Washington a step closer to creating nation’s first alert system for missing Indigenous people

Washington is one step closer to creating the country’s first alert system to help find missing Indigenous women and people

House Bill 1725 passed the Senate and is on its way to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk for approval.

Washington state has some of the highest number of cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the nation. If the governor approves the bill, a new alert system would broadcast information about missing Indigenous people. The system would be similar to the Silver Alert. The public would be notified through messages on highway signs, advisory radio channels and regional media.

This system is one thing cross-country runner Rosalie Fish advocates for every time she competes for the University of Washington. She gave testimony at the State Capitol why the alerts are vital in protecting Indigenous people.

"[It] was such an honorable opportunity for me to be able to represent the needs and the voices of Indigenous families that I've worked with, and to call out the patterns that I've seen, specifically with law enforcement and neglect, in missing indigenous persons cases. So, it truly felt like an honor to be able to represent those voices that are often erased. And that includes between Indigenous families having to do all the work themselves to try and find their relative. They're not having access to resources, as well as being met with sometimes racism and discrimination from law enforcement when they attempt to report their missing person. These are all things that are common in Indigenous families in Washington, who are struggling with this crisis, and it felt necessary to raise their voices," said Fish.

'Overlooked and not spoken about:' Taking a deeper look at missing and murdered Indigenous people in WA

Not seen, not heard and not found: Flyers and photos of the missing are just some of the many native people who disappeared in Washington state.

Besse Handy has been missing since Feb. 21, last seen in Fife. Her picture is on a billboard outside of Emerald Queen Casino, with the goal of someone seeing it to help find her. With Washington Senate passing the nation’s first alert system for missing Indigenous people, the whole state may soon learn about her story and others who haven’t been found.

Loved ones of missing and murdered Indigenous people gave testimony back in December during the state’s first meeting of the newly formed Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Task Force. The task force is the first of its kind in the state, and only a few other states in the U.S. have a similar group. Led by Washington State Attorney General’s Office, the task force was created to make systemic change surrounding the disappearance and killing of Indigenous people in Washington.

"We want something done here. Not just today, but every day forward," said one woman who gave testimony.

During the first task force meeting, loved ones of Mary Johnson Davis said she was reported missing in Tulalip on December 9, 2020.

"They have broken hearts. We miss our loved one and want her home and safe and sound," sobbed one woman who knew Davis.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson and State Rep. Debra Lekanoff worked on House Bill 1725. Ferguson proposed the idea during legislative session in January.

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