On Wednesday, November 29th, Senator Heidi Heitkamp (ND-D) led an effort on social media to raise awareness about the crisis of missing and murdered Native American women during National Native American Heritage Month.
In October, Sen. Heitkamp introduced a bill to help address the crisis of missing and murdered Native women titled Savanna’s Act -- in honor of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, who was tragically killed in Fargo, ND in August of 2017. The social media effort builds on Sen. Heitkamp’s bill, Savanna’s Act. The bill would improve law enforcement cooperation to help combat the crisis of missing and murdered Native American women.
“One of the main challenges to address this issue is the lack of awareness outside of Indian Country about this epidemic,” said a statement on a Heitkamp release. “Only once we raise awareness about this crisis, can we then help implement solutions,” said Heitkamp.
According to Heitkamp’s office, the efforts of Savanna’s Act and the #NotInvisible hashtag is to help raise awareness and bring this issue out of the shadows so it is no longer invisible. The Senator says she urged tribal leaders, politicians, celebrities and supporters to take a photo with the #NotInvisible hashtag and then post it on Facebook and/or Twitter on the 29th to help highlight these crimes.
On the 29th, tribal leaders, politicians and celebrities responded to Heitkamp’s efforts by posting selfies along with the #NotInvisible hashtag. Among the celebrities and politicians were Senator Jeff Merkley a co-sponsor of the bill, Senator Tom Udall, Senator Tammy Baldwin, Senator Mazie Hirono and actor Mark Ruffalo, who plays the Hulk/Bruce Banner in the latest Thor Ragnarok.
“84% of Native American women experience violence in their lifetime. But outside of Indian Country, few people are aware of this epidemic. It's time to raise awareness and show that these women are #NotInvisible,” wrote Ruffalo in his tweet.
Efforts of the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (NIWRC)
The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (NIWRC)--a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to restoring the sovereignty of Native nations and safeguarding Native women and their children--had previously worked with Senator Heitkamp and the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to introduce Savanna’s Act in October.
According to the NIWRC, the Savanna’s Act bill mandates protocol development, increased access to federal databases and would improve law enforcement cooperation to help combat the crisis of missing and murdered Native American women. The NIWRC also helped promote the #NotInvisible on November 29th on their social media accounts.
In an emailed statement, Lucy Simpson (Navajo) who serves as the Executive Director for the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, said the bill comes at a time where crimes against Native American women occur at an alarming rate.
“The current reports of abduction and murder of American Indian women and girls are alarming and represent one of the most horrific aspects of the spectrum of violence committed against Native women,” said Simpson in the statement.
“The murder rate of Native women is more than ten times the national average on some reservations. Often, these disappearances or murders are connected to crimes of domestic violence, sexual assault, and sex trafficking. The intersection of gender based violence and MMIW is heavily intertwined.”
The NIWRC public relations representative told Indian Country Today in an email that they are expressing the “urgent need to address the national crisis of missing and murdered as stated in the Findings of S. 1942; the Savanna’s Act. The recent murder of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind and the horrific ongoing violence committed against Native women and girls, particularly the reports of those missing and murdered, are a glaring confirmation of this reality in our everyday lives.”
The NIWRC representative also also cited the disturbing statistics reported by the CDC.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, homicide is the third leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women between 10 and 24 years of age and the fifth leading cause of death for American Indian and Alaska Native women between 25 and 34 years of age. In some tribal communities, American Indian women face murder rates that are more than 10 times the national average.”
Cherrah Giles, NIWRC Board President told Indian Country Today, “The legacy of genocide is the epidemic of violence we experience from birth to death. For our Native sisters who are missing and murdered, we need every person to take a stand and join in our effort calling for justice.”
“We strive to lift the voices of the families and communities impacted by all murdered and missing Native women and girls,” said Simpson. “It is an abomination that many times the only searches for our missing women are organized by family and friends, and not law enforcement. We aim to raise awareness and increase justice on a national level. But our work must not focus merely on improving the official response when a Native woman or girl is missing. We must restore our women to a place of honor, respect and sacredness so that these crimes can finally end.”
“NIWRC is committed to increasing safety and access to justice for American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian women and girls, to bringing awareness to this critical issue of missing and murdered Native women, and to preventing future acts of violence in our Nations” said Simpson.
“Together, we will never stop fighting for justice.”
Click here to read more about Savanna’s Act
Click here to read stories from families of Native American women who have gone missing or were murdered.
Here’s an emotional speech Sen. Heitkamp gave on the Senate floor about this issue:
Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter