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Savanna’s Act advances to Senate vote

November 16, 2018

On Wednesday, the Indian Affairs Committee voted to advance federal legislation aimed at addressing the epidemic of missing and murdered Native American women and children.

Savanna’s Act (Senate Bill 1942) now will move to the U.S. Senate for vote. The bill has received bipartisan support from Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont, and Steve Daines, R-Mont. Should it pass, the bill would require the United States Department of Justice to “better collect and report crime data across Indian Country and increase access to federal crime databases that track crimes against Native Americans.”

The issue, which is significant in Montana and other states including Washington and the Dakotas, goes widely underreported by law enforcement agencies nationwide.

“When it comes to ending this epidemic, Native communities have to navigate a jurisdictional maze of bureaucracy,” Tester said in a press release. “That’s why we need Savanna’s Act, to improve information sharing between law enforcement agencies, establish better response protocols, and put an end to these crimes committed across Indian Country.”

What little has been reported by law enforcement officials shows that Native American women go missing or murdered at unprecedented rates compared to other races.

A 2016 study by the National Institute of Justice shows more than a third of Native American women have been raped during their lifetime. The number is more than double that of white women in the U.S.

According to data gathered by the National Crime Information Center, as of 2016 more than 5,700 Native American women had been reported missing, which some advocacy groups, including the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women USA, claim is inaccurate.

From 2014 to 2016, Montana found itself near the top of National Crime Information Center reports. In 2016, numbers show 298 Native women were reported missing - a more than 30 percent increase from 2014.

Voting to advance the Savanna’s Act is one of multiple steps taken this year by Montana politicians to combat the issue.

In August, Tester called for a Senate hearing on missing and murdered Native American women claiming “it is time we prioritize the significant challenges that Native women face.”

At the time, 20 Native American women had gone missing in Montana since the start of 2018 and of those, only one had been found.

The hearing request came shortly after Tester, who is a senior member of the Senate Appropriations and Indian Affairs Committee, secured more than $130 million for Indian Tribes in the Crime Victims Fund to assist survivors of violent crimes.

Savanna’s Act, first introduced by U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, and former Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, in 2017, was named after Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, who went missing and was later killed in Fargo, North Dakota. Heitkamp, who will soon be replaced by Republican Kevin Cramer, has worked closely with Tester.

Although the bill is a large step toward addressing the missing and murdered epidemic, Heitkamp said it is only the first step and urged others to “not let this issue slide to the back burner” as she departs from her position as senator.

Reporter Kianna Gardner may be reached at 758-4439 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com.

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