Savanna’s Act, a bill that calls for the standardization of protocols for law enforcement agencies and for updating data for federal databases relevant to missing or murdered Native American women, was re-introduced to the floor on Monday by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski.
Savanna’s Act is named in honor of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a pregnant Spirit Lake tribe member, who was murdered in South Dakota in 2017. Originally, Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota introduced the bill in October 2017 to address the violence that afflicts Native American women. Last year, the act passed in the Senate but was killed by Republican Bob Goodlatte in the House Judiciary Committee in 2018.
In the US, there is an epidemic of violence against Native American women that Congress has not addressed. Over half of Native American women are victims of sexual assault and a third of Native women are raped. These rates are double that of white women. Homicide is the third leading cause of death for Native women ages 15 to 24 in and outside of tribal land.
The authority and power of tribal law enforcement has been challenged and limited by the US government. Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, a 1978 Supreme Court case, provides immunity to non-Native Americans offenders through limiting the authority of tribal law enforcement. This thereby weakens tribal authority and compromises the safety of tribe members. The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 tried to remedy the issue of jurisdiction, but it did not completely reestablish complete jurisdiction to tribal authority.
Savanna’s Act is a starting point to help protect one of the most marginalized groups in our country. As the number of missing and murdered women continues to grow, more attention needs to be given to this epidemic and Savanna’s Act is just the start of the solution.
Media Resources: Bloomberg,2/12/19; Splinter News, 12/27/19; MS. Blog,1/10/19; Ms. Blog,2/26/18