One Feather staff reports
WASHINGTON – A bill to aid law enforcement in the location and prosecuting cases of missing and murdered Native American women and girls passed in the senate Dec. 6. Both the chair and vice chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hailed its passage. The Office of Tribal Prosecutor also praised its passage.
Shelli Buckner, a tribal prosecutor, said the bill’s passage is encouraging. “The number of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls is a tragic and epidemic issue in the tribal communities throughout North America. While Cherokee statistics do not approach that of other tribes, one missing or murdered woman or girl is one too many,” she said. “The Office of the Tribal Prosecutor is optimistic that Savanna’s Act will not only improve data collection and sharing so as to best inform the response of law enforcement to violence against our most vulnerable victims, but also that this legislation will improve cooperation between tribal, state, and federal governments in response to domestic violence and all violence against women and girls.”
Chair Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said, “Savanna’s Act will provide Indian tribes with better access to databases that track missing and unidentified persons across the country,” said Hoeven. “This will help bring greater awareness regarding tragic cases of missing and murdered Indians in the United States.”
Vice Chair Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said, “I am proud to have worked with my colleague, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), to get this vital piece of legislation passed through the Senate,” said Udall. “Native women go missing and experience violence at alarming rates but, too often, cases go uninvestigated and unresolved. Native women deserve better. Savanna’s Act will improve data collection, enable information sharing, and facilitate coordination between federal, state, and tribal law enforcement agencies to better address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. I urge the House to pass this bill and bring us one step closer to making sure that Native women receive the justice they deserve.”
The bill now sits at the House of Representatives, but it currently remains on hold.
The bill is named for Spirit Lake Tribe of North Dakota member 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.
The bill improves tribal access to federal databases that track missing and unidentified persons, specifically Native Americans and Alaska Natives. It requires the Department of Justice to consult with tribes while developing national law enforcement and justice guidelines when responding to cases involving missing and murdered Native Americans. It incentivizes federal, tribal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to incorporate these guidelines into existing processes. It provides tribes and law enforcement agencies with training and technical assistance relating to the implementation of the guidelines developed under this act, and it mandates annual reporting to congress on known statistics relating to missing and murdered Native Americans in the U.S.
The bill was introduced by outgoing Sen. Heitkamp on Oct. 5, 2017. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a legislative hearing to receive testimony on the bill on Oct. 25, 2017. On Nov. 14, the Committee held a business meeting on the bill and ordered it to be reported with an amendment in the nature of a substitute.
“In the meantime, as we work to move Savanna’s Act through the House and onto the president’s desk, I am committed to keeping the focus on this important issue,” continued Udall.