WASHINGTON, D.C.—Rep. Greg Stanton will serve as an original co-sponsor to Savanna’s Act, which addresses the epidemic of murdered and missing Indigenous women by creating new guidelines for responding to such cases, and by incentivizing their implementation. The bipartisan bill, named in honor of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a 22-year old pregnant member of the Spirit Lake Tribe who was tragically murdered in August 2017, was introduced by Reps. Norma J. Torres (D-CA), Dan Newhouse (R-WA), and Deb Haaland (D-NM).
“We have to take action to reverse this shocking epidemic taking place in our Native American communities,” said Stanton. “These girls and women face a very real, terrifying threat—that not only will they become victims of violence, but that their stories will be erased or ignored by the system. We have the ability to change that, and with Savanna’s Act we will.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that murder is the third-leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native. Indigenous women face a murder rate ten times higher than the national average, with 84 percent experiencing some form of violence in their lifetime.
There is still no reliable way of knowing how many Native women go missing each year because the databases that hold statistics of these cases are outdated, and because of a lack of coordination between law enforcement agencies.
According to a 2018 report from the Urban Indian Health Institute, there were 5,712 cases of missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls reported in 2016. However, only 116 of those cases were logged into the U.S. Department of Justice’s federal missing persons database. Arizona ranked third, behind New Mexico and Washington, among states with the highest number of cases. [Source: http://www.uihi.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Missing-and-Murdered-Indigenous-Women-and-Girls-Report.pdf]
Savanna’s Act was previously introduced in the 115th Congress by Torres and former U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND). The Senate passed the bill unanimously, but it did not receive consideration in the House. In January, U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) reintroduced the bill in the Senate.
The new bill builds on previous versions of Savanna’s Act in three key ways:
- It expands the requirement for the creation of law enforcement guidelines to all U.S. Attorneys, not just those with Indian Country jurisdiction, and requires those guidelines to be regionally appropriate;
- It requires the U.S. Attorney General to publicly list the law enforcement agencies that comply with the provisions of the legislation; and
- It includes a new incentive section that provides grant authority to law enforcement organizations to implement the legislation and increases the grant amounts for those that comply.
These changes will ensure that the crisis of missing and murdered Native Americans and Alaska Natives is addressed throughout the country including our urban areas, not just Indian Country. They will also ensure that law enforcement agencies have meaningful incentives to implement the guidelines and data reporting requirements, while providing the resources for them to do so.
Last week, a similar measure introduced by Arizona State Rep. Jennifer Jermaine was signed into state law after receiving unanimous support in the House and Senate. The state bill will create a task force to investigate and gather data about missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Savanna’s Act has earned the support of 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.