A letter to leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives urges action on legislation to address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women before Congress breaks for its August recess.
Initiated by U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, the bipartisan letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy requests legislation such as H.R. 2733, Savanna’s Act, and H.R. 2438, the Not Invisible Act, be brought before the full House of Representatives for consideration this month.
Both pieces of bipartisan legislation passed unanimously in the House Judiciary Committee in March.
Dated Friday, the letter is signed by Torres and Haaland along with Don Young, R-Arkansas; Ruben Gallego, D-Arizona; Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma; Pete Stauber, R-Minnesota; Kelly Armstrong, R-Idaho; Doug LaMalfa, R-California; Markwayne Mullin, R-Oklahoma; Greg Gianforte, R-Montana; and Russ Fulcher, R-Idaho.
All who signed represent congressional districts impacted by unsolved murder cases or missing person reports from Native communities, the letter says.
An epidemic of sexual and physical violence has disproportionately plagued Indigenous women and girls throughout the country and beyond for centuries. As the letter notes, Native American and Alaska Native women face a murder rate 10 times higher than the national average, with 84 percent experiencing some form of violence in their lifetime.
No one knows exactly how many Native women and girls have gone missing, have been murdered and have died mysteriously on or around the 1.3-million-acre Yakama Reservation over decades. Numerous cases of missing people or mysterious deaths of women and men remain unsolved.
“We have heard the outcries from families and loved ones of these Indigenous women, and we are working to — finally — begin addressing this issue. In order to do so, we need your support and action,” lawmakers wrote.
Dozens of women have vanished in and around the Yakama reservation. Sometimes, they just disappear. Sometimes, they’re found dead months or years latter. Rarely is anyone held to account for the death.
“These bipartisan bills will give law enforcement and the communities they serve the tools to finally understand and address the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women and put an end to a decades long crisis that affects Native communities throughout our country.”
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. Some related events scheduled for this spring were canceled or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Others have taken place online. On June 3, officials with the Presidential Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives held a virtual listening session for the Pacific, Northwestern and Alaska Regions. Emily Washines and Patricia “Patsy” Whitefoot of the Yakama Nation were among the advocates for missing and murdered Indigenous persons who spoke.
They mentioned the challenges of getting accurate data, among several other concerns. The letter to Pelosi and McCarthy says there is still no reliable way of knowing how many Indigenous women go missing each year.
Among other steps, 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.
Collaboration among local, state, federal and tribal law enforcement agencies is crucial in that process.
“These pieces of legislation will go a long way to empower our Native communities, ensure law enforcement officers have the tools they need to solve cases of missing and murdered indigenous women, and finally deliver justice to the families and loved ones who have been waiting for answers for far too long,” the letter says.