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Senators May Bring Back Legislation Addressing Missing, Murdered Indigenous Women

Photo of Lisa Murkowski.
Office of U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) addresses a recent report on missing and murdered indigenous women.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, may try to re-introduce landmark legislation that would address the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women in the U.S.

Savanna’s Act would require the federal government to track the number of Native American women who either disappear or are victims of homicide. Many activists believe the number is disproportionately high, but they don’t know for sure because the federal government isn’t keeping a tally.

The legislation was introduced two years ago by U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. The bill passed the Senate unanimously last month before it was blocked in the U.S. House. Heitkamp was voted out of office last election.

In a statement, Murkowski said she is partnering up with U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to help reintroduce Savanna’s Act in the new session.

“We’re going to be working it, we’re going to be working it early, and we’re going to make the difference,” she said.

The bill was held at the desk by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., the outgoing House Judiciary Committee chair, during the last session. Goodlatte never publicly said why he blocked the bill, leaving advocates like Ivan MacDonald, a social worker and member of the Blackfeet tribe, in the dark.

“I don’t want to say it came as a shock, but still, it was a bit of a shock,” he said. “There seemed to be this very forward momentum.”

According to MacDonald, Savanna’s Act was a robust piece of legislation that would’ve financially incentivized state, federal and tribal agencies that kept track of the number of indigenous female homicides and disappearances in their jurisdiction.

“A lot of people were really surprised with what the bill took on,” he said. “It was like, ‘OK, this is going to make the agencies that have the jurisdiction over tribes more accountable.’”

MacDonald’s cousin was murdered in Montana more than three decades ago. Two years ago, a young woman, Ashley Loring, went missing from his reservation. She still hasn’t been found.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Nate Hegyi is the Utah reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at KUER. He covers federal land management agencies, indigenous issues, and the environment. Before arriving in Salt Lake City, Nate worked at Yellowstone Public Radio, Montana Public Radio, and was an intern with NPR's Morning Edition. He received a master's in journalism from the University of Montana.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.