Washington State Office of Attorney General Bob Ferguson
The Washington State Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People (MMIWP) Task Force issued its first report yesterday, including 10 unanimously adopted recommendations to begin addressing gaps in services and response to violence against Indigenous people.
The 25-member task force is facilitated by the Attorney General’s Office. It coordinates a statewide response to the urgent crisis of Indigenous people who go missing, are the victims of homicide, or experience other types of gender-based violence in urban and tribal communities. Building on the foundational work of tribes, activists, grassroots advocates, families, and survivors, the task force has met quarterly and in bi-weekly subcommittee meetings to understand the scope of violence against Indigenous people and to identify how it can be addressed through systemic and institutional changes.
The task Fforce is calling on the Legislature to create and fully fund an MMIWP-focused cold case unit within the Attorney General’s Office. Attorney General Bob Ferguson endorses the recommendation. Yesterday he announced that he will propose Attorney General-request legislation to accomplish this goal.
The task force will produce its next report to the Governor and Legislature on June 1, 2023.
“I look forward to honoring the task force’s recommendation and working to create an MMIWP cold case unit in my office,” Ferguson said. “If funded, a cold case unit will direct critical resources toward these cases and help address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and people.”
“This work is important,” said Puyallup Tribe Councilmember and MMIWP Task Force Executive Committee Member Anna Bean. “This work is necessary. Most of all, our missing and murdered relatives need us. That goes for anyone in attendance, listening or reading about this work. Someone needs you, you can help. This epidemic has to stop.”
Task force background
The 25-member task force began meeting in December 2021, holding six full meetings in the last seven months. In addition, the task force formed five subcommittees that met separately, covering everything from MMIWP families to data and research, criminal justice to community services. Beginning in March 2022, the task force also hosted monthly family talking circles to provide a space for survivors, family members and impacted community members to gather to share their experiences, find support and build community.
The task force combines the institutional and cultural knowledge of Indigenous communities, tribal nations and state agencies to center the experiences of survivors and families and to approach the work in a way that is responsive to communities and grounded in Indigenous values.
Violence against Indigenous women and within Indigenous communities continues to be underreported and misunderstood throughout Indian Country and the United States. Complex issues around jurisdiction and data collection have created obstacles to understanding the full extent of how many Indigenous women have gone missing, been murdered or been the victim of other types of gender-based crime over generations.
Through its work, the task force identified a number of systemic and institutional barriers that impact the response to violence against Indigenous people throughout the Pacific Northwest, including:
- Inter-jurisdictional issues creating gaps in communication between families and law enforcement;
- Cross-jurisdictional rules that limit tribal law enforcement access to valuable investigative tools to combat violence;
- Racial misclassification of Indigenous people in data;
- Limited access to service programs for families, who often do not know what services are available to them; and
- Limitations on what survivor service organizations can provide to MMIWP families.
Task force recommendations
Yesterday’s report outlines 10 recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature, including:
- Establishing a fully funded MMIWP-focused cold case unit within the Attorney General’s Office — the Legislature should establish and fully fund a Cold Case Investigation Unit within the Attorney General’s Office with a focus on MMIWP cold cases.
- Standardizing the use of the National Missing & Unidentified Persons System — the Legislature should require all law enforcement agencies to use the National Missing & Unidentified Persons System.
- Expanding the scope of MMIWP data and research to all genders — the data and research team should expand its scope to understand how American Indian and Alaska Native people experience violence across the gender spectrum, including women and girls, men and boys, and the LGBTQ2S community.
- Working with law enforcement agencies to expand coordination — the task force shall develop best practices for law enforcement agencies and for social and health services to improve their collaboration, as well as collaboration and coordination with federal, state, county, local and tribal social and health services.
- Promoting inclusive language — community service and resource programs should utilize inclusive language that reflects the experiences of MMIWP families and survivors.
- Improving communication and transparency in MMIWP cases — all law enforcement agencies should identify and implement strategies and practices to improve communication and transparency with family members in MMIWP cases.
- Updating the Missing Person’s Resource — the Attorney General’s Office shall update and re-issue the Missing Person’s Resource.
- Reducing or waiving fees for MMIWP public events — public agencies should consider adopting policies to waive or reduce fees for parks, permitting fees and other costs, and reduce administrative burdens associated with hosting large events such as MMIWP marches, rallies, vigils and memorials.
- Continuing to support sovereignty and self-determination — the task force will continue to provide consultation to federally recognized tribes in support of sovereignty and self-determination.
- Extending the MMIWP Task Force timeline through June 30, 2025 — the task force is currently only authorized and funded through 2023. task force members believe meaningfully addressing this crisis will take more time.
The work ahead
The report also outlines the focus of the task force’s continued work. Moving forward, the MMIWP Task Force will focus on addressing the systemic and institutional barriers it has identified, including:
- Working with a data and research team to assess data tracking and reporting practices, as well as understanding the impact of gender on experiences of violence.
- Developing best practices and recommendations for law enforcement when engaging with families and survivors in order to ensure appropriate and robust responses to violence.
- Identifying additional gaps in the criminal justice system and providing recommendations on how to close those gaps.
- Continuing to conduct outreach to families, advocates, service professionals and law enforcement.
- Developing relationships with surrounding states to understand cross-jurisdictional issues.
- Assessing the services available to MMIWP families.
For more information on the MMIWP Task Force, visit the Task Force’s web page at https://www.atg.wa.gov/washington-state-missing-and-murdered-indigenous-women-and-people-task-force, or contact Annie Forsman-Adams at email@example.com.
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