The invisible scourge of countless missing and murdered Indigenous women and children across the United States is finally growing more visible in the Yakima Valley and elsewhere. There is momentum at the local, regional and national levels to bring cases to justice, give help and comfort to the families of victims, and coordinate law enforcement strategies in the process.
According to the FBI, there are 1,400-plus American Indian and Alaska Native missing-person cases nationwide. A Washington State Patrol report shows 56 cases in our state, including 20 from Yakima County, home to most of the Yakama Nation’s sprawling reservation. It’s very likely that there are many more unreported cases.
Determined to keep the momentum going, Sunnyside Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse recently initiated a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Signed by 11 other House members of both parties, the letter urges the House leaders to bring two pieces of legislation up for a vote before Congress begins a four-week recess Aug. 10.
Newhouse, whose district includes Yakima Nation lands, is an active and visible participant in the search for answers and strategies to combat the MMIW plague, and this is one more commendable example. The two bills in question — Savanna’s Act (H.R. 2733) and the Not Invisible Act (H.R. 2438) — earned unanimous consent in the House Judiciary Committee in March, and we agree with Newhouse and his cohorts that now’s the time to put these bills before the entire House.
All who signed Newhouse’s letter serve districts that are impacted by unsolved murder cases or missing person reports from Native communities.
“Native American and Alaska Native women face a murder rate 10 times higher than the national average, with 84% experiencing some form of violence in their lifetime,” the letter states. “Despite this disturbing and persisting trend, there is still no reliable way of knowing how many indigenous women go missing each year or whose fate hangs in the balance of an unsolved murder case. This is unacceptable.”
Savanna’s Act relates to the review and revision of law enforcement protocols to address MMIW. Among other things, the bill would require the Department of Justice to train law enforcement agencies on how to feed victims’ tribal information into federal databases; develop strategies on educating the public on the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System; develop guidelines for responding to MMIW cases; offer training and technical expertise to tribes and law enforcement agencies; and report MMIW statistics.
The Not Invisible Act — introduced by four House members who are registered with federally recognized tribes — would establish an advisory committee on violent crime comprised of law enforcement, tribal leaders and others to make recommendations to the Department of Interior and Department of Justice; establish best practices for law enforcement agencies on how to combat MMIW and the trafficking of American Indians and Alaska Natives; and create a position within the Bureau of Indian Affairs for an expert charged with improving federal agencies’ coordination of violent crime prevention efforts.
“We should not leave common-sense legislation addressing our most vulnerable populations off of the House calendar,” the letter notes. “Thus, we respectfully request that this important legislation be brought up for consideration in July. These bipartisan bills will give law enforcement and the communities they serve the tools to finally understand and address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and put an end to a decades-long crisis that affects native communities throughout our country.”
July is rapidly running out, but there’s still time before Aug. 10. If there’s a good reason to keep these important bills off the docket, let’s hear it. If not, let’s vote.