State Adopts Alerts for Missing Indigenous People

Washington's system, the nation's first, is similar to Amber Alerts
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 31, 2022 4:20 PM CDT
State Adopts Alerts for Missing Indigenous People
Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington speaks at the state Capitol in Olympia in January.   (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday signed into law a bill that creates a first-in-the-nation statewide alert system for missing Indigenous people. The law creates a system similar to Amber Alerts and so-called silver alerts, which are used respectively for missing children and vulnerable adults in many states. The system will notify law enforcement when there's a report of a missing Indigenous person, the AP reports. It will also place messages on highway reader boards and on the radio and social media, and will provide information to the news media.

The law attempts to address a crisis of missing Indigenous people—particularly women—in Washington and across the United States. While it includes men, women, and children, a summary of public testimony on the legislation notes that "the crisis began as a women's issue, and it remains primarily a women's issue." A 2021 report by a government watchdog found the true number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the US is unknown due to reporting problems, distrust of law enforcement, and jurisdictional conflicts. But Native American women face murder rates almost three times those of white women overall—and up to 10 times the national average in certain locations, according to a 2021 summary of existing research by the National Congress of American Indians. More than 80% have experienced violence.

In Washington, more than four times as many Indigenous women go missing as white women, according to research conducted by the Urban Indian Health Institute in Seattle, but many such cases receive little or no media attention. An alert system will help mitigate some problems surrounding investigations of missing Indigenous people by allowing better communication among tribal, local and state law enforcement and creating a way for law enforcement to flag such cases for other agencies. The law also expands the definition of "missing endangered person" to include Indigenous people, per the AP, as well as children and vulnerable adults with disabilities or memory or cognitive issues.

(Read more Indigenous peoples stories.)

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