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Public Safety

Western states enhance efforts to locate missing indigenous women and persons

By CSG West

The Washington State Legislature recently passed House Bill 1725, establishing a statewide alert system to locate and identify missing indigenous women and persons. Attorney General Bob Ferguson first requested the legislation to address disproportionate rates of violence against indigenous persons in Washington, as well as unique challenges that indigenous communities face in disseminating timely information to the media or public.

HB 1725 was sponsored by Representative Debra Lekanoff, a current member of the CSG West Executive Committee. The bill was passed unanimously by the legislature and signed by Governor Jay Inslee. 

The issue of enhancing the ability of locating and identifying missing indigenous women and persons has drawn increased interest from Western lawmakers. During the 2019 CSG West Annual Meeting in Big Sky, Montana, a session focused on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Legislators from Montana, Arizona, and Washington participated as speakers, including Representative Gina Mosbrucker, current Co-Chair of the CSG West Workforce Development Committee. 

Aren Spark, then-Chief Public Affairs Officer for the Seattle Indian Health Board, provided an overview of the challenges in the West, and When They Were Here, a short film by Ivan & Ivy MacDonald was shared with the audience. Hollie J. Mackey, Ph.D., an enrolled member of the Northern Cheyenne Nation and Associate Professor of Education at North Dakota State University, participated as part of the panel with legislators.

The topics has also gained interest among western governors. The Western Governors’ Association (WGA) hosted a roundtable conversation during its 2021 Winter Meeting in Coronado, California, titled “Murdered and Missing Indigenous Persons Update.” On the panel was Bryan Newland, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior, and Cara Chambers, Chair of Wyoming Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Task Force.

In 2021, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signed two bills to help address the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP). House Bill 35 established a Missing Indigenous Persons Review Commission at the Montana Department of Justice, which is to be comprised of tribal representatives, state government, nonprofits, and local, state, federal, and tribal law enforcement. House Bill 98 extended the grant program for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Task Force and the Looping In Native Communities (LINC). LINC network provides funding to tribal colleges and reservations without tribal colleges for the creation of online databases that help law enforcement and families access information on missing people. Both bills were sponsored by Montana Representative Sharon Stewart Peregoy.