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Torres Passes Landmark Legislation Protecting Native American Women

September 21, 2020
Press Release
Bipartisan Group of U.S. Reps & Senators Celebrate Passage of Vital Bill they Championed

WASHINGTON, DC – Congresswoman Norma J. Torres (D-CA) was joined today by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), as well as fellow U.S. Representatives Deb Haaland (D-NM) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA) to celebrate the passage of Savanna’s Act, legislation the bipartisan group of lawmakers championed in the House and Senate in honor of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind.

Ms. LaFontaine-Greywind was a 22-year old pregnant member of the Spirit Lake Tribe who was tragically murdered in August 2017. Her death shines a light on a horrific trend in the United States, where Native American women face a murder rate ten times higher than the national average, with eighty-four percent experiencing some form of violence in their lifetime. To date, there is no reliable way of knowing how many Native women go missing each year because the databases that hold statistics of these cases are outdated, as well as a lack of coordination between law enforcement agencies. 

Rep. Torres' Savanna's Act Speech

Rep. Torres speaks on the House floor moments before Savanna’s Act Passed

Savanna’s Act addresses the disturbing increase in murdered and missing Native American women by creating new guidelines for responding to such cases, and by incentivizing various law enforcement agencies to implement them. 

The bill passed in the Senate on March 11, 2020 before passing today in the House of Representatives. It passed unanimously in both chambers, and now goes to President Trump’s desk to be signed into law.

The lawmakers released the following statements:

“Native women have endured horrific rates of assault, rape and murder for far too long, and innocent people like Savanna have been lost with too little effort spent on ending this scourge,” Rep. Torres said. “That shameful reality stops today. I am incredibly grateful to the bipartisan group of lawmakers who joined forces with me to champion Savanna’s Act throughout the legislative process and usher it to a successful vote today. While we celebrate this victory, every one of us knows it’s bittersweet. I hope this vote brings some closure to the countless family members in Native communities who live with the pain of a lost loved one every day. Their unwavering advocacy made this day a reality, and an untold number of lives will be saved as a result.”

“The issue of missing or murdered Indigenous women has been a crisis for such a painfully long time. Many tribal advocates and family members of those affected worked so tirelessly on this issue, and I am proud to have worked alongside them to elevate this crisis at the local, state, and national level. The bipartisan action we have seen, from tribal communities to the administration, has been significant. With the Senate’s passage of Savanna’s Act now in both Congressional chambers, we are not just making headway, we are taking the necessary steps to make real, lasting change,” Sen. Murkowski said. “Today is a big victory in our fight to provide justice for victims, healing for their families, and protection for women and children across the nation.”

“Earlier this year, the Senate took an important step forward in addressing the epidemic of missing and murdered Native women and girls,” Sen. Cortez Masto said. “I am proud to see the House following suit today by passing Savanna’s Act to give local and Tribal law enforcement the federal resources they need to address this crisis. Today’s vote brings us one step closer to finally acting to protect our Native sisters, mothers and daughters—and to honoring the memory of those taken. The Silver State is home to many Native communities that have long lacked the resources to adequately address this issue, and today’s House passage of Savanna’s Act begins to close that gap.”

“Everyone deserves to feel safe in their communities, but Native American and Alaskan Native women continue to face murder and violence at rates that should make our country ashamed,” Rep. Haaland, Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, said. “Savanna Greywind’s story is heartbreaking and the fact that there are an unknown number of stories like hers is terrifying. This long-standing epidemic will take time, resources, and dedication to resolve it—and today we’re taking a major step by passing Savanna’s Act to improve data collection of missing and murdered indigenous women which is critical to solving this problem. Representatives Torres and Newhouse were great partners as I worked hard to prioritize the safety of all Native women, on and off Tribal lands, with this bill.

“The passing of this legislation is long overdue,” Rep. Newhouse said. “Throughout Central Washington and across the country, the families and loved ones of thousands of missing or murdered indigenous women are awaiting justice. This crisis has been going on for decades, and our Native communities have had enough. It is because of their voices and their strong advocacy that we are able to pass this legislation and – finally – send Savanna’s Act to President Trump’s desk to be signed into law.”

Savanna’s Act was previously introduced in the 115th Congress by Torres and former U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND). The Senate passed the bill unanimously, but it did not receive consideration in the House. In January 2019, Senators Murkowski and Cortez Masto reintroduced the bill in the Senate, and in May 2019, Reps. Torres, Haaland and Newhouse reintroduced it in the House.

The bill text is available HERE and a section-by-section summary is available HERE.

Savanna’s Act is supported by the National Congress of American Indians, National Indigenous Women's Resource Center, Seattle Indian Health Board, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Washington, Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center, Western Native Voice, Friends Committee on National Legislation, All Pueblo Council of Governors (representing 20 Pueblos), Intertribal Association of Arizona (representing 21 Tribal Nations), United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund (representing 27 Tribal Nations), Muckleshoot Tribe of Washington, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, and Navajo Nation.