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Government

Washington Legislature OKs alert system for missing Indigenous women

Two Native American women stand with posters of missing or murdered Indigenous people.
Women attend the closing ceremony of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in 2019 in Quebec, Canada.

The Washington Legislature on Monday approved an alert system to help identify and locate missing Indigenous people.

The system, which Attorney General Bob Ferguson said is the first of its kind in the nation, will be similar to so-called “silver alerts” that are currently in place for missing vulnerable adults.

The measure cleared the House unanimously in January and passed the Senate unanimously last week. A unanimous final vote in the House occurred Monday, to concur with a change made in the Senate.

The bill now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee, who is expected to sign it.

When activated, the alert will broadcast information about missing Indigenous people on message signs and in highway advisory radio messages. It also will provide the information through press releases to local and regional media.

According to research conducted by the Urban Indian Health Institute in Seattle, more than four times as many Indigenous women go missing than white women in Washington state.

“We must do everything we can to address the epidemic of murdered and missing Indigenous women and people in the state,” Ferguson said in a statement. “This alert system will provide a way to quickly and safely locate anyone who goes missing."

The measure is the latest step the state has taken to address the issue. The Washington State Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Task Force is working to coordinate a statewide response and had its first meeting in December. Its first report is expected in August.

“Too many Indigenous mothers, sisters, wives and daughters have been torn from their families and their children raised without mothers,” Democratic Rep. Debra Lekanoff, the measure’s sponsor, said in a statement. “This crisis impacts every one of our families and communities, and it takes collaboration among all governing bodies, law enforcement and media to bring awareness and stop these horrific crimes.”

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