Senator Heidi Heitkamp United States Senator for North Dakota

Press Releases

Nov 14 2018

Heitkamp’s Savanna’s Act Advances in Senate Committee as New Report Sheds Light on Epidemic of Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women

Senator Also Helps Introduce Resolution Recognizing November as National Native American Heritage Month

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs today voted to advance Savanna’s Act, U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s legislation to help address the epidemic of missing and murdered Native American women. Today’s hearing comes as a new report from the Urban Indian Health Institute finds extensive underreporting and shortcomings in understanding the crisis, reinforcing the need for urgency and broadened awareness to address it.

Named for Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, who was abducted and tragically killed last year in Fargo, Savanna’s Act builds on a bill Heitkamp and former U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) introduced and got signed into law to expand Amber alert warnings in Indian Country – where such alerts often do not exist – to help stop abductions. The Indian Affairs Committee held a hearing on Savanna’s Act after Heitkamp introduced it last fall

“When I introduced Savanna’s Act, one of the main goals was to raise the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women to a national level and begin the conversation of how to address it. Today’s passage of Savanna’s Act in the Indian Affairs Committee is another important step forward, and a sign that this issue is closer to gaining the attention it deserves,” Heitkamp said. “Not only will the bill help make sure law enforcement has guidelines in place to respond to cases of those who go missing or are murdered, but it will also encourage law enforcement agencies to submit data on those cases annually to the Department of Justice. I was proud to help pass the AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act into law earlier this year to help protect Native children, and through Savanna’s Act and the #NotInvisible campaign the effort to give these issues the attention they deserve will continue.”

Also today, Heitkamp helped introduce a Senate resolution designating this November as National Native American Heritage Month. Last November, Heitkamp she launched a social media campaign using #NotInvisible to raise awareness about the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women and bring it out of the shadows.

Heitkamp helped unveil the Urban Indian Health Institute report at a press conference today in Washington. She was joined by U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Patty Murray (D-WA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Jon Tester (D-MT), along with advocates for Native women and families. The report revealed significant challenges in collecting data on the total number of missing or murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives residing off-reservation and outside rural villages.

On some reservations, Native women are murdered at ten times the national average, and 84 percent of Native women have experienced violence in their lifetime. In 2016, North Dakota had 125 reported cases of missing Native women according to the National Crime Information Center, but numbers are likely much higher as cases are often under reported and data isn’t officially collected.

Click here for statements of support for Savanna’s Act from United Tribes of North Dakota, National Congress of American Indians, and other tribal chairmen and leaders across North Dakota.

Specifically, Savanna’s Act would:

  • Improve data on tribal victims by requiring the Department of Justice to: provide training to law enforcement agencies to record tribal enrollment information or affiliation in crime information databases; raise awareness about the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, including conducting specific outreach to Tribes; and annually report known statistics on missing and murdered Native Americans and recommendations on how to improve data collection.
  • Improve tribal access to crime information databases by requiring the Attorney General to consult and solicit recommendations from Tribes on improved access to local, regional, state, and federal crime information databases and criminal justice information systems during the annual consultations mandated under the Violence Against Women Act. 
  • Create locally developed guidelines for responding to cases of missing and murdered Native Americans.

Click here for a fact sheet on the legislation. Last year, Heitkamp also launched a website with key resources and information on missing and murdered indigenous women, including offering steps to take if you know or suspect a person has gone missing by force.

Background

Heitkamp has long worked to stop violence, exploitation, and trafficking of Native women and children by:

  • Combating human trafficking in Indian Country. Heitkamp held an initial Senate hearing in September 2013 on stopping human trafficking with a focus on Indian Country. She has worked closely with Cindy McCain, a global leader in the effort to stop human trafficking. McCain testified at a Senate hearing earlier this month on human trafficking in Indian Country and highlighted Heitkamp’s work on the issue. In 2015, Heitkamp brought Cindy McCain to Fort Berthold, to talk about how to combat human trafficking. In September, Heitkamp called for federal agencies and organizations to provide specific training on human trafficking to federal government employees in Indian Country. Heitkamp also played a key role in passing bipartisan legislation in 2015 to fight human trafficking, and introduced multiple other bills on the issue.
  • Calling for a permanent federal law enforcement presence in Indian Country. When she served as North Dakota’s Attorney General and now as a U.S. senator, Heitkamp has worked to raise awareness about the need for a permanent federal law enforcement presence across Indian Country. In 2016, she brought then-Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James B. Comey to Fort Berthold to press him on the issue. Just a few weeks ago, Heitkamp spoke with the current FBI director about law enforcement challenges in Indian Country and pressed the agency to make these issues a priority.
  • Protecting Native women from violence. In the U.S. Senate, Heitkamp has built on her work as North Dakota’s Attorney General to combat domestic violence. The first bill she cosponsored was the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which she then played a major role in passing in 2013. Heitkamp worked to include a key provision in the bill to address the continuing crisis of violence against women in tribal communities. The provision strengthens the existing programs and provides tribal governments the force they need to prosecute non-Indian perpetrators who commit these crimes on tribal land.
  • Keeping communities strong and safe. Through her Strong & Safe Communities Initiative, which Heitkamp launched in September 2014, she has worked to address the emerging challenges in North Dakota as a result of the state’s population boom, including crime, exploitation, and trafficking issues in Indian Country.

 

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Contact Senator Heitkamp's press office at press@heitkamp.senate.gov