WASHINGTON, DC – In the Netflix movie, Wind River, a veteran hunter helps an FBI agent investigate the murder of a young Native American woman on a Wyoming Indian reservation. At the end of the movie, there appears an interesting fact about missing and murdered Native American women. That statistics are compiled for every other demographic of missing women accept Native American women, and that no one knows how many of these women have gone missing.
That fact has reached Washington and a bi-partisan bill looks to correct this lack of information and more. U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), who is one of the bill’s co-sponsors, says the bill will combat the epidemic of murdered and missing Native women and girls by improving the federal government’s response to addressing the crisis. Savanna’s Act would increase coordination among all levels of law enforcement, increases data collection and information sharing, and empowers tribal governments with the resources they need in cases involving missing and murdered indigenous women and girls wherever they occur. The legislation was introduced by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).
Specifically, the legislation aims to bridge the gap of the limited data on the number of missing Native women by directing the U.S. Department of Justice to formulate new guidelines for the reporting of violent crimes against indigenous people. The bill improves tribal access to certain federal crime information databases by mandating that the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Interior consult with Indian tribes on how to further improve these databases and access to them. It also requires certain federal agencies to solicit recommendations from tribes on enhancing the safety of Native women, as murder rates against indigenous women are ten times the national average.
“The number of cases involving the kidnap or murder of indigenous women that go unsolved is unacceptable, and it is clear better coordination is needed among all levels of law enforcement to stop this epidemic,” said Senator Tillis. “Savanna’s Act unanimously passed the Senate last year and there is no reason it can’t do the same again, and I will work with my colleagues across the aisle to ensure we get it across the finish line and signed into law this Congress.”
“Senator Heitkamp was a true leader on this issue and an advocate for indigenous peoples throughout her tenure in the Senate. I’m proud to reintroduce this bill and continue our efforts to bring much-needed attention and coordination to the issue of murdered and missing Native women,” said Senator Murkowski. “In Alaska, many rural communities lack public safety and are often hundreds of miles away from the nearest community with a Village Public Safety Officer (VPSO) or State Trooper.
Compound that with the fact Alaska lacks a unified 911 system, which makes accessing resources even more challenging in many rural communities. Enacting this legislation will allow for greater partnerships between law enforcement at all levels and ensure they have accurate data from which to work. It will also ensure that law enforcement has the resources and cultural understanding to wholly and effectively address this epidemic. We have a duty of moral trust toward our nation’s first people and we must all be part of the solution.”
“It is long past time that Congress took action to help curb the tragic epidemic of violence toward Native American women,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “I’m proud to join Senator Murkowski in reintroducing Savanna’s Act, which gives local and Tribal law enforcement the federal resources they need to finally seek justice for the thousands of missing and murdered Native American women and their grieving families.”
• Improves tribal access to certain federal crime information databases and mandates that the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Interior consult with Indian tribes on how to further develop these databases and access to them.
• Requires the DOJ, Interior, and HHS to solicit recommendations from tribes on enhancing the safety of Native women and improving access to crime information databases and criminal justice information systems during the annual consultations mandated under the Violence Against Women Act.
• Requires the creation of standardized guidelines for responding to cases of missing and murdered Native Americans, in consultations with tribes, which will include guidance on inter-jurisdictional cooperation among tribes and federal, state, and local law enforcement.
• Requires statistics on missing and murdered Native women, and recommendations on how to improve data collection, to be included in an annual report to Congress.
Background: In October of 2017, former U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp introduced Savanna’s Act, cosponsored by Senator Murkowski, the first piece of major legislation specifically addressing Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The legislation is named for Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, who was abducted and killed last year in Fargo, North Dakota. It passed the U.S. Senate unanimously in December of 2018.