MMIW bills head to president's desk

People march to call for justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women on June 14, 2019, at the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma in Concho, Oklahoma. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

Kolby KickingWoman

‘Missing and murdered Indigenous women are no longer invisible’ now that Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act have passed Congress

Kolby KickingWoman
Indian Country Today

Two critical pieces of legislation addressing the missing and murdered Indigenous women crisis are heading to President Donald Trump’s desk for final approval.

Both Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act passed the U.S. House Monday, while their companion bills in the Senate passed earlier this year.

The bills are aimed at increasing collaboration between tribes, law enforcement and the federal government in information and data sharing to enhance crime prevention efforts in Indian Country.

Savanna’s Act, which is named for Savanna Greywind, was introduced by former Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota last session and was reintroduced this session by Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Heitkamp, despite losing her bid for reelection in 2018, maintained hope that one of her former Senate colleagues would pick up the proverbial torch and get this legislation across the finish line.

The former senator told Indian Country Today it means the world to her that Savanna’s Act could become law.

"Missing and murdered Indigenous women are no longer invisible. They are no longer hidden in the shadows. When I first introduced this bill last Congress, I couldn't have imagined the groundswell of support we would receive  and I'm encouraged that even during these partisan times, Congress came together and passed this important and needed bill,” Heitkamp said. “By raising awareness about this crisis and taking concrete action to help address it, we can help make sure Indigenous women are better protected.”

Heitkamp added she believes the work isn’t done until every Native woman is safe in their communities.

The measure establishes better law enforcement practices to track, solve and prevent crimes against Native Americans. It directs the departments of Justice and Interior to consult with tribes while developing national law enforcement guidelines.

The 22-year-old pregnant Greywind was murdered in 2017, and her unborn baby was cut from her body. Her remains were found in the Red River north of Fargo, North Dakota. Two people are in prison for her death. Her infant survived.

Not Invisible Act

The Not Invisible Act, if approved, would be the first bill in history to be signed into law after being introduced by four citizens of federally recognized tribes, according to a news release from New Mexico Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna and Jemez Pueblo.

Along with Haaland, the bill was introduced by Oklahoma Republican Reps. Tom Cole, Chickasaw, and Markwayne Mullin, Cherokee, as well as Kansas Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk.

The law would require the Interior Department to designate a point person within the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Office of Justice Services to coordinate violent crime prevention efforts in Indian Country across federal agencies. 

It also directs the Interior and Justice departments to establish a commission composed of relevant federal agencies, tribal leaders and tribal members to develop recommendations on improving the federal response to missing and murdered Indigenous women, Native American human trafficking, and violent crime in Indian Country. 

Lastly, it would direct the Interior and Justice departments to submit a formal response to the commission’s recommendations to Congress within 90 days of receiving the recommendations.

Haaland said she is grateful for her Senate counterparts who helped move this bill forward, and noted the voices of survivors must be included when finding a solution to this crisis.

“All women deserve to live without fear of disappearing without a trace, but the missing and murdered Indigenous women crisis persists, and Indigenous people continue to go missing,” Haaland said. “Today, we moved to say, ‘Enough is enough,’ and passed the Not Invisible Act, which includes efforts to get meaningful input from the survivors of these horrific crimes and tribal leaders to ensure law enforcement has the guidance it needs to address missing persons cases from people who know the issue firsthand.”

Cole echoed the sentiment on the importance of including survivors' voices and added the passage of these bills is a great, positive step forward.

“As homicide leads as the No. 1 cause of death for Native women and children, I am proud to see the federal government work to create solutions to end this horrific epidemic,” Cole said. “I applaud the passage of this important legislation.”

Davids urged the president to move quickly on signing this legislation into law. She said the Not Invisible Act provides protections for Native women and children while also improving law enforcement efforts to do so.

“I’m extremely proud to have worked with my colleagues to help address the epidemic of missing and murdered Native women and girls, who experience violence at higher rates than any other female population in the country,” Davids said.

Mullin noted the missing and murdered Indigenous women crisis is wreaking havoc on Native families.

“Our priority must be to protect native women and children, and all parties have to work together to end this epidemic of violence,” Mullin said. “The Not Invisible Act will give our law enforcement officers the tools they need to address the crisis and will help prevent our sisters from becoming a statistic.”

The president will have 10 days to sign the bills or veto them and send them back to the chamber where they originated.

Trump has not indicated whether he will approve the bills, though last year he issued an order creating a missing and murdered Indigenous peoples task force.

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Vincent Schilling and The Associated Press contributed to this report

Kolby KickingWoman, Blackfeet/A'aniih is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is from the great state of Montana and currently reports for the Washington Bureau. For hot sports takes and too many Lakers tweets, follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email - kkickingwoman@indiancountrytoday.com

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