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Attorney General’s Office will coordinate task force on missing, murdered Indigenous women

Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced today – the National Missing, Murdered Indigenous Women Day of Remembrance – that his office will lead a 21-member task force to assess systemic causes behind the high rate of disappearances and murders of Indigenous women.

The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Task Force will review current practices relating to data collection and reporting on Missing, Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) cases, review prosecutorial trends, identify resources to shore up victim services and make recommendations for improving training for those who work tribes and tribal communities.

For too long, tribal communities have suffered violence against Indigenous women,” said Ferguson. “This task force is an important step toward achieving justice for victims and families, and bringing these women home.”

The task force’s work will culminate in two reports to the Governor and Legislature in August 2022 and June 2023. The Attorney General’s Office is leading the task force at the Legislature’s request.

At the national level, the National Institute of Justice found that 84 percent of indigenous have experienced physical, sexual or psychological violence in their lifetime The U.S Department of Justice found that on some reservations, indigenous women are 10 times as likely to be murdered as the national average.

In response to some of these nationwide statistics, the Washington State Legislature directed the Washington State Patrol (WSP) in 2018 to conduct a study to increase state criminal justice protective and investigative resources for reporting and identifying MWIW in the state.

In a 2020 report releasing their findings, WSP detailed the unique barriers to gathering data regarding missing Indigenous women. These barriers include:

  • Significant under reporting.
  • Misclassification of Native people on reporting documents.
  • Tribes do not have access to National Crime Information Center (NCIC) for reporting.
  • Native people do not know if their loved ones are entered into NCIC once a report is completed.
  • Native Americans might complete forms as white because of historic stereotypes.
  • Reporting race inaccurately leads to incorrect data.

Data on MWIW remains under-collected, and it exacerbates trends afflicting Indigenous communities, said Sen. Manka Dhingra, (D – Redmond):

Washingtonians are not truly aware of the number of Indigenous women who are missing and murdered. We need answers, we need good data and we need thorough investigations that can point the way toward solutions to prevent these crimes. It’s important that the state put in place systems to track these cases to bring justice and to help families and communities heal.”

The report also cited a lack of media coverage when tribal members go missing as a precipitating factor.

“[Media coverage] is important, not only for general awareness of the issue but also so that the local community is familiar with the faces and details regarding missing individuals,” wrote members of the Yakama Tribal Council in a letter to Gov. Inslee published in the report.

Washington State is home to 29 federally recognized tribes. The Attorney General led task force will include tribes and tribal organizations, as well as policy makers at the local, state and federal level.

I am honored to join my sisters to fight the crisis of MMIW,” said Rep. Debra Lekanoff, (D – Bow). “We have a powerful unified voice to work with local, state, federal and tribal governments to build policy, laws and programs that are fully funded and supported by all. We have heard messages from across this great nation stating that we must develop better processes for data collection and management and integrate cultural teachings to better work with and collaborate with survivors, families, tribal nations and all levels of law enforcement. Because even one girl missing is too many, and we must all heal together.”

Lekanoff and Dhingra secured a $500,000 budget proviso to establish the task force.

The Attorney General’s Office said the work of the task force will build on the legislation passed in 2018, which ordered the WSP report, and 2019 to improve data collection. In the WSP report, the Native American Coalition said systemic oversight is integral to the continued occurrence of MWIW cases:

“Missing and murdered indigenous women have disappeared not once, but three times — in life, in the media and in the data.”

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