Legislation addressing the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous women gets unanimous approval.

U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, and Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada, applauded the unanimous passage of two bills — directed to addressing the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women — in the Senate Wednesday. The measure will now go to the House for consideration.

The bills, Savanna’s Act and Not Invisible Act were both led by Murkowski and Cortez Masto and co-sponsored but Udall, were created to address the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and will “aim to combat the epidemic by improving the federal government’s response through increased coordination, development of best practices, and creation of an advisory committee on violent crime.”

Savanna’s Act was first introduced by former Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, and named after Savanna Greywind, a pregnant 22-year-old Native woman from the Spirit Lake Nation who was murdered in 2017.

Heitkamp introduced Savanna’s Act in 2018, but did not win passage in the final days of session. The bill had passed unanimously in the Senate but was stalled in the House by a former member of Congress, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia.

In January of 2019, and in keeping with a promise to former Senator Heid Heitkamp, Murkowski reintroduced the bill along with Cortez Masto in reintroducing Heitkamp’s legislation, as Heitkamp had not been re-elected.

In May of 2019, Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, D-New Mexico, announced the U.S. House version of Savanna’s Act 2019 to supplement Murkowski’s Senate bill.

Senator’s Murkowski, Cortez Masto, and Udall all released statements to the press applauding the passage of the bills.

“The rates of Native women that go missing, that are trafficked, or murdered are staggering, especially compared to other populations. Recognizing that a Native woman may be ten times more likely to become a victim than a non-Native woman is overwhelming, horrifying, and completely unacceptable. I have worked hard to elevate this issue at the local, state, and national level and the momentum we have gained, from tribal communities to the administration, has been significant. I thank my Senate colleagues for recognizing the urgency of the need to improve coordination among law enforcement and provide the necessary resources to protect these women from becoming another statistic,” said Senator Murkowski in a release.

“After taking the torch on leading this effort from Senator Heitkamp, I gave her my commitment that we would get these bills across the finish line—that we would get this done for all the women, and children who have been victims of these heinous crimes and whose families are also victims in their own way. Today, we follow through on that promise.”

Senator Cortez Masto stated, “For years, grieving Native families and communities have been asking Congress to address the disappearances of their sisters, mothers, and daughters. The Senate is finally heeding their calls by passing these critical bills to improve our response to cases of missing and murdered Native women,” said Cortez Masto in a release. “I’m pleased by today’s progress, and I’ll continue fighting for policies that support the safety and wellbeing of Native communities in Nevada and across the country.”

Senator Udall, who is also the vice-chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, stated “The missing and murdered Indigenous women crisis is appalling and demands the attention of Congress and the entire nation,” Udall said in his statement. “Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act are important first steps for improving the federal MMIW response and making Native communities stronger and safer.”

“I am glad the Senate was able to work in a bipartisan fashion to get these bills passed, and I look forward to working with the House of Representatives to make sure they both get enacted into law as soon as possible,” Udall continued. “To truly tackle the MMIW crisis, Senator McConnell and Republican leadership must stop their partisan attempts to derail a strong reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that includes strengthened provisions for Tribal jurisdiction and respects Tribal sovereignty. The time to act on VAWA reauthorization is long overdue. Indian Country can’t afford to wait any longer.”

Native voices weigh in

After the Senate approval, Lisa DeVille, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara nations and Native Vote Chair from Mandaree, North Dakota said in a statement released to Indian Country Today, “Indigenous people have been continuously subjugated for centuries on this continent and the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous people is not new to our lands. My homelands of Fort Berthold have been overrun with oilfield workers and people who choose to intentionally harm our people. The issue of missing and murdered is up to ten times higher in our communities than missing populations nationally, and Fort Berthold is not immune to violence and human trafficking. After 500 years, it is time that the US Government upholds its promise of protecting our people. Thank you, Senator Hoeven, Senator Cramer, and Representative Armstrong for working to stop the epidemic of violence against Native American women by cosponsoring Savanna’s Act.”

Paula Antoine, Lakota, from Winner South Dakota, who is a Dakota Rural Action Board member stated, “It is unfortunate that a bill of such magnitude had to be reintroduced … there are too many missing and murdered, and we cannot allow one more. Congress must take action.”

“The Act is the first step towards acknowledging a safety net for our Native Women in America,” said Alaina Buffalo Spirit, a Western Native Voice organization member.

“It’s been a long-time coming to address the plight of our Indigenous women.”

About the acts

S. 227 – Savanna’s Act is named for Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a pregnant member of the Spirit Lake Nation, who disappeared on August 19, 2017. Her body was found eight days later in the Red River in North Dakota. Her death led to the introduction of S. 227, which directs the U.S. Department of Justice to develop law enforcement and justice guidelines, requires training and data collection resulting from the guidelines and improves tribal access to federal criminal databases.

S. 982 – Not Invisible Act of 2019 is aimed at combating the epidemic in Indian country that surrounds the murder, trafficking, and disappearance of Indigenous women. This bill will coordinate prevention efforts between the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior and victim service organizations. Additionally, a Joint Advisory Commission will be created to make recommendations in reducing violent crimes against Native people.

This article was originally published by Indian Country Today on March 12, 2020.

Vincent Schilling

Indian Country Today

Vincent Schilling began as a correspondent with Indian Country Today in 2008 and remained a consistent contributor of stories, photography and video, until 2015. That year Vincent Schilling was named the Arts and Entertainment, Sports and Pow Wows editor for Indian Country Media Network (formerly ICT). He is also the Executive Vice President and co-owner of Schilling Media, Inc. a Native American owned Media and Media Relations Corporation in Virginia. Vincent Schilling is an enrolled Akwesasne Mohawk, an Award-winning Native American author and an Award-winning Photojournalist; and a Public Speaker that has traveled all over the United States and Canada. In 2011, he was given a human rights award in the city of Virginia Beach by Mayor Will Sessoms Jr. for his work and programs created about Native American issues. Vincent Schilling is also the co-host of Native Trailblazers, an online indigenous radio program.


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