Tribal citizens took part in the signing of Washington House Bill 2951 into law on March 15, 2018. The bill requires the state of Washington to collect data, for the first time, on missing Native women. Photo: Rep. Gina Mosbrucker

Tribes consulted on first-ever count of missing Native women

The state of Washington isn't waiting on the federal government to something about the large numbers of Native women who go missing every year.

A new law, House Bill 2951, requires the state to consult with tribes and urban Indian organizations on what has been called an epidemic. It also requires the state to collect data, for the first time, on the numbers of missing Native women.

“We want justice for the people who are gone; we want to know what happened to them,” Tucellia “Tia” Palmer, a citizen of the Yakama Nation, told The Yakima-Herald Republic. The report is due June 1, 2019.

Palmer, who works for the tribe's behavioral services department, was one of the organizers of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Walk and Rally on the reservation, the paper reported. The event took place on May 5, which was designated as National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls.

Palmer also helped organize the REDgalia Day, on August 30, to continue to raise awareness about an issue that has plagued the tribe for more than a century. Yakama women were targeted by miners in the late 1800s, the paper reported, with the rape and murder of one mother and her children contributing to the cause of the Yakama War.

“There were a lot of stories about miners in general. There was a lot of fear,” Emily Washines, a Yakama citizen and historian, told the paper.

House Bill 2951, which was signed into law in March, is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation. The Washington State Patrol and the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs are holding a series of community outreach meetings as the seek to develop ways to improve reporting and investigation of missing Native women.

“There's currently no comprehensive data collection system for reporting or tracking missing Native American women,” Washington State Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, a Republican lawmaker whose district includes the Yakama Nation, said after the bill she introduced was signed. “That's a travesty, and I know Washington can do better. The bill will give Washington State Patrol, tribal law enforcement, and others, the ability to work on solutions together to best address this problem.”

On the national level, no one particular agency collects such data. A bill known as Savanna's Act, named for Savanna Marie Greywind, a young citizen of the Spirit Lake Nation who was brutally murdered last year, would require the Department of Justice to report, every year, on the " known statistics on missing and murdered Indian women in the United States."

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs took testimony on S.1942 on October 25, 2017. It has not yet been scheduled for a business meeting, the next step in the legislative process.

Read More on the Story
‘This is real’: First steps taken to count missing, murdered Yakama women and girls (The Yakima Herald Republic September 16, 2018)

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