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Cantwell grills Interior Secretary about missing, murdered Indigenous women

WASHINGTON — The issue of missing Indigenous women took center stage on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Monday morning.

Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell grilled Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, about concerns around the trend of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

As Haaland came before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Cantwell said that she has spoken to tribal groups that have maybe two law enforcement officers to patrol huge areas with hundreds, if not thousands, of acres of land. Cantwell said missing and murdered Indigenous women is a national problem, though it’s been particularly prominent in Washington.

KIRO 7 has tracked several cases in our region where Indigenous people disappeared or were found dead after being reported missing. Haaland said the Department of the Interior’s budget does fund more than $16 million for units that will look into the concerns.

Cantwell’s questions to Haaland were backed by statistics. According to a report by the Washington State Patrol, there are dozens of cases of missing Native women, with the highest number of missing Natives coming from Yakima County. Cantwell did ask if more federal resources and staff are needed in Washington state for the Missing and Murdered Unit (MMU).

“We don’t have enough resources here. We’re a target. We know that there’s a lot of trafficking of women,” said Cantwell.

Haaland said that the agency is willing to work to get more personnel in Washington for the MMU.

“We understand that area has some of the highest missing rates, and certainly in small communities, you can imagine a dozen people went missing at one time. We’re so happy to work with you on this and we’ll take a look at what we have in the (Pacific Northwest). There’s one agent (in Washington) in the MMU, but sure, we could use more,” said Haaland.

Cantwell also cited statistics that show the issue is not just a rural or reservation concern. The Seattle Indian Health Board issued a report on 71 urban areas finding that Seattle and Tacoma have some of the highest cases of missing and murdered Native women and girls. Cantwell’s office also cited the Washington Attorney General’s Office, which says there are at least 113 unsolved cases with an Indigenous victim right now.

In 2020, Cantwell cosponsored bipartisan legislation named Savanna’s Act which was signed into law. It helps federal, state, and tribal law enforcement agencies better respond to these missing person cases.

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