Published On: Fri, Nov 16th, 2018

Senate committee moves missing and murdered natives bill forward

 

By JOSEPH MARTIN

ONE FEATHER STAFF

 

WASHINGTON – The reporting, investigating and addressing missing and murdered Native Americans could start seeing improvement if Senate Bill 1942, named “Savanna’s Act,” becomes law. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs passed the bill at its Nov. 14 hearing. “The committee took action to improve tribal access to crime information databases and federal reporting of missing and murdered Native Americans,” Chairman Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said. “This legislation is intended to lead to better data collection and information reported to Congress on a tragic problem that affects many tribal communities across the country.”

The purpose of the bill, introduced by committee member Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) is to clarify federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement’s responsibilities. It also proposes to increase coordination between those agencies, empower tribal governments to respond to cases of missing and murdered natives and to increase data collection related to missing and murdered Native American women. It calls upon improving tribal access to federal databases for enrollment information, consultation, reporting, removing barriers tribes face and implementing plans to improve addressing these cases. It also standardizes protocols and requires annual reporting.

The law was named for a member of the Spirit Lake Tribe of North Dakota Savanna Greywind, 22, who while eight months pregnant was kidnapped and murdered. Her baby survived the attack and is now being raised by her father. Heitkamp stated at the hearing, “Since introduction in October we’ve been working very closely with the department of justice, native advocates and the committee to improve the bill, and as a result I think you see real changes and I think a plausible effort forward. As (Greywind’s) death was heard around the world, there’s thousands, we don’t even know how many thousands, of indigenous women who are murdered or disappear every year with many of those cases being ignored or forgotten.”

The bill noted the following findings:

  • On some reservations Native American women are murdered at 10 times the national average;
  • Native Americans and Native Alaskans are 2.5 times as likely to experience violent crimes and at least twice as likely to experience rape or sexual assault compared to other races;
  • More than 80 percent of Native American and Alaskan Women experienced violence in their lifetime;
  • Homicide is the third leading cause of death among Native American and Alaskan Native women between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control;
  • According to a report from the Government Accountability Office, in 2010, U.S. Attorneys declined to prosecute nearly 52 percent of violent crimes in Indian Country;
  • The lack of resources makes investigation into cases of missing and murdered native women difficult;
  • The jurisdictional complications have a significant negative impact on safety to native communities, have a high degree of commitment and cooperation between federal, state and tribal law enforcement and have been increasingly exploited by criminals.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) asked why it’s so difficult to get data on these cases. “We simply don’t have a grasp of the extent of the problem that we’re dealing with. When it comes to missing and murdered indigenous women, part of the problem is just knowing just how big it is.”

Sen. John Tester (D-Mont.) called for all levels of law enforcement agencies to do better. He said in his state, there were 30 missing natives reported. All, with the exception of one, were women, and only one had been found. “If this was in any town, pick one, Fargo N.D., Santa Fe, N.M. and we were losing people at this rate, we’d be up in arms about it.”

Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), an organization of Quakers who’ve long advocated in favor of tribal sovereignty and rights, lauded the committee’s passage. “We hope this week’s passage of Savanna’s Act will be the spark that the full Senate and House of Representatives need to move the bill to the president’s desk as quickly as possible,” said Diane Randall, FCNL’s Executive Secretary. “As Quakers, we believe that tribal police and courts should have primary authority over all criminal activity on reservation lands.”

“The bill addresses two of the most perplexing conundrums afflicting tribal criminal justice – coordination among jurisdictions and agencies and access to databases,” said Lacina Tangnaqudo Onco (Shinnecock/Kiowa), FCNL’s Congressional Advocate on Native American Policy. “When a sister, a daughter, an aunt, or a mother has gone missing and is in danger of trafficking, rape and murder, there is no time to deal with bureaucratic barriers. These are moments of crisis. This crisis is not limited to remote, rural tribal reservations. It affects cities nationwide.”

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