Lawmakers propose task force on missing and murdered indigenous women

WNPA Olympia News Bureau

According to a report by the Urban Indian Health Institute, Seattle has more cases of missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls than any other city in the country.

Washington state had the second-highest number of total cases, only following New Mexico.

House Bill 1713 aims to improve the law enforcement response to these cases by establishing a task force and Washington State Patrol liaisons to work with tribal communities and law enforcement. The bill has 24 bipartisan sponsors. According to its fiscal note, it is expected to cost the State patrol more than $500,000 to implement.

A number of Native American men and women testified asking for the bill to take steps further. Some called for the legislature to address missing and murdered indigenous men alongside women, elevate tribal voices throughout the implementation process, and increase the number of liaison positions.

“This is not just an American Indian/Alaskan Native women issue, it is an American issue,” said Earth-Feather Sovereign, an advocate for the group Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Washington. “We all have mothers and sisters and daughters, we need to protect all of them.”

The advocacy group has organized multiple demonstrations in Washington, including the Seattle Women’s March and a rally in opposition of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

HB 1723’s prime sponsor, Representative Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, said that Sovereign and the 2017 movie Wind River inspired her to gather data and bring attention to this issue. She sponsored a related bill that passed the legislature last year to conduct a study on the missing and murdered indigenous women in Washington.

Mosbrucker is holding a stakeholder meeting on Feb. 14 to work through some of the issues of those who testified in opposition of the bill.

“There’s a lot of discord between the tribes … generationally,” Mosbrucker said. “Urban and registered tribe members don’t always get along and it becomes about personality instead of finding missing and murdered indigenous women.”