Murkowski’s Legislation Addressing Crisis of Missing, Murdered, and Trafficked Indigenous People Advance
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) applauded the unanimous House passage of two of her bills to address the crisis of missing, murdered, and trafficked Indigenous people. The bills, Savanna’s Act and Not Invisible Act, are both led by U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and aim to combat the epidemic by improving the federal government’s response through increased coordination, development of best practices, and creation of an advisory committee on violent crime. Both pieces of legislation passed the Senate in March of 2020 and will now be heading to the President’s desk to be signed into law.
“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,” said Senator Murkowski. “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.”
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.
“Too many families have faced unspeakable loss as Native women have gone missing, murdered, or trafficked and let down by the complex law enforcement systems currently in place to protect them. So many Native people have called on Congress to address the crisis. I also know human trafficking is a horrifying reality across the state of Alaska, and it is disproportionately affecting Alaska Native communities,” said Senator Murkowski. “The Not Invisible Act paves the way for greater collaboration between federal agencies, law enforcement, and elected tribal officials, ensuring Alaska Natives and survivors have a voice in developing methods to end these horrible crimes. Through partnerships, coordination, and pooling resources we can turn the tide of women and girls falling victim to this epidemic.”
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.
Timeline on Senator Murkowski’s Efforts:
- 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.
- April, 2019 – Senator Murkowski and Senator Cortez Masto (D-NV) 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 the 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- November, 2019 – Attorney 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.
- 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, 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 people — particularly missing and murdered indigenous people.
- 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.
- February, 2020 – Senator Murkowski helped lead a Capitol Hill briefing with U.S. Senator Cortez Masto (D-NV) on ways to increase the safety of Native women and address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people. 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.
- 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 an advisory committee on violent crime.
- 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.
- July, 2020 – The 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.
- August, 2020 – U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) joined other federal, state, tribal, and local leaders, for the official opening off the Operation Lady Justice Task Force Cold Case Office in Anchorage.