One of the many obstacles that make the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People (MMIWP) crisis so overwhelming is the lack of available data, from missing Indigenous people being misclassified by race to law enforcement agencies not using the same database system.
However, this issue is being tackled head-on in Washington state.
Due to the high percentage of Indigenous women and people going missing in North America, the Washington State Patrol (WSP) began releasing its Missing Native American Persons list on a weekly to bi-weekly basis in early 2021.
The majority of Indigenous people of Washington state go missing in Yakima County (28.2%) under the jurisdictions of the Yakama Tribal Police Department, the Yakima Police Department and the Yakima County Sheriff’s Department. The county with the second-largest number of missing Indigenous persons is King County with 17.6%.
King County’s found Indigenous people
In 2022, 47 named Indigenous people who were reported missing in King County were found.
Of these named people, 19 were under the jurisdiction of the Seattle Police Department and 15 people were under the King County Sheriff’s Office. Another six were under the Auburn Police Department, three were under Federal Way Police Department and two were under Des Moines Police Department. The Kent Police Department and the Port of Seattle Police Department each had jurisdiction over one missing person who was found.
Of the named missing who were found, just over half of the people were under the age of 18, which is 55% percent of those who were previously missing.
Throughout 2022, there were 14 lists released by the WSP, including the Jan. 3 list with data gathered from the end of December 2022. While early 2022 lists included the names of missing people when they were found, this changed in June when the only information provided about found persons were their age range, gender, the reporting agency that had jurisdiction over their cases and the dates they were found.
Toward the end of the year, the lists included the number of days people were missing, which ranged from zero days to 438 days. These lists included those who were reported on in previous lists and those who never made their way to the WSP lists.
From the available data, at least 29 un-named Indigenous persons were found in 2022, totalling in roughly 77 Indigenous persons found in the various King County jurisdictions.
Those who are still missing
A total of 23 Indigenous people within King County law enforcement jurisdictions are still considered missing, eight of whom went missing in 2022 and two in 2021.
The reporting police agencies of the 23 who are still missing include Seattle, King County Sheriff’s Office, Auburn, Kent, Renton, Des Moines, Federal Way and Port of Seattle.
There are currently two missing cases in Renton, Washington with the disappearance of Edith “Margaret” Claver (60) on Nov. 27, 2009 and Dustin Wyena (43) on Oct. 17, 2021. Contact Renton Police at 425-430-7500 to report their whereabouts.
Looking toward the future
Despite being less than 2% of the population, Indigenous people are 5% of the unresolved cases throughout Washington state.
In August 2022, the Washington State MMIWP Task Force released its 10 recommendations to help combat the crisis, which included establishing and fully funding an MMIWP-focused Cold Case Investigations Unit within the Attorney General’s Office.
On Jan. 6, the creation of this cold case unit was officially proposed to the Washington State Legislature.
Senate Bill 5137 was sponsored by Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond) with companion bill HB 1177 introduced in the House by Rep. Debra Lekanoff (D-Anacortes).
“Addressing the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and people requires coordination at all levels of government,” Lekanoff said.
“Only together can we address this threat to our communities, and housing the MMIWP Cold Case Unit within the Office of the Attorney General not only helps ensure needed resources are available, but also sends a message to Washington’s first peoples. A message that they are finally being seen and heard, and that Washington state is protecting them.”
From the AGO, the creations of the Cold Case Investigations Unit would primarily assist local and tribal law enforcement agencies to solve cold cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous women and people, which includes the 23 missing from within King County’s jurisdictions.
The Cold Case Unit will include investigators and a case navigator who will work with and maintain regular, consistent communication with MMIWP families and convey information between the investigators and families using culturally appropriate and trauma informed practices.