Cantwell Honors Missing, Murdered Indigenous Women, Pushes for Passage of Savanna’s Act

Savanna’s Act would improve data collection, standardize law enforcement protocols for responding to cases of missing, murdered Native women and girls; Cantwell also calls for Government Accountability Office to study the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell recognized the “National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls” this past Sunday and highlighted the urgent need for Congress to address the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women and children. 

“The National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls is an important day to recognize because this issue has become an epidemic in the United States,” Cantwell stated. 

A report released last year 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, Seattle had the highest total number of missing and murdered individuals, as well as the highest total number of murdered individuals. Tacoma was found to have the highest total number of missing individuals. 

“We are experiencing this crisis and it is time that this report be a wakeup call to action. We can no longer ignore these huge numbers, but we need to find answers,” said Cantwell. 

In her remarks, Cantwell urged Congress to pass Savanna’s Act, a bill specifically aimed at combatting the epidemic of murdered and missing Native women and girls. Introduced by Cantwell, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Savanna’s Act would increase coordination among all levels of law enforcement, increase data collection and information sharing, and empower Tribal governments with the resources they need in cases involving missing and murdered indigenous women and girls wherever they occur. 

“Right now, hours and days can be wasted in responding to this. Savanna’s Act will streamline the protocols and process between our Tribes and law enforcement agencies, which means swifter action and at a more rapid pace,” said Cantwell. “This is so important and that is why I have joined Senator Murkowski and Senator Cortez Masto as a co-sponsor of this legislation and am urging that the Senate pass it immediately.” 

Senator Cantwell also cosponsored Savanna’s Act last Congress. The legislation passed the Senate unanimously but did not pass the House of Representatives before the end of the 115th Congress. 

The legislation is named after Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a 22-year-old member of the Spirit Lake Tribe who disappeared on August 19, 2017, while eight months pregnant. Eight days later, her body was found in the Red River north of Fargo, North Dakota. Police determined her death to be caused by “homicidal violence.” 

Specifically, Savanna’s Act would: 

  • Improve Tribal access to certain federal crime information databases and mandate that the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Interior consult with Indian Tribes on how to further develop these databases and increase access to them.
  • Require the U.S. Department of Justice, Department of the Interior, and Department of Health and Human Services 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.
  • Require the creation of standardized guidelines for responding to cases of missing and murdered Native Americans and Alaska Natives, in consultations with Tribes, which will include guidance on inter-jurisdictional cooperation among Tribes and federal, state, and local law enforcement.
  • Require statistics on missing and murdered Native women and recommendations on how to improve data collection, to be included in an annual report to Congress.

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

In addition, Cantwell and a group of 16 bipartisan, bicameral legislators called on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study on the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women. The group is asking the GAO to conduct a full review of how federal agencies respond to reports of missing and murdered Indian persons and recommend solutions based on their findings. Read the Members’ letter to Comptroller General Dodaro HERE.