OLYMPIA - Colville Business Council chair Rodney Cawston and CBC member Joel Boyd testified in support of a bill, Thursday in the Senate State Government, Tribal Relations and Elections Committee, that looks to improve the state’s law enforcement response to missing and murdered indigenous women.

If passed into law, the bill would establish two WSP tribal liaison positions, require the WSP to develop a best practices protocol for law enforcement response to missing persons reports for indigenous women and require the Governor's Office of Indian Affairs to provide the WSP with government-to-government training.

“This bill is about breaking silence,” said sponsor Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, who stated on the Yakama Nation during a tour of state reservation’s last year, “we had over 300 people and 4.5 hours of heartbreaking testimony as to where their family member was, or that they found them murdered, or that we weren’t looking for them,” said Mosbrucker. “This bill is about making sure we fix that, rather than wait another year.”

In April 2018, Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law legislation that required WSP to conduct a study on ways to improve state resources for reporting and identifying missing tribal women across the state. The study is due to the state legislature in July.

Mosbrucker further noted that nine other states had followed Washington’s lead in improving the state police’s response to missing and murdered indigenous women. The legislation is also mirrored in congressional work put forth by Washington’s Dan Newhouse.

“This is not just a Washington state problem. This is a national problem, and sadly it is an global problem,” said Mosbrucker. “We are also working with Canada trying to figure out where these women are and what we can do to intervene to help and represent everyone within Washington state, on and off the reservation, not just one or the other.”

Boyd noted the 1989 Centennial Accord institutionalized “the government-to-government relationships of all the tribes and all elements of state government. The accord encourages and provides the foundation and framework for specific agreements among the parties outlining specific tasks to address or resolve specific issues. It is through this process that I hope the Washington State Patrol will engage and draft protocols for law enforcement responses to missing person reports for indigenous women and other indigenous persons.”

“The criminal justice system needs to better serve and protect native american women,” said Boyd, who called previously approved legislation approved in 2018 as a “monumental step in the right direction.”

Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Beacon Hill, called the acts against missing and murdered indigenous women “incomprehensible” and further asked how such a phenomenon could occur.

In response, Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Samish Island, noted much of the problem is caused by “a data gap and data sharing break down in the enforcement and protection of our native american women.”

Lekanoff, a Tlingit tribal member, issued her support via testimony in the senate committee.

“We too, in our tribal communities, need to rise above what has been accepted and provide better relationships at all governing bodies to be able to create those plans, funding and programs, and put them in place, and I believe this bill does that for us.”

In his testimony in committee, Cawston expressed “the disproportionate reality of our young people,” listing off Indian Country issues such as violence, prejudice, poverty, lack of employment, lack of educational opportunities, lack of connectivity among other issues.

“When you look at all of these things and all of these issues combined in the lives of our young people - lack of hope, lack of self identity - it’s difficult meeting those challenges and making those critical decisions at different points of your life thinking which direction am I going to go.  Bearing all of this in mind, and how we wonder how something like this can happen,” said Cawston.

The bill has an associated cost of approximately $600,000 to the state’s general fund, and it contains a null-and-void clause if it is not funded.

Previously, the bill passed out of the house by a vote of 98 to 0.

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