Cantwell-Cosponsored Legislation to Improve Response to Missing, Murdered Native Women and Girls Passes Senate

Seattle leads country in total number of murdered Native women, Tacoma in highest number of missing individuals

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Last night, the U.S. Senate passed bipartisan legislation co-sponsored by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to help federal, state, and Tribal law enforcement agencies better respond to disappearances and murders of Native American women and girls. Savanna’s Act would increase coordination among all levels of law enforcement, increase data collection and information sharing, and empower Tribal governments with resources they need to respond to these cases.

“Finally there is recognition of the urgency of helping Native American women with Senate passage of this bill,” Senator Cantwell said. “Hopefully new law enforcement tools will be on the way when the House does its work.”

A recent report by the Seattle Indian Health Board found 506 unsolved cases of missing and murdered Native women and girls nationwide. Washington state has the highest number of cases of any state, and of 71 urban areas studied, Seattle is highest city.

Another report released last year by the Washington State Patrol on the crisis called for more coordination between Tribal, federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. It found 56 cases of missing Native women in Washington state – 20 of the cases were in Yakima County, and 12 were in King County.

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 American 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 American 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.

Addressing the epidemic of violence against Native women has long been a priority for Senator Cantwell. In 2013, as Congress considered the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, she spoke out about the importance of addressing violence against Native women and successfully fought to prevent efforts to remove language from the bill aimed at enhancing domestic violence protections for women in Tribal communities.

Now that the legislation has passed the Senate, it moves on to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration. In addition to Cantwell, U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) also introduced the legislation.