Honoring our Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People (MMIWP) and providing the ability to find and bring them home

In May 2021, President Joe Biden designated May 5 as Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day to recognize American Indian and Alaska Native people who have lost their lives to violence.

May 5 was also the birthday of Hanna Harris, a 21-year-old member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe. She went missing on July 4, 2013.

The indigenous people who are missing and taken from their tribes are someone’s daughter, wife or grandchild, aunt, or even son.

This is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. I’m very appreciative of those who have walked from Canada to the Capitol, and those who have bicycled across the nation, often with a handprint over their mouths, to keep the spotlight on this issue.

I am grateful for Earth-Feather Sovereign – the Colville Confederated Tribe member – who brought this issue to my attention in 2017. With her help, we began working on legislation to investigate, find, and bring home the missing and murdered indigenous persons in our state.

Here are four key bills I sponsored since 2018 to address this heartbreaking and critical issue:

  • House Bill 1512 known as the “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People (MMIWP) and Lucian Act.” The measure created a statewide toolkit of resources available to the public and immediate actions that should take place when someone vanishes, like writing down every detail, and uploading photos of the missing person to 911 databases, such as the Travis Alert System, and accessing the NamUs National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. The bill is named after four-year-old Lucian Munguia, who was reported missing on Sept. 10 from Sarg Hubbard Park in Yakima and drowned in the Yakima River. My bill was signed into law in May 2023.
  • House Bill 1571 (“Bring them home” bill) requires county coroners to identify and notify the family of a deceased indigenous person, allowing them to access the remains to conduct spiritual practices or ceremonies. It allows tribal members to pray over a deceased indigenous person without compromising the scene before an autopsy is performed. Law enforcement is directed to work with them to allow the ceremonies to follow tribal tradition. I believe it’s essential to respect tribal cultures. The measure also requires the Washington state jail booking system to be checked during an investigation seeking missing indigenous people. Plus, it creates a pilot program with funding to provide a receiving shelter that would take in as many as 50 trafficked victims. In addition to the shelter, indigenous trafficking survivors would be able to receive mental health counseling, medical care, and legal services. Gov. Jay Inslee signed my bill into law after the 2022 session.
  • House Bill 1713 established two liaison positions within the Washington State Patrol (WSP) to build relationships between the government and native communities. It also requires WSP to develop a best practices protocol for law enforcement response to missing person reports for indigenous women and other indigenous people. Plus, it requires the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs to provide WSP with government-to-government training. My bill was signed into law in 2019.
  • House Bill 2951 brought the Washington State Patrol together with federally recognized tribes, tribal law enforcement, urban Indian organizations, and the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs to study and identify the issue of missing Native American women in Washington state and report recommendations to the Legislature. My bill was signed into law in 2018.

I invite you to watch the story that prompted me to become involved with this issue. Click here for the video.

We recognize this crisis and will continue to work together to address the violence affecting indigenous communities and to center survivors’ voices in our work.

It’s an honor to serve you and the citizens of the 14th District!