By Molly Bryant, Puyallup Tribal News
A community celebration was held at the Emerald Queen Casino on June 7 to acknowledge the legislative progress that has been made with the help of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman and People (MMIWP) Task Force.
The MMIWP Task Force comprises 23 Washington representatives with various backgrounds, such as legislators, Tribal Council and community members. It was created under the facilitation of the Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. Its members have been collaborating together to address the MMIWP crisis in Washington state.
Two Puyallup Tribal members are on the Task Force: Councilwoman Anna Bean and Anti-Trafficking Program Manager/MMIWP advocate Carolyn DeFord.
Councilwoman Bean emceed the June 7 event at the EQC. “I am here today with the full support of our entire council,” she said. She serves as the chair for the MMIWP Tribes subcommittee and co-chair on the Task Force Executive Board.
Councilwoman Bean reflected on all of the work that has been completed in this legislative session, stating, “Today we’re going to be celebrating some things that have gone through in legislation during this last session, which I find absolutely phenomenal for just a little over a year of work together to get these things through.”
Thus far, the Task Force has established the first MMIWP Cold Case Unit in the state. Attorney General Ferguson said, “This is really groundbreaking work that will provide tremendous resources to Tribal, local, and federal law enforcement agencies to really make sure that we’re doing everything we can to address these unresolved cases involving Indigenous victims and receive what they deserve: a robust investigation.”
In addition, they are working on implementing a missing-person tool kit. The tool kit would provide information and resources on the procedure for what to do if your loved one goes missing, including “special provisions to navigate cases involving tribes and tribal people.”
Finally, Attorney General Ferguson said there are plans to create a Tribal Advisory Council that will “start to understand the history of boarding school policies and the effects that these had on indigenous people and communities throughout the state.”
Carolyn DeFord is a co-chair of the MMIWP Task Force Families committee, and she has been personally affected by the MMIWP epidemic. Her mother, Leona LeClair Kinsey, was reported missing on October 25, 1999, after meeting a man named John at the grocery store. Two years later, her cousin Lenore Davis Lawrence was murdered when she went to help a friend facing a domestic violence crisis.
She said, “I’m grateful that we’re here today, but I’m also pretty mad. Where were we 20 years ago? Why aren’t we taking protection orders seriously? Why are there gaps in how we’re protecting our people and our children?”
DeFord has been a strong advocate for the MMIWP movement, even creating a Facebook page dedicated to finding missing persons called “Missing and Murdered Native Americans”.
Speaking to the flaws in the justice system, she said, “You get more information when you open a bank account than you do when you file a missing persons report. That is something that we’re working on changing.”
While celebrations were due for all of the work completed with the help of the MMIWP Task Force, many speakers reminded the audience that this is just the beginning.
DeFord said, “Coming together today, we know that this is just the beginning, and we got a lot of work to do. But we can’t take our foot off the gas.”