LINCOLN, Nebraska --
April Marie Satchell carried her infant granddaughter to the front of a legislative chamber here on Thursday and put the child on her lap facing a half dozen state senators.
As the baby cooed and played with a toy, the Rosebud Lakota grandmother tried to convince the senators to take action to protect the child.
“Right now, our lives don’t matter,” Satchell said. “A non-Native man can rape us, murder us, and as long as we don’t know who that person is, the law right now does not protect us.”
Satchell was describing the inability of tribal courts to prosecute non-Native men who commit crimes on reservations against Native women with whom they’re not romantically involved. She said the lack of jurisdiction of tribal courts over such men is just one of the many reasons that Native women are far more likely to be assaulted than other women.
Among the statistics she and others who testified this week cited were: 80 percent of Native women have experienced violence; homicide is the third-leading cause of death among Native females ages 10 to 24; and Native women are 10 times more likely to be murdered than other men or women.
Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: Missing and Murdered Native Women in Nebraska
Satchell offered her testimony to the Judiciary Committee
of the Nebraska Legislature this week during a hearing on LB154
, a bill that would require the Nebraska State Patrol to study ways to improve the gathering of data related to missing Native women in Nebraska.
The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Tom Brewer,
a citizen of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said the bill would require the State Patrol to work with tribal, state and federal law enforcement agencies to gather information in order to determine the scope of the problem of missing Native women, barriers to gathering data and ways to create partnerships to improve reporting and investigation of missing Native women.
The State Patrol would be required to submit its study to the Legislature by June 1, 2020.
“The bill attempts to answer a very serious question: Why do Native American women turn up missing in numbers far more than the national average for every other demographic?” said Brewer, who is the first Native senator in Nebraska. “The aim of the study is to learn how we can better use or increase our state criminal justice resources to the reporting and identifying of missing Native American women in Nebraska.”
He said Native people, especially those living on reservations, face unique challenges because of how many different law enforcement agencies – including those run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, FBI and states – have criminal jurisdiction over certain crimes committed on tribal lands. He said those various law enforcement agencies often fail to communicate with each other regarding criminal investigations.
“This failure to communicate between these agencies has left a no man’s land where people can fall through the cracks, and there is not a way to track the numbers and have the accountability we need,” he said.
Nebraska State Sen. Tom Brewer, a citizen of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, is the sponsor of LB154, a bill to improve reporting and investigation of missing Native American women. Photo: Nebraska Legislature
The Judiciary Committee took no action this week on the bill, which is co-sponsored by state Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks. If it approves the bill, it would then go before the full Legislature.
The bill is similar to one passed in Washington state
last year that directed its state patrol to conduct a study focused on improving the reporting and investigation of missing Native women.
A study published in November by the Urban Indian Health Institute of Seattle examined 506 cases of missing Native women
across the country. The study found 95 percent of those cases were not covered by media beyond the communities where those women lived. And one case alone – that of Savanna Marie Greywind
, a citizen of the Spirit Lake Nation who was pregnant when she was murdered by a neighbor in Fargo in 2017 – took up 47 percent of that national coverage.
Greywind's murder sparked a bill known as Savanna’s Act, which would require the Department of Justice, for the first time, to provide annual reports on the "known statistics on missing and murdered Indian women in the United States." The Senate passed the measure in December, but the U.S. House of Representatives failed to take action
before the end of the last session of Congress so it must be reintroduced again.
Renee Sans Souci, a citizen of the Omaha Tribe, is seen speaking at a rally in Lincoln, Nebraska, on January 20, 2019. Photo by Kevin Abourezk
At the legislative hearing in Lincoln this week, Scott Shafer of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs said the problem of missing Native women can’t be addressed until adequate information can be gathered to gauge the extent of the problem.
He said many obstacles currently prevent such data collection, including under-reporting of crimes, racial misclassification and poor relationships between tribal and off-reservation law enforcement agencies.
And he urged state senators to also consider the plight of Native women living in urban areas as they considered ways to improve data gathering and investigation of missing Native women.
“This is not just a reservation-based, at-risk population,” he said. “More indigenous women live in urban areas, such as Lincoln and Omaha, than live on reservations.”
Renee Sans Souci, a citizen of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, said she knows of at least one young Native woman in Lincoln who is currently missing and she believes others are missing as well.
She told the story of a former student of hers who disappeared. She said she struggled to get local media to post stories about the young woman’s disappearance.
Luckily, the young woman returned home unharmed.
For her part, Sans Souci said she teaches her own children how to protect themselves from potential violence.
“I maintain a hypervigilance over my children,” she said. “I am certain that I am not the only Native mother who does this."
"It is exhausting.”
#MMIW in Minnesota, Montana and North Dakota
In addition to Sen. Tom Brewer in Nebraska, Native lawmakers in other states are taking action to address missing and murdered Native women.
(D), a descendant of the Standing
Rock Sioux Tribe
, introduced HF0070
in Minnesota this month. "This is only one way to honor those we’ve lost but not forgotten," she wrote in a post
In Montana, Rep. Rae Peppers
(D), a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe
, introduced HB 21
. The bill is known as Hanna's Act in honor of Hanna Harris
, a young Cheyenne woman who went missing in 2013 and was found murdered.
And in North Dakota, where Savanna Marie Greywind was kidnapped and murdered, Rep. Ruth Buffalo
(D), a citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation
, introduced HB 1311 and HB 1313
'Shameful': Inaction on #MMIW in Congress
Watch: Rep. Norma Torres (D-California)
on Savanna's Act #MMIW MMIWG
A bill to address missing and murdered Native women on the national level failed at the end of the 115th session of Congress.
"Shameful" is how Rep. Norma Torres
(D-California), a supporter of a bill known as Savanna's Act, said of the last-minute holdup.
Savanna's Act, named in honor of Savanna Marie Greywind
, a 22-year-old woman from the Spirit Lake Nation
was murdered after she went missing in North Dakota in 2017, passed the Senate but was blocked in the House by a Republican who no longer serves in office. The bill must be reintroduced in the 116th Congress.
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