Lekanoff Bill to Solve Cases of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Passes Unanimously in the House

OLYMPIA – Too many Indigenous mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters have been torn from their families. Native women experience violence at much higher rates than the national average and are murdered at rates greater than 10 times the national average. Many of these cases are unsolved or even unreported.  

Last year, Rep. Debra Lekanoff (D-Bow) sponsored legislation to develop a first-in-the-nation task force and alert system to help identify and locate missing Indigenous women and people. This year, she sponsored House Bill 1177, which creates a Cold Case Investigations Unit within the Office of the Attorney General to assist law enforcement with solving cold cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous women and people. House Bill 1177 passed unanimously in the House on February 28th, 2023. 

“The rate of missing and murdered indigenous women in the country is a public safety crisis,” said Lekanoff. “I bring my unique perspective as a Native woman while developing legislation. One of my top legislative priorities has always been to advocate for the safety of Indigenous people in Washington State, and I am here to say that this crisis is unacceptable.”  

Under this new legislation, The Unit must prioritize assistance to jurisdictions that do not have sufficient resources to investigate cold cases. The Unit must include an advocate or case navigator whose primary function is to work with and maintain regular, consistent, and confidential communication with families of missing and murdered indigenous women and people, and to convey information between the investigators and families using culturally appropriate and trauma-informed practices. 

“It is our duty to support, protect, and uplift every community in our state. We can and we must do better to advocate for the safety of Indigenous people in Washington,” said Lekanoff. “This bill is about valuing the lives of Indigenous women. It’s about making sure their lives matter. It’s about making sure my life matters.” House Bill 1177 will advance to the Senate for consideration.