Congress Just Passed Two Bills That Are Intended to Protect Native Women from Violence

Photo credit: Sarah Morris - Getty Images
Photo credit: Sarah Morris – Getty Images

From Harper’s BAZAAR

Last week, Congress passed the Not Invisible Act and Savanna’s Act, two bills aiming to address the epidemic of violence against Native women, commonly referred to as missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Statistics show that Native American women are particularly vulnerable to violence in their lifetimes. On some reservations, for instance, Native women are murdered at a rate more than 10 times the national average. And across the board, more than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence in their lifetimes, whether it be sexual violence or physical violence at the hands of a partner, according to a 2016 study funded by the National Institute of Justice. Also, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists homicide as the third leading cause of death for Native women 19 years old and under.

Savanna’s Act—named for Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a 22-year-old woman who was brutally killed and whose eight-month-old fetus was cut from her womb—was unanimously passed by the Senate in March after it was reintroduced by Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski. (The bill was originally penned and introduced in 2017 by then Senator Heidi Heitkamp.) After being blocked in 2018, Savanna’s Act passed the House of Representatives last Monday.

The Not Invisible Act, which was originally introduced by Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto in 2019, also cleared the House that same Monday.

What do the bills do?

Both bills aim to increase transparency, data collection, and coordination efforts between tribes and law enforcement agencies, seeking to redress the historical lack of quality data (and subsequent lack of accountability) surrounding the MMIW crisis, according to a report by the Urban Indian Health Institute.

Savanna’s Act, specifically, requires the Justice Department to report statistics on missing or murdered Native Americans, develop guidelines for responses to cases of missing or murdered Native Americans, conduct outreach to tribes and Native American organizations, and provide training to law enforcement agencies on how to record tribal enrollment for victims in federal databases.

The Not Invisible Act complements Savanna’s Act by aiming to increase coordination efforts to reduce violence against Native Americans. In particular, the bill mandates that the Department of the Interior “designate an official within the Bureau of Indian Affairs to coordinate prevention efforts, grants, and programs related to missing Indians and the murder and human trafficking of Indians.” Additionally, the Interior and the Justice Department must establish a joint commission that will develop recommendations on how to combat violence against Native peoples.

Who is behind the bills?

Former North Dakota senator Heidi Heitkamp penned and introduced Savanna’s Act in 2017. Meanwhile, Senators Catherine Cortez Masto, Lisa Murkowski, and Jon Tester introduced the Not Invisible Act in April of 2019.

The passage of the bills can also be credited to the unrelenting and years-long pressure of activists and advocates fighting to protect Indigenous women.

“We have arrived at a moment in history,” said Angel Charley, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, in a statement. “The signing of these two crucial bills into law will commemorate hundreds of years of advocacy. We are looking forward to seeing these bills become law because our women and children deserve these enhanced protections.”

Senator John Hoeven, chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said in a press release, “We appreciate our House colleagues for passing the bill today and sending it on to the president to become law. At the same time, we continue working to advance more legislation like this to strengthen public safety in tribal communities and ensure victims of crime receive support and justice.”

What happens now?

After passing both chambers of Congress, both bills will be sent to President Donald Trump’s desk to be signed into law.

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