A lawmaker representing the Yakima Valley has requested a hearing in Central Washington to discuss the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women and Savanna’s Act, which would create new guidelines for investigation of such cases, among other efforts.
Known as a field hearing, the meeting requested by U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, would be an opportunity for committees and members of Congress to learn firsthand about an issue of national importance and discuss legislative solutions, according to a news release.
Newhouse late last week sent a letter to the leadership of the House Judiciary and House Natural Resources committees seeking a field hearing. He had mentioned the option during a private May 30 roundtable in Yakima. During that event at the Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce, Newhouse heard about local efforts to address the crisis.
“I’m envisioning having the committees come to Washington state and ... listen to as many people as possible,” Newhouse said at the May 30 meeting, noting that he would like a field hearing to take place in Yakima.
He requested a field hearing in Pasco last September during which several speakers testified on the pros and cons of the Columbia and Snake River dams and the challenges to their long-term viability. The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee organized that meeting. Members of the public could watch, as space permitted, and fill out comment cards. The hearing was webcast as well.
In requesting a field hearing on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women, Newhouse encouraged committee members to consider the value of hearing from those who affected by the decades-old crisis.
“As your committees continue to discuss policies to address the MMIW crisis and consider holding legislative hearings on Savanna’s Act, I must respectfully stress the importance of hearing directly from communities on the ground who have been harmed by this epidemic,” he said in his letter.
“Hosting a field hearing in Central Washington — particularly on the Yakama Nation Reservation — would be a meaningful opportunity to gather a diverse community of Tribal and law enforcement stakeholders to share their experiences on the front lines of the MMIW crisis and how legislative proposals, like Savanna’s Act, would help communities serve justice for Native women and their families.”
Newhouse and U.S. Reps. Norma Torres, D-Calif., and Deb Haaland, D-N.M., introduced the Savanna’s Act legislation in mid-May. Originally introduced in 2017, it stalled in the House in late 2018 after unanimously passing the Senate. It would create new guidelines for reporting and investigating of missing and murdered Native people and improve data collection and communication among law enforcement agencies and families.
No one knows exactly how many Native girls and women have gone missing on or near the 1.3-million-acre Yakama reservation. Many cases of missing people or mysterious deaths of women and men remain unsolved. During an FBI investigation spurred by rumors of a serial killer, investigators found as many as 32 cases dating back to 1980.
Several people spoke during the May 30 roundtable about having loved ones go missing with few or no answers, or relatives murdered with little or no justice.
They also talked about growing up and living with fear and a persistent sense of danger despite taking precautions. No one should have to live with that, they said.
“Nobody deserves to be brutalized,” said Lila Whitefoot, whose sister has been missing since 1987. Another sister was raped and murdered, she said.
“No woman says, ‘Come and rape me. Come and beat me. Come and kill me.’”