In August 2017, Sheena Between Lodges shared a photo of herself, calling attention to Savanna Marie Greywind, a Native woman who went missing and was found murdered in North Dakota. Between Lodges is now fighting for her life after she was victimized in South Dakota.

Bill to address missing and murdered sisters scheduled for action

By Acee Agoyo

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) lost her closely watched re-election bid last week but her work continues to address the crisis of missing and murdered Native women and girls.

Heitkamp is the sponsor of S.1942, also known as Savanna's Act. The bill was named in honor of Savanna Marie Greywind , a 22-year-old woman from the Spirit Lake Nation who was brutally murdered after she went missing in North Dakota last year.

But Greywind isn't the only Native woman who has been a victim of violence. Last week, Sheena Between Lodges, a 32-year-old woman from the Oglala Sioux Tribe, was hospitalized after being brutally beaten in South Dakota.

"In Indian Country, almost everyone knows of someone who is missing or murdered," Heitkamp said ahead of National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls, which was observed on May 5. "If that were the case across the country, it would be a national crisis."

Clockwise, from top left: Monica Wickre (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians), Mona Lisa Two Eagle (Rosebud Sioux Tribe), Stella Marie Trottier-Graves (Turtle Mountain), Lakota Rae Renville (Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate), are four Native women whose disappearances and deaths remain unsolved. Photos courtesy Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota)
Heitkamp isn't the only one calling attention to the crisis either. Deb Haaland, who made history as one of the first Native women elected to Congress, plans to focus on the missing and murdered after she arrives in Washington, D.C.

"You know, that is an epidemic," Haaland, who will be representing New Mexico's 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House, said on the Democracy Now last week.

Savanna's Act represents an initial step in efforts to address the epidemic. It requires the Department of Justice, for the first time, to provide annual reports on the "known statistics on missing and murdered Indian women in the United States."

"To organize and respond to an injustice, it must first be acknowledged and understood," Carmen O'Leary, a citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe who serves as the director of the Native Women's Society of the Great Plains, told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs at a hearing on S.1942 and other Indian Country public safety bills last October.

Democracy Now! Video: Deb Haaland, One of Nation’s First Native Congresswomen, Calls for Probe of Missing Indigenous Women

With time running out in the current session of Congress, S.1942 is finally seeing some movement. It is due to be advanced by the committee at a business meeting on Wednesday.

The meeting, which will be followed by a legislative hearing on three other measures, comes after Heitkamp lost her bid for a second term in the U.S. Senate. Supporters had called attention to her record on Indian issues, which includes not just Savanna's Act but the establishment of the new Commission on Native Children.

"Heidi stands up for Native American women," a group of Native women from North Dakota and South Dakota wrote on Indianz.Com last week.

Kevin Cramer, a Republican who has represented North Dakota in the U.S. House since 2013, won the November 6 election with 55 percent of the vote, according to the Secretary of State. He has said he is interested in serving on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in the 116th Congress, which begins in January 2019.

"I just look at what the demands are in North Dakota -- what are the big issues that face North Dakotans -- and how can I best put my talents to work for the people," Cramer said at a press conference last Wednesday, following his victory at the polls.

The 115th Congress will conclude at the end of the year so lawmakers must move quickly on Savanna's Act in order for S.1942 to advance further on Capitol Hill. The bill would still need to be passed by the Senate and the House before it could be sent to President Donald Trump for his signature.

Alternatively, provisions to address missing and murdered Native women could be included in other pieces of legislation. H.R.6545, a Democratic bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, includes language similar to that of Savanna's Act.

As Sheena Between Lodges, a mother of two young daughters, continues to fight for her life, her family has set up a GoFundMe account to help cover expenses. She is being closely monitored at the Regional Health Rapid City Hospital in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Notices
Business Meeting To Consider S. 1942 (November 14, 2018)
Legislative Hearing to Receive Testimony on S. 2788, H.R. 2606 & H.R. 4032 (November 14, 2018)

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