‘People are getting hurt’: Benita Long among at least 35 missing from Yakama Reservation

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. — The latest report from the Washington State Patrol shows 132 missing Indigenous people across the state, including 35 from the Yakama Reservation. For some, it’s just a long list of names.

But behind each name is a person who’s gone and a family who loves them and wants nothing more than to bring them home. For Loni Long, that person is her cousin, Benita Long.

“People are getting hurt, people are dying,” Loni said. “We really need to do something. As Native people, we need to come together and start helping each other and not hurting each other.”

Benita Long, 41, has been missing for at least six months from Toppenish and no one has seen or heard from her since her disappearance. Loni said there’s no way her cousin is just hiding and doesn’t want to be found.

“If you know Benita, she pops up every every little while and she’s not afraid to ask for help, if she needs help.” Loni said. “She hasn’t done that at all. It’s been completely quiet. So something’s wrong, something’s definitely wrong.”

Over the past few months, Loni’s received numerous messages on social media from people saying they might know something about Benita’s disappearance. She said she’s passed them on to law enforcement, but it’s all rumors.

“I just want the truth to come forward,” Loni said.

It’s family members and advocates of  people like Benita Long that have consistently spoken out, calling for justice for missing and murdered friends, relatives and neighbors for decades. It’s only been in recent years that their voices are being heard by the people in a position to make lasting change.

One of the big changes this year was Washington becoming the first state to create a statewide alert system specifically for Indigenous people, championed by Rep. Debra Lekanoff.

WSP Missing and Unidentified Persons Unit director Carri Gordon said since the system went live in July, they’ve sent out 10 alerts and eight of those people have been found.

“The most recent two — from the last 24 hours — are the only ones that are still outstanding,” Gordon said.

Gordon said family members cannot make a request to issue an alert, but any law enforcement agency in Washington state with a missing Indigenous person can ask for an alert to be sent out and get as many eyes as possible looking for whomever is missing.

“We need to keep the public engaged, because that’s what helps us find people,” Gordon said.

In August, the Washington State Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Task Force issued its first report, which included 10  recommendations to fix gaps in services and better respond to violence against Indigenous people.

Lawmakers like Rep. Dan Newhouse have also introduced new legislation they hope will help to address the MMIWP epidemic, including the Parity for Tribal Law Enforcement Act aimed at providing more resources to tribal police.

“This is obviously going to provide more ability on the part of tribal law enforcement agencies to work on MMIW issues, absolutely, but it’s even bigger than that,” Newhouse said. “It will allow the tribal agents to help keep their communities much safer.”

Newhouse said he and other lawmakers are continuing to push for the creation of a specialized unit based out of Yakima County that’s dedicated to solving MMIWP cold cases, but there’s no firm timeline on when that may happen.

In the meantime, people like Benita Long are still missing and their families are holding out hope that they will get new information that leads them to finding their loved one.

“People have contacted me from all over the United States to share her information, so continuing to do that will help a lot,” Loni said.  “But I’m a person who believes in prayer … I definitely believe in prayers for her return.”

If anyone has seen or heard from Benita Long or has any information about her whereabouts, please contact Yakama Nation Tribal Police at 509-865-2933 and reference case number 22-004079.

The full list of missing indigenous people in Washington state can be found here