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Tue, Nov. 19

Oregon joins effort to solve crimes against Native women

Native American women have gone missing or been killed at alarming rates, federal and private studies show. (Adobe Image)

Native American women have gone missing or been killed at alarming rates, federal and private studies show. (Adobe Image)

SALEM, Ore. – Native American women have gone missing or been killed at alarming rates, federal and private studies show, and there is growing concern that confusion by law enforcement over who has jurisdiction can lead to lax pursuit of cases and insufficient data.

Oregon, home to nine federally recognized tribes or confederations of tribes, has now joined a movement to account for and solve more of the crimes.

Patricia Whitefoot, whose sister disappeared in 1987 in an unsolved case, watched as Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill Thursday that directs the state police to study how to increase and improve criminal justice resources on these cases.

"As families, we simply seek justice and healing of the heart," Whitefoot told lawmakers in written testimony last month.

After Brown signed the bill, Whitefoot told a reporter her sister, Daisy Mae Heath Tallman, was 29 when she went missing.

She was Whitefoot's youngest sister and lived with her in Washington state. She would be gone for long periods, fishing for salmon in traditional spots along the Columbia River that divides Washington from Oregon and visiting relatives on the Warm Springs reservation in Oregon. Then, in the autumn of 1987, she never returned to her home in White Swan, Washington.

"She was just a very self-reliant, self-sufficient individual who could take care of her business and what needed to be done, fiercely independent," said Whitefoot, who wore a red dress – representing missing and murdered indigenous women – otter furs, shell jewelry and moccasins to the bill signing ceremony.

Travis Hampton, superintendent of the Oregon State Police, told attendees, many of them Native American women, that he was emotionally invested in bringing results. He said he had been concerned about a lack of state police jurisdiction in Indian country but that it would be compensated for with collaboration among federal, state and local law enforcement.

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