Washington Governor Jay Insley has signed into law a law that would create a nationwide alert for missing indigenous peoples.
Washington Governor Jay Insley on Thursday signed into law a law that would create a first-country statewide alert for missing indigenous peoples.
The law creates a system similar to the Amber Alert and the so-called Silver Alert, which is used in many states for missing children and vulnerable adults, respectively.
The system will notify law enforcement if any indigenous people are reported missing. It will also place messages on the Highway Reader Board and on radio and social media, and provide information to the media.
The law seeks to address a crisis of missing Indigenous peoples – especially women – across Washington and the United States. Although it includes missing men, women and children, the law provides a summary of public testimony stating that “the crisis began as a women’s problem and remained primarily a women’s problem.”
A 2021 report by a government surveillance agency found that the actual number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the United States remained unknown due to reporting problems, mistrust of law enforcement, and judicial conflicts. But according to a summary of the current 2021 study by the National Congress of American Indians, Native American women face nearly three times the homicide rate of white women as a whole – and up to 10 times the national average in certain places. More than 80% have experienced violence.
According to a study conducted by the Urban Indian Health Institute in Seattle, Washington, more than four times as many indigenous women are missing as white women, but in many of these cases there is little or no media attention.
A precautionary measure will help alleviate some of the problems surrounding the investigation of missing Indigenous peoples by allowing better communication between Indigenous, local and state law enforcement agencies and creating a way for law enforcement to identify such cases for other agencies. The law includes the definition of “missing endangered person” for indigenous peoples as well as children and vulnerable adults with disabilities or memory or cognitive impairments.
This measure is the latest step taken by the state to address this issue. The Washington State Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Task Force is working to coordinate a statewide response, and its first meeting took place in December. The first report is expected in August.
Many states, from Arizona to Oregon to Wisconsin, have taken recent steps to address the crisis of murdered and missing Indigenous women. Efforts include funding for better resources for tribal police to create new databases specifically targeting missing tribal members. Hopi and Las Vegas Piot are among the tribal police agencies that use Amber Alert to track down indigenous children.
In California, the Eurob Tribe and the Sovereign Bodies Institute, an Aboriginal-led research and advocacy group, in their most recent work uncovered a total of 18 cases of missing or killed Native American women in the past year – a number they consider a huge understatement. Approximately 62% of these cases are not listed in the state or federal database for missing persons.