Cantwell-Supported Legislation to Improve Response to Missing, Murdered Native Women and Girls Passes Committee

Savanna’s Act would improve data collection, standardize law enforcement protocols for responding to cases of missing, murdered Native women and girls

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, bipartisan legislation cosponsored by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to address the crisis of murdered and missing Native women and girls passed the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. 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. 

“The Yakama Nation has decades-old unsolved cases of family members that have gone missing, been murdered, or had mysterious deaths that have not been solved. This, too, is unacceptable. This epidemic is unacceptable. And we can’t ignore the families and friends who have been left without answers,” Cantwell said at today’s hearing. 

Last year, the Seattle Indian Health Board released a report that 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. 

“I want to make sure it gets through the hurdles of the legislative process this year. Native American women, Native Alaskan women, deserve to have this in law this year,” Cantwell said. 

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 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. 

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. Earlier this year, Cantwell spoke out on the Senate floor about the need to pass this legislation. 

In addition to Cantwell, U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowksi (R-AK), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), John Hoeven (R-ND), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jon Tester (D-MT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Steve Daines (R-MT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tina Smith (D-MN), Patty Murray (D-WA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Martha McSally (R-AZ), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), James Risch (R-ID), and Mike Crapo (R-ID) are also cosponsors of the legislation this Congress. 

Video of Senator Cantwell’s statement at today’s hearing is available HERE, and audio is available HERE.

Video of Senator Cantwell’s May 2019 floor speech recognizing the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is available HERE.