Two United States senators from New Mexico joined 10 others to introduce Savanna’s Act, legislation to combat the epidemic of murdered and missing Indigenous women by improving the federal government's response to the crisis.
The bipartisan bill would increase coordination among all levels of law enforcement, increases data collection and information sharing, and empowers tribal governments with the resources they need in cases involving missing and murdered indigenous women and girls wherever they occur.
The village of Ruidoso in Lincoln County adjoins the Mescalero Apache Reservation in Otero County.
U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, Democrats from New Mexico, and U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) are prime movers of the proposed legislation.
“Native women go missing and experience violence at alarming rates but, too often, cases go uninvestigated and unresolved. This is simply unacceptable,” Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said. “Native women deserve better, and Tribes deserve more authority and additional resources to properly address the MMIW epidemic. Savanna’s Act is an important first step in making sure Native women receive the justice they deserve while making Native communities safer and stronger in the process.”
“Native women and girls face appalling levels of violence, exploitation and murder,” Heinrich said. “This bill takes steps to improve the federal government’s response to addressing the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women both in New Mexico and nationwide. With tribal law enforcement and federal agencies working together to improve data collection and standardize protocols, we can work to stop this epidemic and keep communities in New Mexico safe.”
In October 2017, former U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) introduced Savanna’s Act, cosponsored by Senator Murkowski, the first piece of major legislation specifically addressing missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. The legislation is named for Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, who was abducted and killed last year in Fargo, North Dakota. It passed the U.S. Senate unanimously in December 2018, but was not taken up in the House.
Savanna's Act would improve tribal access to certain federal crime information databases and mandates that the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Interior consult with Indian tribes on how to further develop these databases and access to them.
It would require Departments of Justice, Interior, and 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.
The bill would require U.S. Attorneys to work with Tribes on the creation of standardized guidelines for responding to cases of missing and murdered Native Americans, that includes guidance on inter-jurisdictional cooperation among tribal, federal, state, and local law enforcement.
And it would require the Department of Justice to include statistics on missing and murdered Native women and recommendations on how to improve data collection in the Department’s annual report to Congress on investigations and prosecutions in Indian Country.