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Washington Searches For Missing Indigenous People

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The state of Washington launched a new investigative team focused on missing and murdered Indigenous people cold cases. This came after a recent bill was backed by a state task force and passed unanimously in the state’s Legislature and then was signed into action by the state’s governor. 

The bill, House Bill 1177, takes on the longstanding epidemic of cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people being ignored and not thoroughly investigated. The new dedicated team, that has come forth because of the bill, will operate under the Attorney General of Washington’s office. They will be assigned to cases from the federal, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies and handle any of their department’s cases that fall within their authority.

Primarily, the team will focus on departments that have limited resources and were unable to fully investigate the case in the first place. 

One of the sponsors of the bill, Representative Debra Lekanoff, D-Bow, after the bill passed with flying colors said of it, “Victims are not alone. The cries of their loved ones are no longer unheard.” She herself is Indigenous, so the bill is very personal to her. Originally from Alaska, she is part Tlingit and part Aleut. 

Part of the unit will be focused on maintaining strong communication with the families of victims and will be the liaison between the families and the law enforcement themselves. The legislation that ultimately led to the formation of the team was originally recommended by Washington’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & People Task Force, a task force formed to assess the systemic causes of the disproportionately high acts of violence again Indigenous women and people. 

The Attorney General of Washington, Bob Ferguson, spoke proudly of his office being the first in the country to have a unit dedicated to bettering the investigation for missing and murdered Indigenous women and people. 

Washington’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & People Task Force also helped support legislation that requires coroners to practice better practices when handling the body of an Indigenous person. The coroners’ offices will now have to properly identify and notify the relatives of the victim, return their remains to the family, and issue an emergency alert for missing persons. 

The alert system launched in July of 2022 and since its launch has helped find 43 out of 50 reported missing people alive. The Washington State Patrol confirmed that at least 11 cases greatly benefited from the alert system. Washington state has one of the highest number of cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the country, but hopefully with the implementation of these practices and the new dedicated investigative team, we will see those numbers steadily decrease. It took a while for anyone to finally take action and listen to the cries of the people mourning their missing and murdered family members, but it is good to finally see a plan be put into action and watch it immediately start fighting the systemic issue.  

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