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'They were invisible': Washington makes progress in handling missing indigenous persons cases

A 2019 law is making a difference in how investigators prioritize cases involving missing or murdered tribal members, says an activist who helped pass it.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The state of Washington still ranks among the worst in the nation when it comes to unsolved crimes involving indigenous persons, but advocate Earth-Feather Sovereign said the state is getting better.

“I feel like this has improved a lot,” said Sovereign, who helped get legislation passed in 2019 to improve the relationship between police and tribal members.

Her sister, Lisa Jackson, and niece, Eveona Cortez, were murdered in 2018.

She said their killings did not receive enough attention from law enforcement or the community.

“They were invisible. A lot of the media was silent,” said Sovereign.

The bill she worked on in 2018 forced the state patrol to hire two liaisons to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the tribes.

She said it’s helping.

“People are beginning to open their eyes, and open their hearts, and open their minds, and hopefully, you know, together, we could all make a better change for our tribal people,” said Sovereign.

The issue has also been taken up nationwide. May 5 has been observed as a day of awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Federal legislation also has been introduced to recognize May 5 as a day of awareness.

Patti Gosch is one of two Washington State Patrol liaisons hired as a result of the state legislation.

She said the state patrol has helped reunite some of the missing indigenous people with their families.

She credits the state’s website and efforts to reach out to tribal leaders.

She said bridging that gap is "under construction."

"We had a call from a person in Canada, their uncle had been missing since 1967 and had gone unreported. It’s basically not having trust with outside law enforcement,” said Gosch.

She said the man was located.

“Challenge accepted,” said Gosch.