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Home News Nation's first early warning system for missing Indigenous people threatens Washington state

Nation’s first early warning system for missing Indigenous people threatens Washington state

Washington: Nearly a year after the nation’s first alert system for missing Indigenous people launched in Washington, the pressure to address the crisis of unsolved cases is spreading to the state and beyond its borders.

The system, known as MIPA, was launched last July. So far this week, officials have issued 56 alerts, according to the Washington State Patrol. While most people have been found safe, two were found dead and six remain untraceable.

“It’s working because the community is coming together and people are stepping up,” said Patti Gosh, a tribal liaison with the Washington State Patrol. “More people are being found because the community is involved, (with) law enforcement going on the ground and physically finding people.”

Gosch, who answers calls from relatives when an Indigenous person is missing, says the alert system has streamlined case response and highlighted their urgency.

Before launching it, Gosch says investigators will work with advocacy groups and relatives to gather information to create and distribute a poster, but it will take 8 to 10 hours to do so.

“Now, it takes 10 minutes to hit the East Coast and come back. So it’s given up a lot of time to help other families, which is incredible,” she said.

The Alert is similar to the Amber and Silver Alert, and can be activated when an Indigenous person is “missing due to unexplained, involuntary, or suspicious circumstances and/or is believed to be at risk due to age, health, adverse weather, or is considered unable to return to safety without other circumstances and assistance, according to the Washington State Patrol.

Chris Loftis, a spokesman for the Washington State Patrol, says alerts for a variety of cases range from juvenile runaways to people who have been abducted or taken for criminal activities such as human trafficking. have been issued.

While it is difficult to confirm whether the alert has a direct effect on most cases, Loftis and Gosh say it has saved lives. An alert was raised when a young woman who had been abducted was found abandoned on the side of the road more than 100 miles from her home, he says. He declined to provide further details about the incident to protect the privacy of the woman.

“If you’re a victim, it sends a message of ‘hey, we’re looking for you.’ We’re not going to give up, and if you’re a criminal, it says, ‘hey, we’re looking for you. ,'” Loftis said.

The state’s attention to the crisis of missing indigenous persons and its efforts is expanding. A new cold case unit to investigate violent crime is expected to be created in the state attorney general’s office after Gov. Jay Inslee signed it into law last month.

As of Monday, 142 Native Americans were missing in Washington state, according to the Washington State Patrol. Native Americans make up about 2% of the state’s population.

A 2018 report by the Urban Indian Health Institute shows that Washington was among the states with the highest number of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

Biden and state officials are joining the call to action

The state’s response to the issue of missing and killed indigenous peoples is part of a series of federal and state initiatives launched across the United States in recent years to address a growing crisis that advocates and tribes say has been largely ignored.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs estimates that there are thousands of unsolved missing and murder cases involving Native Americans across the United States. Meanwhile, data from the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System shows that as of December 2022, there were 793 unsolved cases of missing Native American people.

President Joe Biden’s administration created a unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs to investigate the cases and increase cooperation between federal agencies and Indian country. This week, Biden issued a proclamation commemorating Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day on Friday and called on the nation to “resource the resources needed to stop the violence and respond to reverse the legacy of inequality and neglect that continues.” Drives it often.”

“Families are left on their own to investigate disappearances, seek justice for their loved ones, and their souls are being torn to pieces. Generations of activists and organizers have pushed for accountability, protection and change,” Biden wrote in the proclamation.

At the state level, California and Colorado have launched their own alert systems to aid in efforts to search for an Indigenous person who is reported missing.

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