‘We demand more’: Looking back at Yakama women missing, murdered in 2019

YAKAMA NATION, Wash. — Many are gathered with their families this Christmas Eve, hanging stockings on a mantle or watching the smoldering embers of a hearty fire.

But for some families on the Yakama Nation Reservation, the holidays are a reminder of what they’ve lost: there’s one more empty chair than the year before.

“We live here,” activist Roxanne White said in early December. “We’re the ones that are burying our relatives all the time.”

For years, activists and families say the record number of women missing from the Yakama Nation has been ignored and their voices silenced.

“Why does it have to take for so many to die for them to do anything?” said Tina Minthorn, whose niece was found dead earlier this year.

Minthorn told KAPP-KVEW she feels like the lack of urgency to find the missing women is because they’re native.

“I don’t want them to think that nobody cares,” Minthorn said. “It’s a human being, first of all. Not just a native, not just an Indian: a human being. And people don’t look at that.”

Over the past year, KAPP-KVEW has covered the stories of the missing, murdered, and the families they leave behind. We’ve gathered many of those stories here, as well as those that provide some hope for the future:

  • More than 200 people from the Yakama Nation and Washington State Patrol met in January to continue building a partnership they hope will help curb the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women.
  • Yakama Nation families marched in the Yakima Women’s March, holding signs with the names of those they love and have lost.
  • George Skyler Cloud, 22, was sentenced in May to life in prison for the killing of 33-year-old Felina Metsker in 2016.
  • U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse met with Yakama Nation representatives in May to discuss steps ways Congress can help find a solution to the MMIW crisis.
  • A landmark report released by the Washington State Patrol found 56 missing indigenous women statewide. The largest population in that report was 20 Yakama women. But due to underreporting and racial misclassification, activists say the total number could be as high as 80 indigenous women currently missing statewide.
    Activists later criticized the report as being incomplete.
  • The Urban Indian Health Institute released its own report, MMIWG: We Demand More, which addressed gaps they saw in the WSP report and provided recommendations. “We are demanding more effort from decision-makers and law enforcement,” the report said.
  • In June, five people were killed in a shooting in White Swan, including Yakama woman Catherine Eneas. While the suspects, James Cloud and Donovan Cloud, have been charged in connection with incidents following the killings, neither have been charged with murder.
  • After being missing for nine months, Rosenda Strong was found dead on the Fourth of July in a freezer in a remote area of Toppenish. Her sister, Cissy Reyes, continues to advocate on her sister’s behalf. “You can’t just take somebody because you want to,’ Reyes told KAPP-KVEW. “You can’t take somebody’s life and think it’s okay. Nobody deserves to go missing.”
  • In August, Gail Teo was brutally murdered in her White Swan home. Michael Anthony Davis, 26, was charged with her murder. He reportedly told police he was angry over her not giving him work. “She did not deserve this,” Teo’s sister, Gina Northover-Moore told KAPP-KVEW.
  • Alillia “Lala” Minthorn was found dead in May in the remote hills north of Brownstown. Jordan Everett Stevens was charged with her murder and is awaiting trial. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to let go,” Alillia’s sister Tanya Miller said. “I don’t understand it. I don’t like it. And I don’t know what to do with all this hurt and anger that I have inside.”
  • In November, Yakama woman Rachel Norris disappeared after an accidental fire destroyed her Wapato home. Family and friends continue to search for her. “The family really just needs to hear her, hug her and reassure her that everything will be OK,” Rachel’s aunt Kathryn Schwartz said. “We want her to know that she is important to all of us and we really all just want her home.”
  • The Washington State Patrol hired one of two tribal liaisons dedicated to working on the MMIW crisis.
  • In November, U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced a $1.5 million plan to address the MMIW crisis. Additionally, President Donald Trump signed an executive order creating a national task force on the issue.
  • Federal legislators saw promise for two bills: Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act, both of which would change the way law enforcement deals with the MMIW crisis.
  • Earlier this month, dozens of family members gathered together to mourn their loved ones and gather strength in the community they have built around their loss. “Our family, when they go out, they think they’re just gonna have a good time,” White told KAPP-KVEW. “We have to worry if we’ll ever see them again.”