Emily Washines

FILE — Emily Washines, a member of the Yakama Nation and board member for the CWU Museum of Culture and Environment, speaks to a crowd of attendees at a memorial near the museum in Dean Hall at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Wash., on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019.

A new fund at the Yakima Valley Community Foundation will support the work of a Yakama advocate for missing and murdered indigenous women as she seeks justice and healing for families and communities.

Local philanthropists Doug and Laurie Kanyer provided a gift to establish Native Women in Action, according to a news release from Sharon Miracle, president and CEO of the foundation. The fund will bolster the efforts of Emily Washines, a Yakama Nation scholar and historian researching local cases of missing and murdered indigenous women and assisting families dealing with loss.

“National attention and some funding has elevated the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women over the past year. This is an issue deeply influencing generations of families living in our area,” Miracle said.

“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.”

Miracle, Washines and three others — foundation program officer Estakio Beltran and Heritage University students Kayonnie Badonie and George Lee Jr. — were set to travel to Washington, D.C., next week to meet with lawmakers and agency officials on missing and murdered indigenous women and other safety and health issues vital to rural communities.

But their trip was canceled Friday due to concerns about the novel coronavirus. Organizers at Philanthropy Northwest were following the King County Health Department’s guidelines and avoiding all nonessential travel, Miracle said.

Though the trip has not been rescheduled, Washines’ work is already underway.

“This is a community response to a community crisis,” she said of the fund and related efforts to solve MMIW cases and help prevent future crimes.

Native women suffer disproportionately high levels of sexual and physical violence within and beyond reservations throughout the United States. On the 1.3-million-acre Yakama Reservation, dozens of Native women and girls, and men and boys, have gone missing and have been found murdered or dead under mysterious circumstances over decades. Many of those cases, and of those Yakamas living outside the reservation, remain unsolved.

Badonie and Lee have been personally affected. Badonie, who is studying computer science while working in information technology, is an advocate for those who no longer have a voice as she and her family grieve the loss of her aunt, who is among the missing and murdered, the news release noted.

Lee, a decorated veteran who served for 17 years in the Army and Air Force before returning home to the Yakama Reservation, is studying criminal justice. His mother, Sandra Lee Smiscon, was murdered in 2003, and a cousin was killed in 2019. His mother’s case remains unsolved.

Reach Tammy Ayer at tayer@yakimaherald.com or on Facebook.