Murkowski Addresses Crisis of Missing, Trafficked & Murdered Indigenous Women

Honors 10 year old victim Ashley Johnson-Barr

Today, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) spoke on the Senate floor in recognition of Ashley Johnson-Barr Day, a day of recognition passed by the Alaska State Senate yesterday, to bring awareness to violent crimes committed against children. Senator Murkowski honored Ashley’s life, a 10 year old girl who was murdered in her hometown of Kotzebue, Alaska. She also commended her colleagues for prioritizing the need to urgently address the crisis of missing, murdered, and trafficked Indigenous women by taking up and passing her legislative efforts to combat the epidemic.

“Ashley was one of those kids who loved purple—a beautiful young child growing up in Kotzebue who would have gone on to have a good and productive life in an Inupiaq community in the northwestern part of the state. But Ashley Johnson-Barr is remembered now, because at the age of 10 years old she was brutally raped and murdered. She was literally taken from the kids’ playground and taken to a location not too many miles outside of the community and her death and the tragedy around the circumstance of how she left this world is one that is an open and a raw and a hurtful and horrific scar on Alaska, on Alaskan communities,” said Senator Murkowski. “ It is a reminder that in my state, there is a darkness that is very, very difficult to talk about and that darkness is reflected in the statistics that we see when it comes to sexual assault, domestic violence, and more brutal acts of murder inflicted, unfortunately in a disproportionate way, on Native women and Native children.”

Yesterday, on Thursday, March 11, the Senate passed unanimously two bills, Savanna’s Act and Not Invisible Act, led by Senator Murkowski and Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) which aim to combat the epidemic of missing, murdered, and trafficked Indigenous women by improving the federal government’s response through increased coordination, development of best practices, and creation of an advisory committee on violent crime.

“This is something that we have been trying to shine the spotlight on. We are making significant progress and headway.  In Alaska, thanks to the efforts and heart of Attorney General Barr, we have seen federal funds come our way. We have seen commissions and stakeholders that are truly unprecedented. But we have much, much work to do. And on this day, when in Alaska when we are recognizing the very short life of a beautiful child, Ashley Johnson-Barr, I thank my colleagues for working with us on these matters, helping us move Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act, and working together to do more as we deal with those who are trafficked, those who are assaulted, those who are violently murdered in their homes and in their hometowns,” Murkowski said. “We have much work to do but good coordination and good cooperation moving forward.”

MMIW Floor Speech 03.12.20


What They’re Saying in Support of Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act:

Julie Kitka, President of the Alaska Federation of Natives:

“Violence against Alaska Native women and children is finally getting the attention it deserves. S.227, Savanna’s Act and S.982, Not Invisible Act of 2019, are a major step in our quest for justice. AFN is grateful for Senator Murkowski’s efforts in introducing these bills and working for its passage.”   

Tami Truett Jerue, Executive Director of the Alaska Native Women's Resource Center:

“We are so grateful to Senator Murkowski and Senator Cortez Masto that these two acts passed. We have long known that American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) are disproportionately victimized as homicide victims, sometimes at the rate of 10 times the national average. The Violence Policy Center reports that AI/AN overall are murdered at 1.78 times white women, and in Alaska, we make up more than 40 percent of the victims and are murdered at 3.96 times the rate of non-indigenous women. It is time to move beyond collecting these statistics and start putting together a plan to address this crisis. These two acts will provide the direction needed to get partnerships established and plans put in place to be proactive and attack the issue.”

Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson, President of Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska:

“With nearly 40 percent of our communities lacking law enforcement and our Alaska Native women being disproportionately represented as murder victims, we desperately need the passage of these two acts to start addressing this overwhelming crisis of MMIW. In addition, as to the missing indigenous person’s statistics, Alaska has the most among the states and these are not per capita numbers.  While neither act will right the past wrongs, they will begin to address the gaps that are seen throughout state and federal systems and will provide an opportunity for partnerships, consultations and collaborations among tribes and federal and state governments. We thank Senators Murkowski and Cortez Masto for their tireless support of these two bills.”

Vivian Korthuis, Chief Executive Officer of the Association of Village Council Presidents:

“The Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP) thanks Senator Murkowski, Senator Cortez Masto, and their colleagues for passing the Savanna’s Act and Not Invisible Act. There is a public safety crisis in rural Alaska, and to end it all levels of government must work together.  These bills pave the way for greater collaboration among agencies and governments, and increases the exchange of valuable information, both of which will better protect our women and children. This legislation brings us closer to our goal of public safety in each of our communities. Quyana.”

Lucy Simpson, Executive Director of NIWRC:

“NIWRC stands with the Senate for answering the call of Native families, advocates, and tribes to address the MMIW crisis with the passage of Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act.  Recognizing the crisis through legislative action is an important first step in the federal government fulfilling their trust responsibility to assist Indian tribes in safeguarding the lives of Native women. We look forward to working with the Senate to advocate for further change recognizing tribal authority and the need for tribal resources to the enhance the safety of Native women.”

Aren Sparck, Chief Public Affairs Officer, Seattle Indian Health Board:

“We are thankful for the leadership of Senator Murkowski and Senator Cortez Masto and their commitment to these important bills,” said Aren Sparck (Cup’ik), Chief Public Affairs Officer for Seattle Indian Health Board. “Since 2018, Seattle Indian Health Board has been working with local, state, federal, and tribal governments to ensure that urban Indian organizations, tribes, and legislators have the information and resources to ensure legislation like the Savanna’s Act and Not Invisible Act are community informed and fully address the MMIWG crisis for our whole community.”

Abigail Echo-Hawk, Director, Urban Indian Health Institute:

“The persistence from Senators Murkowski and Cortez Masto is what we need to see from all if we are going to see progress in the protection of Indigenous women and girls,” said Abigail Echo-Hawk (Pawnee), Director of Urban Indian Health Institute and co-author of two groundbreaking MMIWG reports that raised issues around the collection of data in urban Indian and tribal communities. “We will continue to support them to ensure that legislation is passed that provides the necessary resources for American Indian and Alaska Native communities.”

Legislation Details:

[Click here for more information.]

Savanna’s Act, sponsored by Senator Murkowski and co-led with Senator Cortez Masto, improves coordination among all levels of law enforcement, increases data collection and information sharing, and empowers tribal governments with access to the necessary law enforcement databases in cases involving missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, wherever they occur. The legislation, originally introduced by former U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota with Murkowski as a cosponsor, is named for Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, who was abducted and killed in 2017 in Fargo, North Dakota.

Not Invisible Act, sponsored by Senator Cortez Masto and co-led with Senator Murkowski, improves engagement among law enforcement, tribal leaders, federal partners, and service providers. The bill also designates an official to coordinate efforts across agencies and establishes a commission of tribal and federal stakeholders to make recommendations to the Department of Interior and Department of Justice on combating the epidemic of disappearances, homicide, violent crime and trafficking of Native Americans and Alaska Natives.

Related Issues: Alaska Natives & Rural Alaska