Cantwell part of 2nd attempt to pass law focusing on murdered, missing Native women

By:  Tammy Ayer
Source: The Yakima Herald-Republic

Savanna’s Act, legislation intended to combat the epidemic of murdered and missing Native women and girls, has been reintroduced after failing to pass the U.S. House of Representatives in late 2018.

U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada, reintroduced the legislation, which would improve data collection, standardize law enforcement protocols for responding to cases of missing, murdered Native women and girls, according to a news release. 

Cantwell co-sponsored Savanna’s Act in 2018. Introduced by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, it unanimously passed the Senate but stalled in the House.

Heitkamp was defeated in November, as was Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, who blocked a vote on Savanna’s Act.

The legislation is named after Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a 22-year-old member of the Spirit Lake Tribe who disappeared Aug. 19, 2017, while eight months pregnant.

Her body was found in the Red River north of Fargo, North Dakota, eight days later. Investigators determined her death resulted from “homicidal violence.”

Native women and girls have faced devastating levels of violence in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, nearly half of all Native women have been raped, beaten or stalked by an intimate partner. One in three will be raped in their lifetime, according to federal statistics.

On some reservations, women are murdered at a rate 10 times higher than the national average.

A report released in November by the Seattle Indian Health Board found 506 unsolved cases of missing and murdered Native women and girls nationwide. Of the 71 urban areas throughout the United States included in the study, Tacoma was found to have the highest total number of missing individuals.

Seattle had the highest total number of missing and murdered individuals, as well as the highest total number of murdered individuals. They included Sandra Lee Smiscon, a citizen of the Yakama Nation.

The exact number of missing and murdered Native women on the 1.3-million-acre Yakama Reservation is unknown. Even less certain is the number of those who have gone missing or have been murdered while off the reservation.

“We can no longer sweep these statistics under the rug,” Cantwell said in a news release. “It’s time to pass this legislation and get it on the president’s desk.”

Meetings have been happening around Washington state, including two in the Yakima Valley, to get more information and ways to better address the issue as a result of legislation sponsored by Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale.

On a national level, Savanna’s Act expands 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, according to Cantwell’s news release.

“Nationwide there are 506 cases of murdered or missing Native American women. And too many Native American women face barriers that can prevent perpetrators from being convicted,” Cantwell said.

Savanna’s Act would increase coordination between federal departments, tribes and states.

That involves standardizing protocols for responding to reports of missing or murdered Native women, improving tribal access to federal crime databases, and requiring annual reports to Congress on ways to improve the collection of data on these crimes.