Story at a glance
- In some reservations, Indigenous women are murdered at rates more than 10 times higher than the U.S. average.
- The murder of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind prompted the drafting of Savanna’s Act, which seeks to address violence faced by Indigenous women.
- The Act was passed on Monday after being blocked from a House vote by former Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) in 2018.
Despite the fast-paced 24-hour news cycle we all live in today, there are some stories that seem to remain untold. Among those stories exist the 506 Indigenous women and girls who have gone missing or been murdered — 95 percent of which were never covered by the national media, and whose circumstances and details remain largely unknown.
Legislators hope this statistic will soon be a thing of the past thanks to newly passed legislation aimed at addressing the epidemic of violence faced by Indigenous women. Penned by former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) in 2017, Savanna’s Act was blocked from a House vote and sat in purgatory before Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) took up its mantle in 2019. On Monday it finally passed the U.S. House of Representatives, now headed for President Trump’s desk to be signed into law.
“Savanna’s Act addresses a tragic issue in Indian Country and helps establish better law enforcement practices to track, solve and prevent these crimes against Native Americans,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said in a statement.
“We appreciate our House colleagues for passing the bill today and sending it on to the president to become law. At the same time, we continue working to advance more legislation like this to strengthen public safety in tribal communities and ensure victims of crime receive support and justice.”
Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind was added to the long list of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW), when she was brutally murdered at the age of 22 in 2017 — her 8-month-old fetus cut from her womb before she was strangled.
Such violence is a serious cause for concern among all Indigenous women living on reservations, who face murder rates that are more than 10 times the national average. Many of these murders and disappearances stem from incidences of domestic violence, sexual assault and sex trafficking, as an astounding 84 percent of Indigenous women experience violence in their lifetime.
Once enacted, Savanna’s Act will require the Justice Department to develop guidelines for responding to cases of missing or murdered Native Americans, report statistics on those cases, provide required law enforcement agency training, and to work with tribes and tribal organizations in implementing its strategy.
“Missing and murdered indigenous women are no longer invisible,” said Heitkamp in a statement on Tuesday, adding that it “means the world” that Savanna’s Act will finally become law. “When I first introduced this bill last Congress, I couldn’t have imagined the groundswell of support we would receive — and I’m encouraged that even during these partisan times, Congress came together and passed this important and needed bill.”
Also passed on Monday was the Not Invisible Act, the first federal bill to be introduced by four enrolled members of federally recognized tribes, Reps. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), Tom Cole (R-Okla.), Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), and Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.). The companion bill would make the federal government step up its response to MMIW, establishing an advisory panel composed of law enforcement, tribal leaders, service providers and survivors focused on violent crime against Indigenous women. It joins Savanna’s Act on its current journey to the president’s desk.
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