State's new Missing Indigenous Person Alert System shows promising results

Washington has some of the highest case numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous people in the country. New efforts backed by the state to help protect them are showing promising results.

The Missing Indigenous Person Alert (MIPA) System launched in July 2022, the first of its kind in the United States. Of the four alerts issued so far, the system helped find all four missing people.

"With this MIPA alert, information flows within 10 minutes all the way across the country and back, and that gives us opportunities to do other things that we haven’t been able to pay attention to," said Patti Gosch, Washington State Patrol tribal liaison for the west division. "It’s also an opportunity to train people and let them understand that simply being Indigenous and missing is an endangerment."

Members of the indigenous community said progress from the MIPA system is the kind of action they have been calling on for years to save their loved ones.

"The stories have to end. And instead, we want one where my grandchildren’s children never have to worry whether or not they get on the bus safely, where they don’t have to worry when their loved one steps out of the house whether or not they’ll come home," said Abigail Echo-Hawk, executive vice president for the Seattle Indian Health Board.

For generations, members of the Indigenous community have been doing the work on their own trying to find their loved ones. And there are likely many other cases that have not been reported. Their calls for safety, protection, and justice were heard by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office. The state launched the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People (MMIWP) Task Force in December 2021.

"Families are still primarily the ones who are out there searching for their loved ones. And a lot of these successful efforts are because we get the information that families are able to provide," said Annie Forsman-Adams, policy analyst for the MMIWP Task Force.

One of the group’s main priorities was launching the Missing Indigenous Person Alert (MIPA) System, similar to a Silver Alert.

"That was something that the community has said for a long time. We need a system in place so that when Indigenous people go missing we get the information right away—we get it out to the media, we get it out to other law enforcement agencies, we get it out statewide," said Forsman-Adams. "We have been able to accomplish what would take a lot of manpower, a lot of individual relationships, a lot of phone calls and emails back and forth. We were able to accomplish that in a much more streamlined, quick, efficient way."

Efficiency is what community members said will help make systemic change surrounding the disappearance and killing of Indigenous people in Washington state. Some families said they have faced discrimination from law enforcement when trying to find their loved on or gather information.

"As a result of the institutional and instructional racism within law enforcement, our people were not seeing investigations and our loved ones were dying in silence," said Echo-Hawk.

"They are denied justice at a disproportionate rate than other people in our country and in our region and state. And we really need to understand the root of that because we owe justice to Indigenous people. We owe the opportunity for them to thrive. And we also owe the opportunity for us to correct some bad mistakes that have been made on a state level, federal level," said Forsman-Adams.

With the MIPA system and support of the task force, it’s a step toward addressing the violence against Indigenous people and why so many of their cases aren’t heard. 

"The data shows that we go missing at a disproportionate rate to our population in Washington state. So, if we make up let’s say two percent of Washington state population, we go missing five, six, seven percent sometimes. So, that to me equates crisis when you go missing higher than the population," said Dawn Pullin, Washington State Patrol tribal liaison for the east division.

WSP said it can’t disclose the circumstances of the disappearance of the most recent missing Indigenous people. Now that they’ve been found with the help of the MIPA system, task force leaders said they have a subcommittee offering resources to help survivors heal and recover.

"The task force is here to support families and support people who have gone missing and been recovered. We host regular family talking circles, we have a family subcommittee. We’re really here to support and offer a voice for those experiences," said Forsman-Adams.