A lawmaker from the Yakima Valley is urging federal authorities open a cold case task force office in Central Washington focused on missing and murdered Indigenous people.
On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr and U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt requesting a cold case task force office for missing and murdered Indigenous people be established in Yakima.
President Trump signed Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act into law earlier this year. Cold case offices are another step toward addressing the decadeslong crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women, who face disproportionate levels of physical and sexual violence. The federal effort is called Operation Lady Justice.
Cold case offices are open in Bloomington, Minn.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Rapid City, S.D.; Billings, Mont.; Anchorage, Alaska; Nashville, Tenn., and the Gila River Indian Community Police Department in Sacaton, Ariz.
Washington state had 95 active Native American missing person reports as of Nov. 16, according to the Washington State Patrol. Thirty-two of those cases were in Yakima County — by far the biggest total of any county. Only King County was close, with 20.
“Native Americans make up an estimated 2% of our state’s population, however a recent report by the Washington State Patrol shows that Native women account for 7% of the state’s reported missing women,” Newhouse said in his letter.
“Both Yakama Nation and Colville Tribes have been actively engaged in working with my office to enact solutions that improve law enforcement coordination, empower law enforcement agencies to effectively investigate MMIW cases, and increase communication with Native communities,” he said.
The cold case task force offices will be staffed with law enforcement personnel and newly appointed special agents from the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services, along with staff from other Operation Lady Justice Task Force partners, including tribal law enforcement, the FBI and U.S. Attorney offices, according to the release.