WASHINGTON, D.C. — Members of Congress spent an hour on the House floor on Wednesday talking about ways to deliver justice to Native American women who face disproportionately high rates of murder, as well as physical and sexual violence.U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican from Sunnyside, and others spoke about the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women, according to a news release. His Central Washington district is home to the…
Mt. Adams is visible in the background of this photo taken near Harrah, Washington, at the scene where 23-year-old Destiny Lloyd was fond dead in December 2017.
Signed into law in 2018, the goal of Washington House Bill 2951 appears straightforward — determine how to increase reporting and investigation of missing Native American women. In doing so, it could curb a legacy of physical and emotional violence that over decades, centuries even, has destroyed families and left loved ones without answers, resolution or justice.
But as those familiar with the issue already know, it’s daunting. Underreporting, underfunding, poor communication and a patchwork of jurisdictions have created challenges that continue to stymie those working toward solutions.
Like other tribes in the United States and Canada, jurisdiction over criminal cases on the 1.3-million-acre Yakama Nation reservation varies among law enforcement agencies operating without a comprehensive data collection system for reporting or tracking missing women. Tribal police handle missing person cases but don’t investigate homicides; that is the responsibility of the FBI. Local law enforcement agencies occasionally work with tribal police, but the Washington State Patrol has no jurisdiction on tribal land. The sheer expanse and remote reaches of the Yakama reservation, like many, pose a physical challenge to already understaffed police departments.
And though tribes can bring criminal charges against non-Natives in domestic violence cases thanks to the federal Violence Against Women Act of 1994 — which has lapsed amid a federal shutdown — they still cannot prosecute most crimes committed by non-Natives on reservation land.
In early 2018, state Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, led 14 other legislators in sponsoring legislation to report and investigate missing Native American women. Washington House Bill 2951 became law in June.
Capt. Monica Alexander of the Washington State Patrol, its legislative liason, is preparing the report to the legislature that Mosbrucker’s bill requires. She will make that report before June 1, 2019. Alexander and Craig Bill, director of the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs, have held several meetings around the state to hear from tribes and Native women and families who have experienced violence, have lost loved ones and fear for their safety on a regular basis.
As Alexander prepares her report, other state and national officials are supporting similar legislation, all hoping to stem a horrifying tide that has persisted far too long.
State law enforcement officials are hiring two people with significant experience in tribal or urban Native communities for new roles created by legislation centered on the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous people.
Yakama Nation leaders are taking several steps to address the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women, according to an op-ed in Sunday’s Yakima Herald-Republic by members of the Tribal Council’s MMIW Committee.
A federal bill introduced Wednesday would help address the missing and murdered indigenous women crisis by supporting law enforcement agency data sharing and officer recruitment and retention, officials said.
Early on the afternoon of Aug. 19, 2017, Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind texted her mother and another relative to say she had ordered lunch for the family and was heading to a neighbor’s apartment to help with a sewing project.
A Yakima Valley legislator honored a missing Native woman whose body was recently found near Toppenish, urging congressional action on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women throughout the United States.