Bill Aimed at Protecting Indigenous Women Gives Natives Hope

Native American groups hope the president will sign a measure designed to help law enforcement get a handle on a public safety issue plaguing tribal communities. The bill was inspired by the murder of a North Dakota woman three years ago.

Earlier this week, Congress gave final approval to Savanna’s Act, which addresses cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people.

It orders the Justice Department to develop guidelines to solve and prevent these cases, while establishing data collection.

Lisa Casarez, board member for North Dakota Native Vote, said the public finally is noticing that Natives are easily targeted for horrific crimes, and this will hopefully bring some solace.

“It’s considered positive,” Casarez said. “Considering this has been a longstanding issue within Indian country; the missing and murdered Indigenous women and Indigenous people.”

The bill is named after Savanna Greywind, a pregnant Native American woman who was murdered in 2017. Her body was found along the North Dakota-Minnesota border.

Indigenous women face more violence than any other group. The National Institute of Justice said at least 84% have been the target of sexual or other violence in their lifetimes.

Not only does the law require federal officials to establish guidelines for these cases, it also instructs them to increase communication with tribal authorities.

Casarez said she hopes there’s more accountability for federal agencies, especially since tribal governments have faced restrictions in investigating crimes committed against their people by outside offenders.

“A lot of jurisdictional confusion and issues between laws as they apply on the reservation to tribal members and non-tribal members, or don’t apply,” Casarez explained.

Observers such as Casarez believe bureaucratic red tape has made it easier to target Natives.

While not firmly conclusive, some studies cite a spike in violent attacks that coincided with the state’s oil boom more than a decade ago. That’s when workers, many of them men, flocked to the region for jobs. They found residence in camps near reservations.

By Mike Moen, Greater Dakota News Service

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