Native Americans make up about 2 percent of Washington’s population, but statistics show that indigenous women face a peril that exceeds their slice of the population.
A recent report from the Washington State Patrol shows that Native American women account for 7 percent of the state’s reported missing women. And a study last year from the Urban Indian Health Institute found that Washington has the second-highest total among the states of missing or murdered indigenous women.
Still, the issue is not unique to Washington. Because of poor coordination between law enforcement, mistrust of authority that leads to underreporting, a lack of attention from the media, and a variety of other reasons, the plight of missing and murdered indigenous women has long been a blight on this nation.
Washington has taken steps to begin addressing the issue. A law passed in 2018 enhances data collection and the tracking of cases, and a bill signed this year by Gov. Jay Inslee is designed to improve communication between tribal leaders and various state agencies. Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, who has led the push in the Legislature, said: “This is not a Washington problem, it’s a nationwide problem. It breaks my heart, not just for the family members, but that we didn’t do something long ago.”
At a meeting in Yakima in May, U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, heard stories of family members who have been missing for years or decades. “It was surprising to me to learn what has been happening here over the last 150 years,” Newhouse said, according to the Yakima Herald-Republic. “Longer than that,” a tribal member responded.