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Proposed Washington System Could Help Find Missing Indigenous People

Debra Lekanoff, the only Native American member of the Washington state legislature, ​​helped introduce legislation that would implement an alert system for missing Indigenous people, the Guardian reports. If passed, the system would be a first. It would not only help locate individuals and improve communication between law enforcement agencies and local jurisdictions, but also increase awareness about the crisis of missing Indigenous people, particularly women and girls. American Indian and Alaska Native women in the state go missing at a rate more than four times higher than the state’s white residents, according to a 2019 report by Seattle's Urban Indian Health Institute.

In a 2018 report, the institute found that of the 29 states surveyed, Washington had the second highest number of cases of missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls. The proposed alert system would function similarly to “silver alerts”, which are used in Washington and dozens of other states across the nation to help locate missing vulnerable people. The idea is that when an Indigenous person is reported missing, law enforcement could activate the alert, resulting in details about the person being broadcast via highway advisory radio messages, signs and press releases for the media. Lekanoff said details of the system would be worked out in consultation with the state's 29 federally recognized tribes.