaison positions in 2019 through legislation introduced by state Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale. Responsibilities include developing best practices for law enforcement response to missing person reports for indigenous people, working with family members when missing person reports are filed, and considering tribal issues as agency policies and plans are formed.
“When someone becomes missing, all too often there hasn’t been a process to get help for families,” Mosbrucker said in April 2019 after her bill passed the state Senate and was sent to Inslee’s desk. ”Tribal members have reached out to tribal police, city and county officials, and the State Patrol, but no one could tell them what could be done. The tribal liaisons will be there to help, and with a protocol in place, investigations can follow through to the completion of the case.”
But they won’t be there to help if they’re not hired in the first place.
Mosbrucker also sponsored a bill in 2018 that brought the State Patrol together with tribes, tribal police, urban Indian organizations and the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs to study the issue of missing Native American women in Washington. Tribal liaisons are one more step in a process that aims to address a crisis that flew under the radar for far too long.
State officials should take heed of Inslee’s own words in his May 13 directive on limiting hiring, personal services contracts and equipment purchases in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and shrinking statewide revenue projections. The hiring freeze does not apply to positions that directly impact public safety, the directive clearly says.
The directive closes with a plea for austerity from all state agencies and personnel.
“While this is not going to be easy,” Inslee wrote, “I ask each agency to use common sense, good judgment and creativity to accomplish the ultimate goal of this directive to capture immediate savings through spending reductions not related to the public safety and essential health and welfare of Washingtonians.”
Exactly. It only makes sense that these liaisons would save the State Patrol and other agencies countless hours — meaning money — and at the same time save time and reduce the impact of heartaches and headaches as families go searching for desperately needed help. To keep this Eastern Washington liaison post vacant is to be penny-wise and pound-foolish.
There are life-and-death consequences hovering over this decision, on the Yakama reservation and elsewhere across Eastern Washington Native lands. In the spirit of common sense, good judgment and creativity and in the name of public safety and essential health and welfare, this hire must be made.