Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act to Address the Crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Headed to Senate Floor After Committee Vote

U.S. Senator Tina Smith & Senate Indian Affairs Committee Advance Bills to Address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Crisis
Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act to Address the Crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Headed to Senate Floor After Committee Vote

  

WASHINGTON, D.C. [11/21/2019]—U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) said today that a key Senate panel has approved two measures this week that will improve the federal government’s response to the missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW) crisis.

She said the two bills passed by the Indian Affairs Committee—Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act—would increase coordination with law enforcement, improve data collection, and coordinate violent crime prevention efforts in Native communities.

Sen. Smith, a member of the Committee, has been deeply troubled by recent reporting outlining how a Native woman was found strapped into the passenger’s side of a submerged truck in a North Dakota lake after the woman went missing. This comes just a week after Sen. Smith, Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan and other local leaders at the Minnesota State Capitol pressed for immediate action to pass the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and reduce the high rate of violence against Native and Indigenous people.

“I start with the fundamental value that all women should be free from violence wherever they are. These bills are now headed to the Senate floor, and they should be brought up for a vote as soon as possible along with the Violence Against Women Act,” said Sen. Smith. “Right now, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocks action on VAWA and as violence is committed against Indigenous women at an alarming rate, I fear that women are hearing the message that the crimes of violence committed against women don’t matter. That is wrong, and heartbreaking. We must pass these bills for women in Minnesota and across the country.”

Native women experience the second-highest homicide rate in the United States, but limited data on the number of missing tribal members are available. In a high-profile missing and murdered Indian women (MMIW) case in North Dakota last Congress, two non-Native individuals kidnapped and murdered a pregnant Spirit Lake tribal member, Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind. Savanna’s Act would require:

 

  • Law enforcement training on how to record victim tribal enrollment information in federal databases;

  • The creation of standardized, regionally-appropriate guidelines for inter-jurisdictional cooperation on MMIW cases; and

  • The Attorney General to include data on MMIW in an annual report to Congress.

The federal government operates many programs and resources that can address missing persons cases and human trafficking, but it is not obvious if these resources are considering the unique needs of Native American and Alaska Native communities.  Additionally, for resources that are focused on MMIW and Native American human trafficking, the federal government does not have an interdepartmental strategic plan to ensure these resources are coordinated and non-duplicative. The Not Invisible Act would:

  • Require the Department of Interior (DOI) to designate a coordinator within the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Office of Justice Services (OJS) to coordinate violent crime prevention efforts across federal agencies; and

  • Directs DOI and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to establish an advisory committee composed of relevant federal agencies, Tribal leaders, and Tribal members to develop recommendations on improving the federal response to MMIW, Native American human trafficking, and violent crime in Indian Country.