Proposed Washington bill would create alert system for missing indigenous people

SPOKANE, Wash. — More than four times as many indigenous women go missing than white women in Washington, according to the Urban Indian Health Institute in Seattle. House Bill 1725 would help bring closure to some of those families.

State agencies have reported 107 cases to Washington State Patrol, but the number is substantially higher because many go unreported.

“I’m actually the average age of a woman that would go missing,” said Kristin Wiles, a member of the Spokane Tribe. “I think about that every day if it were to happen to me.”

The 28-year-old knows what it is like to lose someone. Her friend, Sequoia, went missing when Wiles was a teenager. Sequoia was never seen again.

“It’s not something that’s uncommon unfortunately in our community,” Wiles said.

Rep. Debra Lekanoff with the 40th legislative district has proposed HB 1725 to change that.

“This little bill opens up the voices of those women, Native American women, who are being ripped from their families,” Lekanoff said.

Washington State Patrol would need to create the alert in its system. When a Native person is reported missing, it could be broadcasted on digital highway billboards and social media. This is similar to the AMBER alert system.

“There’s barriers everywhere because there’s so many different places to report,” said Maureen Rosette, Chief Operating Office at the NATIVE Project. “If there was just one spot, I think that would be way easier for anybody.”

However, law enforcement agencies, such as tribal police or a police department, will not be required to report the missing person to WSP. It would be at the agency’s discretion.

“It’s relationship building of training and acknowledging the jurisdictional differences responsibilities,” Lekanoff said.

Wiles say this bill would give families an extra step to closure. She hopes to help, too. Wiles is apart of Yoyot Spq’n’i, Salish for Spokane. The organization brings awareness to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples (MMIW) movement.

“It’ll hopefully help us get a lot of these cases solved that are still unsolved,” Wiles said.

And open up the world’s eyes to MMIW.

” It would definitely be life-changing and it’s a start,” Wiles said.

The bill still has a long way to go. It is in committee right now and lawmakers will hear the bill on Jan. 20.

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