Colville tribal member Earth Feather Sovereign, president of the advocacy group Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Washington, speaks at an event in Nespelem, May 5

NESPELEM - As part of the national Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Day of Awareness, May 5, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Washington, a nonprofit advocacy group who’s leadership is composed primarily of Colville Tribal members, organized a small event at the Nespelem Fourth of July Grounds, featuring a keynote address from Colville tribal elder Yvonne Swan and an open mic for missing and murdered indigenous survivors and families to speak.

“Today is about remembering and honoring our missing and murdered indigenous people,” said Colville Tribal member Morning Star Hall. “We honor them so that they’re not forgotten.”

While American Indians and Alaskan Natives only make up 1.9 percent of the national population, they make up 7 percent of the missing and murdered cases across the country, according to MMIWW.

“Nationally there is a pandemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People,” reads a release from MMIWW. “There is no comprehensive database, just estimates of our Missing People. In 2021, the National Crimes Center reported in the U.S. there are 543,018 Missing People, 274, 057 Men, 258,884 Women. 9,575 are American Indians (AI). 7,062 are AI Children. 5,295 are AI Females. 4,276 are AI Males. 4 AI unknown. Washington State Patrol reports 98 opened cases in our State (53 males, 45 females, 33 children). We don’t know the numbers on the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. We don’t know how many of those who went Missing were Found, Murdered, or are STILL Missing!”

Speakers at the event and online commenters listed missing and/or murdered friends and family members, including:

-Casey Burke

-George McDonald

-Eddie Pooler

-George Pooler

-Mia Stanger

-Jackie Miller

-Jolleen Lee

-Theresa Jack

-Connie Williams

-Kamiah Bird

-Ronnie Thomas, Jr.

-William Nanpuya

-Sharon Elizabeth Moses

According to the Urban Indian Health Institute, Washington state has the second highest rate of open unsolved cases of missing native women and Seattle has the highest rate of open and unsolved cases of missing native women.

MMIWW also points out that nationally Native American women experience sexual assault and domestic violence 10 times more than the national average and homicide is the third lead cause of death for Native Americans ages 10 to 24 years old.

Much of the struggle with MMIW cases comes from  jurisdictional issues, said MMIWW President Earth Feather Sovereign who noted current legislation at the state and federal level looks to fix some of those jurisdictional hurdles.

In 2018, Washington state passed HB2951, legislation that established a study of the ways to increase state resources for reporting and identifying Missing Native Americans.

In 2019, the state passed HB1713, which created two WSP Tribal Liaison positions to work with tribes, Urban Indian Organizations, victims and families in MMIW cases across the state.

In 2022, MMIWW is looking to support HB1571, which Sovereign called the “Bring them home bill” and which - amongst other features - would create a “Red Thunder Alert,” similar to an Amber Alert for MMIW cases across Washington.

Nationally, MMIWW has called upon federal lawmakers to support an updated Violence Against Women’s Act that could give Tribes the ability to prosecute non-tribal perpetrators on reservations who want to stalk, molest, rape, sex traffic tribal members, or attack tribal law enforcement officers.

Swan

During her keynote address, Swan retold the story of her 1970s trial for shooting and killing a man who had tried to abduct and molest her child and others.

Swan was initially convicted of second degree murder and assault, but her charges were overturned on appeal, and then the Washington Supreme Court upheld the appeals court decision establishing legal precedence known as the Wanrow Instruction. 

Previously, juries had been instructed to ask in self-defense cases what a reasonable man would have done, but the Wanrow Instruction forced juries to ask for the first time what a reasonable woman in a similar situation would have done, according to online resources.

“Women are different,” said Swan. “Men are expected to fight back. All their lives they’re fighting, but women were never expected to fight back.”

In retrial, Swan said she agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter because her attorney told her self-defense was included in manslaughter.

Swan also drew a parallel between her case and the current case of Colville Tribal member Maddesyn George who is awaiting an Aug. 30 trail in federal court for second degree murder.

George’s mother, Jody George, announced at the event that she had started a Facebook page, called “Maddesyn’s Right to Self-Defense,” to build community support. She also established a Facebook fundraiser page to help with expenses associated with her defense, incarceration and to support Maddesyn George’s 13 month old child.

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