Tulalip Tribes officials and community members talked during an online Q&A on May 5 about the high levels of violence and murder that Native American women face.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) is a crisis facing Native American communities in the U.S. and Canada.
A growing number of groups have been trying to spread information about the problem.
May 5 was recently recognized by the U.S. Congress as a national day of awareness.
“It’s important that we talk about MMIW as a community because we know that Native women are murdered at a rate 10 times higher than other ethnicities,” said Sydney Gilbert, coordinator at the Tulalip Tribes' Children’s Advocacy Center, during the event.
Tulalip Tribal Police Chief Chris Sutter said he has a personal connection to the issue because his wife and family are enrolled members of the Navajo Nation.
“This has been called an invisible epidemic,” said Sutter.
“Washington state is second in the country,” for the total amount of open missing Native American people cases, he said.
Dre Thornock, a Tulalip Tribal member and an advisory member for the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee, noted that the disproportionate murder and violence is also experienced by LGBT Native Americans as well.
Panelists listed problems such as historical colonialism and racism as causes of the crisis.
They also noted the violence is often not coming from within the community, but individuals coming from outside the community.
“Some more root causes are poverty and exclusions from larger communities. All of these reinforce the inequality that Native women and girls face,” said Jade Carela, director of the Tulalip Tribes' Children’s Advocacy Center and a Tulalip Tribal member.
“Due to these inequalities there isn’t always access to culturally appropriate services,” she said.
Panelists said policies must address unequal access to resources.
“Eliminating the inequalities in the services available to Indigenous families, such as children’s services,” said Thornock.
“We need to have consistent, ongoing collection of data and publication of comprehensive national statistics on rates of violent crime against Indigenous women,” Thornock added.
Chori Folkman, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and lead attorney for the Tulalip Office of Civil Legal Aid, said that her office works to empower women.
A victim advocate is available to support the community, she said.
“The victim advocate attorney works in collaboration with the Tulalip Tribes' Legacy of Healing Department to provide civil legal services to victims of intimate partner domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, stalking and trafficking,” said Folkman.
There are also other supports available for those who feel at-risk of being trafficked, said Folkman.
She said more information about those advocacy programs from the Tulalip Tribes' Legacy of Healing Center are available at 360-716-4100.
Sutter said that the Tulalip Police Department responds to missing people’s cases with an incident report and they put names of victims into missing person national and state databases.
“We’ll also assign resources, detectives and officers, to immediately begin investigating. We’ll work with victim’s advocates to ensure that the needs of the family are met,” he said.
He noted that family members do not have to wait to report a missing persons case.
“There is a myth that there is a 24-hour or 48-hour waiting period,” he said. “Time is of critical importance for the investigation of these cases. Investigative resources will be committed on these cases as soon as we receive them."
Carela said the approach to fighting the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women crisis cannot take a single path though.
“Prevention needs to come from a place of being comprehensive,” she said.
“We need to continue to educate and work on policies, procedures and laws,” she added.