Deb Haaland announces U.S. House version of Savanna’s Act and addresses efforts for MMIW

Haaland: ‘Congress has never had a voice like mine, a Native American woman who sees the blind spots that have existed for far too long’

On a media conference call Tuesday morning, Rep. Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, announced the U.S. House version of Savanna’s Act 2019, a bill that will supplement the Senate bill introduced by Lisa Murkowski in January of this year.

As previously reported on by Indian Country Today, Savanna’s Act will combat the epidemic of murdered and missing Native women and girls by improving the coordination among law enforcement offices, increase data collection and information sharing, and empowers tribal governments with the resources they need in cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

See Related: Sen. Murkowski keeps promise to Heidi Heitkamp, reintroduces Savanna’s Act

During the call, Rep Haaland announced her efforts.

“Congress has never had a voice like mine, a Native American woman who sees the blind spots that have existed for far too long. That's why I've been working on multiple bills and legislation to address this crisis,” said Haaland.

“Last week I introduced the Not Invisible Act to establish an advisory committee on violent crime comprised of law enforcement, tribal leaders, federal partners, service providers, and survivors or their families to make recommendations on best practices for law enforcement. Today, along with my colleague Norma Torres, we are introducing Savanna's Act of 2019.”

In addition to making the announcement, Haaland also cited personal sentiments for wishing to pass the legislation.

“Every woman deserves to feel safe, but women in Native communities are going missing without a trace. This crisis is real for women and families in Indian country. We just celebrated Mother's Day on Sunday. Think about imagining being a mother with a missing child or even a child with a mother who disappeared without telling anybody. This is a crisis that has gone on for far too long. Part of the problem is that this has been a silent crisis. No one is keeping track. It's not covered in mainstream media and data is lacking everywhere. Sometimes the record of that missing indigenous woman or person isn't documented, leaving questions unanswered for sometimes decades, leading to gaps in information, missing person cases unsolved and perpetrators roaming the streets.”

“It's heartbreaking cases like Savanna Greywind, Ashlynn Mike, Judith Apache, and countless Native women and their families who are left behind. It drives us to work for solutions to the silent crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women. This longstanding epidemic will take time, resources, and dedication to resolve and we will find solutions. In this updated version of Savanna's Act, I worked hard to prioritize the safety of Native women, including urban areas to protect indigenous women throughout the country.”

Haaland also mentioned that over 70 Indian tribes have endorsed this bill across the country and that the list would probably increase as time goes on.

In light of the stifling of the legislation of the Savanna’s Act bill last House session by, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia. Haaland says she hasn’t seen opposition to the bill.

“We have a lot of support for the bill and I'm very proud to sponsor this bill with my colleague, Congresswoman Norma Torres.”

In addition to the Savanna’s Act legislation by Haaland, other efforts are listed on Haaland’s Congressional website as follows:

Not Invisible Act of 2019:

First bill in history to be introduced by four enrolled members of federally recognized tribes, Representatives Deb Haaland, Pueblo of Laguna, Tom Cole, Chickasaw, Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, and Markwayne Mullin, Cherokee Nation. The Not Invisible Act of 2019 seeks to establish an advisory committee on violent crime comprised of law enforcement, tribal leaders, federal partners, and service providers survivors to make recommendations to the Department of Interior and Department of Justice. The bill also seeks to establish best practices for law enforcement on combatting the epidemic of missing persons, murder, and trafficking of Native Americans and Alaska Natives and designates an official within the Bureau of Indian Affairs charged with improving coordination of violent crime prevention efforts across federal agencies. Most importantly, the advisory committee reserves a seat at the table for both human trafficking survivors and family members of a murdered Native American.

Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019: To address sexual assault and domestic violence and includes provisions to address violence against Native women. Rep. Haaland was successful in amending VAWA to provide resources to Native women and combat the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women by: 1) providing victim advocate services to urban Indians in state courts; and 2) expanding information sharing between public safety departments in Indian Country by bolstering accessibility to the Tribal Access Program database to ensure all law enforcement agencies share information to keep survivors of domestic violence safe. VAWA passed the U.S. House of Representatives.

SURVIVE Act (Securing Urgent Resources Vital to Indian Victim Empowerment Act): 

To address the need for tribal victim assistance by creating a tribal grant program within the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime. In addition to ensuring that tribal governments can access the Victims of Crime Fund (VOCA) resources on equal footing to state, the bill also empowers Tribes and Indian victims of crime by: expanding the types of victim assistance, services and infrastructure for which the funds may be used, including domestic violence shelters, medical care, counseling, legal assistance and services, and child and elder abuse programs. This bill was included in the 2019 VAWA reauthorization.

Studying the Missing and Murdered Indian Crisis Act of 2019: 

To improve cooperation between Tribes and law enforcement. The bill directs the Government Accountability Office to conduct a full review of how federal agencies respond to reports of missing and murdered Native Americans and recommend solutions based on their findings. It also calls for the inclusion of database research to assess the availability/need for data collection; law enforcement jurisdiction across tribal and state lines; and recommendations/best practices for improving communication.

The Native Youth & Tribal Officer Protection Act:

To ensure children and law enforcement in tribal communities are protected in instances of domestic violence. The bill reaffirms tribal inherent authority over child abuse and crimes that are committed against police officers and other justice officials respond to domestic violence calls and was included in the 2019 VAWA reauthorization.

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