Cantwell, Colleagues Reintroduce Legislation to Improve Response to Missing, Murdered Indigenous Women

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. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), along with U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), reintroduced Savanna’s Act to combat the epidemic of murdered and missing Native women and girls. The bill increases 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.

“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,” Senator Cantwell said. “I am proud to sponsor Savanna’s Act with my colleagues to help improve reporting and give communities additional tools they need.”

In an effort to better respond to reports of disappearances or murders of Native women and girls, Savanna’s Act would increase coordination efforts across federal departments, Tribes, and states. It would also standardize protocols for responding to reports of missing or murdered Native Americans and Alaska Natives, improve Tribal access to certain federal crime databases, and require annual reports to Congress on ways to improve the collection of data on these crimes. Specifically, the legislation 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.

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.”

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.

A report released last year by the Seattle Indian Health Board (SIHB) 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 can no longer sweep these statistics under the rug,” Senator Cantwell said. “It’s time to pass this legislation and get it on the President’s desk.”

Senator Cantwell co-sponsored 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.

This Congress, in addition to Senators Cantwell, Murkowksi, and Cortez Masto, U.S. Senators 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), and Thom Tillis (R-NC) are cosponsors of the legislation.