From left, Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Rep. Norma Torres (D-California) display legislation to address the crisis of missing and murdered Native Americans, especially women and girls, at the U.S. Capitol on September 30, 2020. Photo: Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico)
• PHOTOS: Not Invisible Act and Savanna’s Act at U.S. Capitol
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Countless hours of tribal official and grassroots advocacy for missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW) and their families paid off September 21, when lawmakers here in the nation’s capital sent Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act of 2019 to the President for his signature.
Savanna’s Act, introduced in the Senate in 2017, spent years coming to the vote. It aims to makes law enforcement accountable for responding to MMIW cases, improving communication between federal, state, and tribal officials.
It also increases data collection related to these cases by requiring the Department of Justice to maintain a nationwide database for MMIW.
“This is very personal to every Indigenous woman. Most Indigenous women have a story of a friend or relative who has gone missing or has been murdered,” Marci McLean, executive director of Western Native Voice, responded.
“With the passage of Savanna’s Act, they are going to be seen and heard, and their stories will be told,” she said in a written statement. “There is still so much work that needs to be done and when the bill is signed, it will open up the conversation on a national level to address root causes of the widespread violence and injustice towards Indigenous women and all women of color,” she added.
“A proactive and preventative approach for our communities is vital towards building a safer future with unity and human dignity upheld by all agencies involved.”
Joining her in the statement was Lisa Casarez, a member of North Dakota Native Vote’s Board of Directors and of the Mandan Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, Three Affiliated Tribes of the Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation.
“The passing of this bill would mean a lot to Indian country, and although it won’t bring Savanna back, it can provide Savanna and her family some semblance of justice,” Casarez said. “This can be one good thing that comes from a horrible murder that has happened right here in our own state and has affected Native communities across North Dakota and beyond.”
The act is named after Savanna Greywind, a pregnant 22-year-old North Dakota woman and member of the Spirit Lake Tribe who was brutally murdered in 2017. Indigenous women face more violence than any other group.
Savanna’s Act is supported by the National Congress of American Indians, National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, Seattle Indian Health Board, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Washington, Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center, Western Native Voice, Friends Committee on National Legislation, All Pueblo Council of Governors (representing 20 pueblos), Intertribal Association of Arizona (representing 21 tribal nations), United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund (representing 27 tribal nations), Muckleshoot Tribe of Washington, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, and Navajo Nation.
The Not Invisible Act >of 2019 also increases the coordination of efforts to reduce violent crime within Indian lands and against Indians.
Specifically, it mandates the designation by the Interior Department of an official within the Bureau of Indian Affairs to coordinate prevention efforts, grants, and programs related to missing Indians and the murder and human trafficking of Indians.
In addition, Interior and the Department of Justice (DOJ) must establish a joint commission on violent crime within Indian lands and against Indian and submit a written response to the recommendations developed by the joint commission.
The joint commission must make publicly available recommendations to Interior and DOJ on actions to combat violent crime against Indians and within Indian lands, including recommendations for identifying, reporting, and responding to instances of missing persons, murder, and human trafficking.
The Senate unanimously approved both bills on March 11, and members of the House of Representatives unanimously followed suit in the September 21 vote, celebrating the progress of the bi-partisan initiatives, which were part of a raft of five laws approved for Indian country that day.
Rep. Norma J. Torres (D-CA), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) and Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) championed the passage announcement with statements of their own.
“Native women have endured horrific rates of assault, rape and murder for far too long, and innocent people like Savanna have been lost with too little effort spent on ending this scourge,” Torres said. “That shameful reality stops today.