Police have found the remains of Rosenda Strong, a Native American woman who was last seen leaving the Legends Casino in Toppenish, WA, in October 2018.
The Yakima County Coroner's Office identified the remains, which were found in a freezer in the Toppenish area on July 4 as those of Strong, a mother of four who would have turned 32 in April. The death has been classified as a homicide, but the cause of death is still under investigation.
Strong's sister Cissy Strong Reyes had become increasingly outspoken about Strong’s disappearance, according to the Yakima Herald-Republic.
"You know who you are. [You’re] still walking the streets and my sister goes missing, and the last ones she was around were her friends," Reyes has reportedly said. "[You] were last to see her alive. [You] were the last to hear her cries. [You] were the last to see her pain."
According to the local newspaper, Strong was a citizen of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, as well as a descendant of the Yakama Nation.
There has been a disturbing increase in the number of missing and murdered Native American women in the U.S. in the past few years. About 84% of Native women report experiencing violence in their lifetime, including 56% of women who have faced sexual violence and 55% who have been victims of intimate partner violence. In some counties, Native American women are also killed at a rate of 10 times the national average. An estimate from the National Crime Information Center shows 5,712 reports of missing Native American women in 2016. But according to advocates and lawmakers, there's no reliable way of knowing how many missing cases there are because databases are outdated and law enforcement often lacks proper training on the issue.
Some lawmakers are trying to change that. In May 2019, U.S. Representatives Deb Haaland, Norma Torres, and Dan Newhouse reintroduced the U.S. House version of Savanna's Act, which seeks to improve communication between between federal, state, local, and tribal officials. It seeks to strengthen data collection on violence against Native women and require these stats to be reported to Congress; improve tribes' access to databases containing information about federal crimes; and create standardized protocols for responding to cases of missing and murdered Indigenous peoples. It honors Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a 22-year-old member of the Spirit Lake tribe who was kidnapped and brutally murdered in Fargo, ND, in 2017. She was eight months pregnant at the time of her death.
"Everyone deserves to feel safe in their own community, but Native American and Alaskan Native women continue to face murder rates that are 10 times higher than the national average," Rep. Haaland, a freshman Congresswoman from New Mexico who is the co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, said in a statement provided to Refinery29. "It’s heartbreaking cases like Savanna Greywind, Ashlynne Mike, Judith Apache, and countless Native women and their families that are left behind that drive us to work for solutions to the silent crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. This long-standing epidemic will take time, resources, and dedication to resolve it — and we will find solutions."
Rep. Haaland, one of the first two Native American women in the U.S. Congress, has said she's working on multiple other efforts to combat the scourge of missing and murdered Native women and girls.
"Congress has never had a voice like mine, a Native American woman who sees the blind spots that have existed for far too long. That's why I've been working on multiple bills and legislation to address this crisis," she said in a conference call in May about Savanna's Act, according to Indian Country Today.
If you have information on the Rosenda Strong case, you can call the Yakama Nation Police Department at 509-865-2933 or the FBI at 509-990-0857, citing case number 18-010803.