Murkowski’s Bipartisan Legislation Addressing Crisis of Missing, Murdered, and Trafficked Indigenous Women Signed into Law

Today President Trump signed into law Savanna’s Act and Not Invisible Act, two bills led by U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) to address the crisis of missing, murdered, and trafficked Indigenous women. Specifically, the bills work to improve the federal government’s response through increased coordination, development of best practices, and creation of a joint commission on violent crime, ensuring Alaska Natives and survivors have a voice in developing methods to end these horrible crimes.

Savanna’s Act 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.

Not Invisible Act 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.

“Today we’ve reached a huge milestone in our efforts to provide justice for victims, healing for their families, and protection for women, children, and families across the nation. I’m proud that we have elevated this issue from raising awareness, to action—having created enduring policy to make real, lasting change. And the way to make that necessary change is through partnerships, coordination, and pooling resources—by working to solve this problem, together. Today we are reminding these families, they matter and their loved ones who are lost matter,” said Senator Murkowski. “Advancing these bills has been a top priority of mine and I applaud my Senate colleagues and the administration for their support in recognizing the importance of doing everything in our power to turn the tide of women and girls falling victim to this epidemic.”

“For too long, the epidemic of missing, murdered and trafficked Native women and girls has gone unaddressed. Former Senator Heidi Heitkamp bravely took up this effort in the last Congress, and I’m proud to have worked to get that legislation passed and signed by the President today. With the Not Invisible Act and Savanna’s Act, we reach a turning point in the effort to seek justice for the families of those missing and murdered, and in curbing the epidemic of violence against Native women. Both laws require federal agencies to improve coordination with local partners and ensure they have the federal backing to address a crisis that has been under-resourced for far too long. Today’s signing puts us on a path towards greater justice for thousands of Native women and girls that have been missing, trafficked, or taken far too soon and puts into place the tools needed to give our Native sisters, mothers and daughters greater security. No longer will these women be invisible, and may the memory of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind live on in the law that bears her name. I thank my colleague Senator Murkowski for leading this bill with me and the President for signing this bipartisan legislation,” said Senator Cortez Masto.

What They Are Saying About Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act:

“The Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP) thanks Senator Murkowski and Senator Cortez Masto, as well as Senator Sullivan, Congressman Young, and their colleagues, for working diligently to pass the Savanna’s Act and Not Invisible Act. In rural Alaska, the statistics of missing and murdered Alaska Native peoples are disproportionately high and rising. Our tribal delegates have identified public safety as our region’s number one priority. The public safety crisis in rural Alaska includes lack of access to public safety personnel and facilities, and therefore an inability to protect our most vulnerable tribal members; as well as the epidemic of missing and murdered Alaska Native peoples. To end this catastrophe, all levels of government must work together to find solutions centered around: awareness, education, prevention, and access to basic law enforcement. These bills are one significant step toward greater collaboration within government agencies, and an increased exchange of vital information – both of which will increase law enforcement and better protect our native men, women, and children. This brings us closer to the goal: basic public safety resources in our Native communities. We must continue standing up for what we know is right until all tribal communities have the resources needed to protect our families. Quyana.” Vivian Korthuis, AVCP Chief Executive Officer.

“Tlingit & Haida extends its sincere appreciation to Senators Lisa Murkowski and Cortez Masto for moving forward two very important laws – Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act. This legislation is a step in the right direction to protecting our women and children. We know that through increased collaboration amongst our government and other agencies, we can improve the safety of our citizens. Indigenous women and children face disproportionate rates of domestic and sexual violence, and are often victims of human trafficking. The enactment of both laws elevates awareness of longstanding issues for Indigenous communities – Tlingit & Haida stands ready to work with others toward creating a stronger collaborative approach on these important issues,” said Richard Peterson, President of Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

“The Alaska Federation of Natives commends U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Catherine Cortez Masto for their bipartisan leadership in the passage of Savanna’s Act and Not Invisible Act, legislation that addresses the epidemic-level crisis of missing, murdered, and trafficked Alaska Native and American Indian women. This is a huge victory for Native families seeking justice,” said Julie Kitka, Alaska Federation of Natives President.

“These laws commemorate decades of advocacy to address the victimization of Native women in our country. Improving data collection and collaboration is a significant step forward to ensure victims receive justice. I know personally several Alaskan tribes that are seeking justice for their murdered members and this provides new hope as our communities grapple with the impacts of violence,” said Victor Joseph, Tanana Chiefs Conference Chief/Chairman.

“We in Alaska applaud the passage of these two important pieces of legislation. Increasing law enforcement response and investigation is vital to providing answers to the families of Alaska Native women and girls who continue to go missing or are murdered each month. The Savanna's Act is a significant step and we are hopeful communication between the various first responders and the families will improve. With dedicated staff, designated in the Not Invisible Act, within the Department of Interior to focus solely on the crisis level missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and the trafficking of our daughters, mothers and aunties, it is our hope strategy to address this crisis will be developed. It is imperative the mandated joint commission include the Indigenous voices and expertise from the rural and hub communities, the Tribal governments and the families. It is the experience of those most affected that is necessary to ensure a successful strategy against the epidemic of violence against Alaska Native people,” said Tami Jerue, Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center Executive Director.

Timeline on Senator Murkowski’s Efforts:

  • August 2020 –Senator Murkowski joined other federal, state, tribal, and local leaders, for the official opening off the Operation Lady Justice Task Force Cold Case Office in Anchorage.
  • July 2020The administration announced a number of new Cold Case Task Force Offices for Missing and Murdered Natives would be established in Anchorage and across the nation.
  • May 2020 – Senator Murkowski joined U.S. Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) in introducing a resolution to designate May 5 as the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The resolution acknowledges the lack of data on the number of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and calls upon Americans to commemorate the lives of those missing and murdered and to demonstrate solidarity with the families of victims in light of those tragedies.
  • March 2020 – Senator Murkowski applauded the Senate passage of two of her bills to address the crisis of missing, murdered, and trafficked Indigenous women. The bills, Savanna’s Act and Not Invisible Act, are both led by Senators Murkowski and Cortez Masto and aim to combat the epidemic by improving the federal government’s response through increased coordination, development of best practices, and creation of a commission on violent crime.
  • February 2020 – Senator Murkowski helped lead a Capitol Hill briefing with Senator Cortez Masto on ways to increase the safety of Native women and address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. The briefing also covered other topics, including issues for PL 280 states, the implementation of 2013 special jurisdiction, and various pieces of legislation that Senator Murkowski has introduced to improve safety in rural Alaska.
  • December 2019 – A funding bill with new investments secured by Senator Murkowski to address the crisis of missing, trafficked, and murdered Indigenous women was signed into law by the President.
  • November 2019 – The administration announced an Executive Order to enhance the operation of the criminal justice system and address the legitimate concerns of American Indian and Alaska Native communities regarding missing and murdered women — particularly missing and murdered indigenous women.
  • November 2019 – The Senate passed a funding package which included the Appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2020 on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; and Commerce, Justice, Science which included funding secured by Senator Murkowski which would, for the first time, address the crisis of missing, trafficked, and murdered indigenous women. Specifically, $6.5 million is included for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to take a comprehensive look at the issue across the BIA and Indian Health Service (IHS), which includes funding for cold case work, background checks, equipment needs, training, and a directive for the IHS regarding forensic training. The bill also included language directing coordination and data collection among Tribal, local, state, and federal law enforcement.
  • November 2019Attorney General William Barr launched a national strategy to address missing and murdered Native Americans.  The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) Initiative places MMIP coordinators in 11 U.S. Attorney’s offices who will develop protocols for a more coordinated law enforcement response to missing cases. The plan also called for the deployment of the FBI’s most advanced response capabilities when needed, improved data collection and analysis, and training to support local response efforts. 
  • June 2019 – The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that Attorney General Barr would declare a law enforcement emergency in rural Alaska under the Emergency Federal Law Enforcement Assistance Program today. Immediately following his announcement, $6 million was made available to the state of Alaska to support critical law enforcement needs of Alaska Native villages. The Attorney General also authorized additional funding to invest in victim services and village public safety. In total, the $10 million was invested in rural communities across the state.
  • June 2019 – Senator Murkowski and U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) hosted U.S. Attorney General William Barr to Alaska for a visit focusing on law enforcement and public safety issues. During Attorney General Barr’s four-day trip, Senator Murkowski facilitated meetings in both Bethel and Napaskiak to emphasize the public safety challenges faced across Alaska due to the lack of local law enforcement as well as to help shed light on the severity of the issue of missing and murdered Native women and girls.
  • April 2019 – Senator Murkowski called on Attorney General William Barr to work with her on addressing the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and on tribal jurisdictional concerns. Attorney General Barr testified in a Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee hearing examining the Fiscal Year 2020 budget request for the Justice Department. During the hearing, Murkowski raised the issue of protection for Alaska Native Villages in remote areas, and the need to expand tribal jurisdiction. This is the hearing AG Barr first announced he was planning to visit Alaska.
  • April 2019 – Senator Murkowski and Senator Cortez Masto introduced the Not Invisible Act, legislation aimed at addressing the crisis of missing, murdered, and trafficked Native people by engaging law enforcement, tribal leaders, federal partners, and service providers and improving coordination across federal agencies. Separately, Senators Murkowski and Cortez Masto reintroduced Savanna’s Act, a bill to combat the epidemic of murdered and missing Native women and girls by improving the federal government's response to addressing the crisis.
  • November 2018 – The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, of which Senator Murkowski is a member, passed the S. 1942, Savanna’s Act, sending it to the full Senate for consideration. Following the hearing, Senator Murkowski joined her Senate colleagues Senators Heitkamp (D-ND), Murray (D-WA), Cantwell (D-WA), Tester (D-MT) as well as Co-Authors of the UIHI report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Annita Lucchesi and Abigail Echo-Hawk discuss the findings of a report prepared by the Seattle-based Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI) which indicated the epidemic of violence against Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls initially believed to be confined to Indian Country, was far more reaching.
  • October 2017 - Senator Murkowski cosponsored Savanna’s Act, which was introduced by former U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp. The legislation is named for Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, who was abducted and killed in 2017 in Fargo, North Dakota. The bill passed the U.S. Senate unanimously in December of 2018.



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Related Issues: Alaska Natives & Rural Alaska