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Bill Aimed At Addressing Violence Against Indigenous Women Takes First Steps In Senate

Nate Hegyi / KUER
21-year-old Ashley Loring went missing from the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana in June of 2017.

The U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee will discuss on Wednesday landmark legislation that aims to address the crisis of missing and murdered women in Indian Country.

Indigenous women face some of the highest violence and sexual assault rates in the country.

The proposed law, known as Savanna’s Act, would require the federal government to begin tracking the number of homicide victims and missing women.

“We can’t respond to violence we don’t track,” said Annita Lucchesi, a doctoral student at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada.

She is currently compiling a historical database of missing and murdered Indigenous women across North America.

“We’re not able to design effective solutions if we don’t know how and why this is happening and where the gaps in the justice system are that allow it to continue to happen,” she said.

Calling Savanna’s Act an important first step, Lucchesi said there are aspects of the bill she wants improved. For example, she said the legislation doesn’t impose penalties on federal law enforcement agencies if they fail to collect data.

“It’s really more like asking federal law enforcement to collect data rather than telling them to do so,” she said.

Savanna’s Act was introduced more than a year ago by U.S Senator Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND, who recently lost her bid for re-election. Lucchesi is optimistic Heitkamp’s bill will survive without her.

A spokesperson for Heitkamp’s office said she was unavailable for an interview.

The bill is co-sponsored by nine Democrats and three Republicans.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, 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.
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