Oregon’s U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley has joined bipartisan colleagues in introducing Savanna’s Act, legislation to combat the epidemic of murdered and missing Native women and girls by improving the federal government’s response to the crisis. Savannah LaFontaine Greywind was murdered in Fargo, North Dakota.
Police say Greywind, who was 8 months pregnant, was invited over to an apartment in Fargo to be shown by friends how to induce her own baby’s delivery. Two days later William Hoehn and his girlfriend Brook Crews were in possession of a two day old infant girl – but no sign of Greywind. Then two months later Greywind’s body was found wrapped in a plastic bag, hung up on a tree in the Red River. Hoehn and Crews were both arrested for conspiracy to murder.
The bill increases 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.
“Murder rates against Native women are a shocking ten times more than the national average. That is tragic and unacceptable,” Merkley said. “This bipartisan bill finally lays the foundation for getting these women, and Native communities, the justice they deserve.”
Savanna’s Act aims to bridge the gap of the limited data on the number of missing Native women by directing the U.S. Department of Justice to formulate new guidelines for the reporting of violent crimes against indigenous people. The bill improves tribal access to certain federal crime information databases by mandating that the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Interior consult with tribes on how to further improve these databases and access to them. It also requires certain federal agencies to solicit recommendations from tribes on enhancing the safety of Native women, as murder rates against indigenous women are ten times the national average.
Specifically, the bill:
· Improves 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.
· Requires the DOJ, Interior and HHS 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.
· Requires the creation of standardized guidelines for responding to cases of missing and murdered Native Americans, in consultations with tribes, which will include guidance on inter-jurisdictional cooperation among tribes and federal, state, and local law enforcement.
· Requires statistics on missing and murdered Native women, and recommendations on how to improve data collection, to be included in an annual report to Congress.
Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), John Hoeven (R-ND), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jon Tester (D-MT), Christopher Coons (D-DE ), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Thom Tillis (R-NC) are all original cosponsors of the bill.
In October of 2017, former U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp first introduced Savanna’s Act, 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 of 2018.