FARGO — Savanna’s Act, sparked by the brutal murder of a Native American woman in Fargo, advanced to the full Senate for consideration after the Committee on Indian Affairs approved the legislation Wednesday, Nov. 20.
The bipartisan bill, named for Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind who was murdered in 2017, seeks to address gaps in data collection and law enforcement related to the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW).
The bill is “acknowledging not only the memory of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind for whom Savanna’s Act is named after but the so many who have been murdered, trafficked,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, during a Wednesday hearing.
“Savanna’s Act is about better empowering tribal law enforcement to address violence against Native Americans and helping to ensure justice for victims,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.
LaFontaine-Greywind, 22, was eight months pregnant when she went missing from her Fargo home on Aug. 19, 2017. Her baby was cut from her womb, and the child survived. Searchers found LaFontaine-Greywind's body in the Red River nine days later.
Heidi Heitkamp proposed Savanna’s Act during her time as a Democratic senator from North Dakota. At the end of 2018, the bill passed the Senate unanimously, but was stopped in the House by former Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., without time to make changes.
Murkowski took up the bill for the new session, with 26 signing on as co-sponsors, including Sens. Tina Smith, D-Minn., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who unseated Heitkamp in the last election.
In a statement, Cramer said the legislation’s “passage is long overdue.”
In 2016 alone, there were 5,712 reported cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in the U.S., but that figure is low because of inadequate data collection, according to the Global Indigenous Council.
An identical bill was also introduced in the House and co-sponsored by Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., who is one of the first Native American women elected to Congress. The bill has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.
Hoeven also introduced the “Securing Urgent Resources Vital to Indian Victim Empowerment Act,” shortened to the “SURVIVE Act,” which would expand victim services by requiring a 5% allocation from the Crime Victims Fund be given to tribes.
Another Senate bill, known as the Not Invisible Act seeks to increase intergovernmental coordination to identify and combat violent crime on tribal lands. The bill, introduced by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., remains in the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.