Legislators should increase state funding for DNA testing and forensic genetic genealogy of unidentified human remains, a state task force recommended.
The recommendations came from a Washington task force on missing and murdered Indigenous women and people in a report adopted unanimously on Nov. 20.
The report said DNA testing and forensic genetic genealogy can help identify missing Indigenous people "and bring a measure of closure to families." The primary barrier to testing is cost strapped agencies, according to the report.
DNA testing of remains costs approximately $2,500 and the approximate cost of forensic genetic genealogy is $8,000. The state provides financial assistance to local coroners and medical examiners through an account administered by the Forensic Investigation Council, the report says.
Task force members recommend that the Legislature provide one-time funding to the council in its Death Investigations Account to identify remains that have not yet had DNA testing completed and for forensic genetic genealogy if DNA testing fails to yield a match. The group also seeks ongoing funding to ensure needs are met, the report says.
There are 164 unidentified human remains in Washington state, according to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), a publicly accessible national database of cases of missing people and unidentified and unclaimed human remains.
Of those, three are in Yakima County. They include Parker Doe, who is believed to have been Indigenous. She was discovered near Parker Dam in the Lower Yakima Valley in February 1988.
The crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people is national and international in scope and has received greater attention in the last few years, especially in Washington state.
The task force also recommended:
—The state establish a work group co-led by the Attorney General's office, Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, family members and two tribal epidemiology centers to develop best practices for Indigenous data collection by law enforcement, coroners and medical examiners.
—On the federal level, that the U.S. Department of Justice Programs establish a nationwide Missing Indigenous Persons Alert.
Task force members will visit communities and tribes across the state over the next year to hear directly from people impacted by the crisis, executive committee members said.
It's the second report released by the 23-member task force. Members released their first interim report in August 2022 with a list of 10 recommendations to address a centuries-long crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people.
Some of those recommendations have become reality. The attorney general's office is in the process of hiring staff for a cold case investigation unit, which will focus on cold cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people.
Task force members will meet through June 30, 2025, with their final report due by June 1, 2025.
"We learned much over the past year and a half" in holding more than 200 meetings, talking circles and public forums "to understand the lived experiences, realities and barriers that Indigenous people experiencing disproportionate rates of violence are dealing with every day," executive committee members said in their letter.
"We also learned that there is a distinct need for more education and awareness about the lives of Indigenous people, the history of tribes and the intersecting social issues that fuel the MMIWP crisis."