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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Other Papers Say: Signs of hope for state’s missing and murdered indigenous women and people

By Yakima Herald-Republic
Published: November 20, 2023, 6:01am

The following editorial originally appeared in the Yakima Herald-Republic:

It’s taken years — too many years — but the long struggle to break the curse that’s robbed so many Indigenous families of their loved ones is taking some encouraging turns. In addition to last year’s establishment of a state task force to investigate and better understand the scope of the problem, fresh signs of progress have been evident recently.

Last week, Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced he’s hired a chief investigator to head up the state’s new Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Cold Case Unit. Brian George, a member of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe who’s worked for the Washington State Patrol for more than 25 years, will oversee the unit, which was created by state lawmakers this year.

Meantime, that new task force, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Task Force, hosted its second annual summit in Airway Heights earlier this month. Speakers included Eastern Washington University associate professor Margo Hill, a Spokane tribal citizen who grew up on the Spokane Indian reservation.

Chillingly, Hill and other speakers connected Indigenous disappearances with human trafficking, pointing out various ways predators find or recruit their victims — online, at tribal casinos, via intimate partners or maybe along roadways.

According to the Attorney General’s Office, 5 percent of Washington’s unresolved cases involve Indigenous people, though they make up less than 2 percent of the state’s population. The numbers agree with what the voices of the grieving and the frustrated have been saying for years.

But good news runs through the task force and the new cold case unit: At last, someone is listening — and taking action. Authorities are pledging to take reports of missing people more seriously than they once did, and state officials are mobilizing to address the problem. Those are distinct and welcome changes.

State officials aren’t the only ones who are hearing the insistent calls for help.

The pain associated with missing and murdered Indigenous people has reached ears and hearts from coast to coast — the national Truckers Against Trafficking organization, for example, has built an app to encourage drivers to report suspicious situations.

And a traveling exhibit by Indigenous artist Nayana LaFond is on display at the Yakima Valley Museum. “Portraits in Red” features stylized images of lost faces, including at least one from here, East Valley’s Esmeralda “Kit” Mora, who disappeared in Omak two years ago.

No, this doesn’t fix all the trauma. Far from it.

But these are all promising components of a growing response — evidence that something is finally being done.

As longtime Yakama Nation tribal court Judge Ne’Sha Jackson said, “Justice may be slow, but it’s moving.”