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The sister of an Indigenous woman in an unsolved murder case was unaware she was missing

The last time Ernestine Morning Owl spoke to her younger sister, Mavis Nelson, was in April, she said.

For two months, she had no idea anything was wrong with Nelson, 56, given that she was busy with her desk job at a Seattle rehabilitation center.

But in June, one of Nelson’s children named Morning Owl, who lives in Oregon near the Washington border, said Seattle police had identified human remains in a ravine as belonging to his mother. The King County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled her death a homicide and said she sustained multiple sharp wounds.

“It was devastating,” Morning Owl said, “because first of all, I didn’t even know she was missing.”

Image: Mavis Nelson
Seattle police are investigating the death of Mavis Nelson, 56.Ernestine morning owl

As police continue their investigation, family and friends of Nelson, who was a member of the Yakama Nation tribe, are speaking out publicly in an effort to bring her killer to justice.

But they wonder why there doesn’t seem to be any lingering urgency or awareness of Nelson’s case in a state that launched the nation’s fall first alert system for missing tribal peoples and convene a nationwide task force on the issue affecting Native American communities.

Roxanne White, a friend of Nelson and founder of a grassroots group in Washington state working on behalf of missing and murdered indigenous peoples, said Nelson’s death has begun to draw attention this week, but only because her friends and family spoke up, not because of law enforcement.

“I hope someone goes back to that timeline and remembers something,” White said. “All this lost time is crucial. We need to put these pieces of the puzzle together so we can finish this. Your family needs to see whoever did this will be caught.”

Authorities have not said when Nelson was first reported missing, although Morning Owl believes Nelson’s staff at least did because “she never missed work”. police published information about the case on June 21, the day after Nelson’s body was discovered, but did not provide her name.

In an email Friday, the Seattle Police Department said the department “does not release the names of crime victims,” ​​but they may be provided by the King County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Nelson’s family and friends say they still have questions, including how long her body may have been outdoors, and don’t know if police are any closer to identifying a suspect. White said investigators could lose valuable leads if they don’t release her friend’s name.

“It’s extremely backward,” White said. “One would think their protocol would be to ask for help.”

White said she met Nelson when they lived on the Yakama Reservation about a decade ago and became friends. White had personal problems and Nelson gave her a hot meal and a place to rest.

“She was a beautiful person and I never forgot how kind she was to me,” said White, who had not seen Nelson in years and was surprised to learn from a tribal elder in June that she had been killed. “In a situation like what happened with Mavis, it was really sad that even I, as a grassroots attorney, hadn’t heard that she was missing until she was found murdered.”

The Washington Missing Indigenous Persons Alert was introduced in July, about two months after Gov. Jay Inslee signed it into law. The program is similar to Amber or Silver Alerts, in which information about a missing Indigenous person is distributed to the public via text message and displayed on electronic highway signs.

Two alerts have been issued since the program started, including one last week where a person was located within 24 hours.

Although not every missing tribal person case can benefit from the alert system, his supporters say such incidents should be reported as quickly and as often as possible.

Abigail Echo-Hawk, executive vice president of the Seattle Indian Health Board and a citizen of the Pawnee Nation, said the problem is particularly acute in Washington, where the rate of missing Native American and Alaskan Native women is about four times higher than that of white women, according to the research results She helped collect in 2019. Native Americans make up only 2% of the state’s population.

Echo-Hawk said law enforcement has a history of failing to accurately collect racial and ethnic data and continues to misclassify Indigenous peoples. And when tribal peoples are identified, she added, they are not always given the same treatment by authorities.

“We know that whether it’s a rural or urban law enforcement agency, we have an incredible implicit bias toward our people who are missing and murdered,” Echo-Hawk said. “They are subjected to implicit stereotypes and asked if they were runaways or drug addicts or sex workers. They automatically assume we did something we deserved to make this happen to us.”

The Washington State Patrol has tracked approximately 132 active cases of missing tribal peoples starting this week and said it would only release a poster with a person’s photo if requested by family or senior law enforcement.

Echo-Hawk said she often encounters family members who receive little to no information about their loved ones’ cases, allowing them to gather their own tips.

“It creates even more distrust between the community and law enforcement agencies,” she added.

But a nationwide task force has assembled to deal with the disproportionate number of tribal people who are missing and murdered recommended in a report that a Cold Case Unit will be set up at the Attorney General’s Office this week. Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he would seek legislation to create such a team.

Echo-Hawk, a task force member, said the Cold Case Unit could be another resource for family members to “at least know that someone is asking questions about an investigation, and it puts pressure on law enforcement to close those cases.” solve”.

For Morning Owl, her priority is to retrace her sister’s last days and understand why someone wanted to harm her. She said Nelson lives alone in a studio apartment, has been separated from her husband for several years, and is trying to help her other siblings in the Seattle area.

Family members would refer to Nelson as “Boots” because as a girl, she loved dancing to the Nancy Sinatra song “These Boots Are Made for Walkin.”

“She was the kind of person who didn’t want to bother anyone,” Morning Owl said. “She just lived her life on her own.”

Nelson’s body was found less than a mile from where she lived in the University of Washington campus area. Her family has not yet been able to hold a funeral, Morning Owl said, because the coroner still has her body as part of the investigation.

“I’m fine with that,” added Morning Owl. “Right now I feel like she’s speaking through me and I can be her voice.”

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/sister-indigenous-woman-unsolved-slaying-didnt-know-was-missing-rcna41726 The sister of an Indigenous woman in an unsolved murder case was unaware she was missing

Fry Electronics Team

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