Cantwell Presses DOI Secretary on Federal Resources to WA to Combat Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Crisis

state has at least 113 unsolved cases involving missing Indigenous people; Cantwell: “Clearly, we don't have enough resources here”; Friday is Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, questioned U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Deb Haaland on securing additional federal public safety resources to fight the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women crisis in the State of Washington and establishing a federal office to investigate missing and murdered Native women in the Pacific Northwest during a committee hearing.

“I know we’ve started to make change to address this crisis, but we need to do more, Sen. Cantwell said. “Would tribal members in Washington state be better served if we were able to have federal resources in state devoted to missing and murdered Indigenous people in these cold cases?”

Secretary Haaland responded that the DOI started the Missing and Murdered Unit to help address that issue.

“So far, since its creation in 2021, it's investigated 681 missing and murdered persons cases, solved or closed 204 missing persons cases, and solved seven murder cases,” Secretary Haaland said. “And so that is a good start and of course, we would love to continue the staffing on that and make sure that they have the resources they need to solve these cases.”

Currently, the Murdered and Missing Unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services investigates unsolved missing and murdered cases in tribal communities. There are also regional offices dedicated to solving murdered and missing cold cases.

Sen. Cantwell pressed Secretary Haaland: “What about a unit in the state of Washington?”

“We understand that that area has some of the highest missing rates,” Secretary Haaland responded. “We're so happy to work with you on this. And we'll take a look at what we have in the Pacific Northwest. But certainly, you raise an important issue.”

Sen. Cantwell added: “Clearly, we don't have enough resources here. We’re a target. We know that there is a lot of trafficking of women. We know that I-5 and vast amounts of land can lead to lots of different issues.”

This week is National Week of Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. According to the office of the Washington State Attorney General, there are at least 113 unsolved cases with an Indigenous victim. The Seattle Indian Health Board found that Seattle and Tacoma have some of the highest rates of missing and murdered Native women and girls in a report on 71 urban areas.

The proposed FY24 DOI budget provides an increase for Public Safety & Justice programs, as well as $16.5 million dedicated just for Missing and Murdered Units.

In 2020, bipartisan legislation cosponsored and championed by Sen. Cantwell called Savanna’s Act was signed into law. The law helps federal, state, and tribal law enforcement agencies better respond to cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls by improving coordination among all levels of law enforcement, increasing data collection and information sharing, and providing tribal governments with the resources they need to better respond to cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Video footage of today’s hearing is available HERE; audio HERE; and a transcript HERE.