Unanimous passage Monday by the U.S. House of Representatives sends two bills addressing the missing and murdered Indigenous women crisis to President Donald Trump for his signature.

Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act were passed by the House Judiciary Committee and the U.S. Senate in March. In July, U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, initiated a bipartisan letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi urging action on the legislation before the August recess. Last week, he and several colleagues spoke in support of a House vote.

Newhouse and Reps. Norma Torres, D-California, and Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, introduced Savanna’s Act — named in honor of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind — in May 2019. Newhouse has convened several meetings in the Yakima Valley to hear from family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women, tribal leaders and law enforcement.

“The passing of this legislation is long overdue,” Newhouse said Monday. “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.”

Among other initiatives, the legislation would improve data collection and information sharing, standardize law enforcement protocols for responding to cases of missing and murdered indigenous women and provide tribal governments with more resources.

Savanna's Act was named for Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, of Fargo, N.D., who was murdered in August 2017.

The bill was introduced in the Senate by Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev. Cantwell said law enforcement "must do a better job to protect Indigenous women" and that Trump should sign the legislation "immediately."

"This law will require new, much-needed protocols, training, and reporting of statistics," Cantwell said Monday. "This is a huge victory for Indigenous women and for the Seattle Indian Health Board — their original report drew important attention to this critical issue.”

A 2019 report by the Seattle Indian Health Board found 506 unsolved cases of missing and murdered Native women and girls nationwide. Washington has the highest number of cases of any state, according to the report, and of 71 urban areas studied, Seattle is the highest city.

Another report on the crisis released last year by the Washington State Patrol called for more coordination between tribal, federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. It found 56 cases of missing Native women in Washington state, with 20 of the cases in Yakima County, the highest county total by far.

That report came under fire from the Seattle Indian Health Board, which responded with “MMIWG: We Demand More.” Inaccurate and incorrect information of race undermines and diminishes the ability to understand the true scope of missing Native women in Washington state, the report says.

Native women and girls have suffered disproportionate levels of physical and sexual violence for centuries. One in three Native women will be raped in her lifetime, and nearly half of all Native women have been raped, beaten or stalked by an intimate partner, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. On some reservations, women are murdered at a rate 10 times higher than the national average. 

It is unknown how many Native women, girls, men and boys have gone missing, have been murdered and have died mysteriously on and around the 1.3-million-acre Yakama Reservation over decades.

Athena Sanchey-Yallup, secretary of the Yakama Nation Tribal Council and chair of the Yakama Nation Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Committee, expressed appreciation for Newhouse's efforts in supporting the legislation.

“Today’s passage of Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act are important steps in helping the Yakama Nation and tribes across the United States protect our loved ones. The establishment of databases on missing and murdered Indian people and ensuring tribal law enforcement agencies have access to those data bases will provide valuable information," Sanchey-Yallup said in a news release.

"The establishment of a multi-agency Commission that will include federal, state, local and tribal officials to make recommendations on best practices to combat the disappearance, homicide and trafficking of Native peoples is also a welcomed development."

Reach Tammy Ayer at tayer@yakimaherald.com or on Facebook.

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