Indianz.Com > News > ‘A historic day’: #MMIW legislation finally signed into law
Indianz.Com Video: Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) #MMIW #NotInvisible
‘A historic day’: #MMIW legislation finally signed into law
Monday, October 12, 2020

It took years of work by Native women and activists but legislation to address the crisis of missing and murdered sisters and relatives has finally become law.

Just in time for Indigenous Peoples Day, President Donald Trump signed S.227, Savanna’s Act, and S.982, the Not Invisible Act, into law on Saturday. The bipartisan measures mark the first time in which the federal government, as a whole, will be required to account for missing and murdered Native people, especially women and girls.

“Everyone in this country deserves to feel safe in their communities, but a long history of violence against Native people has led to the disappearance and murder of Native Americans at alarming rates,” said Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna and one of the first two Native women to serve in Congress.

“Today, we celebrate two huge steps to combat the missing and murdered indigenous women’s crisis, an effort led by survivors, activists, and Native women across the country,” Haaland said after Trump signed S.227 and S.982, 10 days following their presentation to the president.

S.227 is named in memory of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a 22-year-old woman from the Spirit Lake Nation who went missing and was murdered in 2017. She was eight months pregnant at the time — her child miraculously survived the brutal crime, for which two non-Indians in North Dakota were held responsible.

Now that Savanna’s Act has become law, the Department of Justice will be required — for the first time — to report the numbers of Native people who go missing every year. In hopes of spurring accountability, the government must state which cases have been closed, or resolved in some fashion.

“This is very personal to every Indigenous woman,” said Marci McLean, the executive director of Western Native Voice, an advocacy group based in Montana. “Most Indigenous women have a story of a friend or relative who has gone missing or has been murdered.”

“With the passage of Savanna’s Act, they are going to be seen and heard and their stories will be told,” said McLean, who is a citizen of the Blackfeet Nation, where the disappearance of Ashley Loring Heavy Runner remains unsolved after more than three years.

S.982, the Not Invisible Act, also expands on efforts to address the crisis of missing and murdered Native people. It requires the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior to work closely with commission that will include experts, survivors and family members of people affected by trafficking, homicide and other violent crimes in tribal and urban Indian communities.

Furthermore, S.982 represents an unique achievement. It’s the first bill to have been introduced, passed and signed into law by the four tribal citizens who serve in Congress.

“Today is a historic day for all tribes across the country,” President Jonathan Nez of the Navajo Nation said as he recognized the members of Congress — Democrat and Republican alike — who helped get Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act over the finish line.

The new laws will “help bring an end to the ongoing losses of life, trauma, and devastation caused by the missing persons crisis across our country,” Nez said. “We have many members of the Navajo Nation who are very compassionate and dedicated to helping families who have missing loved ones. We look forward to seeing the benefits that these two bills will have.”

Friends and family of Kozee Decorah take part in a rally outside of the federal courthouse in Omaha, Nebraska on June 15, 2020. Decorah, a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation, was murdered on the Winnebago Reservation. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Enactment of S.227 and S.982 marks the first time in nearly a year in which stand-alone Indian Country legislation has become law. Congress took final action on September 21, when the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives approved both measures. They cleared the U.S. Senate, which is in Republican hands, on March 11.

“We appreciate the president signing Savanna’s Act into law,” said Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “This legislation addresses a tragic issue in Indian Country and will help to establish better law enforcement practices.”

Despite the latest developments, it’s been slow-moving for Indian Country’s agenda on Capitol Hill. Historically, upwards of 20 tribal bills become law during any particular session of Congress, regardless of which party controls the House and the Senate, independent of the occupant of the White House.

The Donald Trump era has been different. In the 115th Congress, during which Republicans controlled both chambers, only about 12 stand-alone tribal bills became law.

Tribes haven’t seen much of an improvement in the 116th Congress. Since January 2019, when Democrats took over the House while Republicans retained the Senate, only five stand-alone Indian Country bills — including S.227 and S.982 — have become law.

But the tally is expected to increase in the coming days. Three additional measures — all of which have enjoyed bipartisan support — were sent to the White House on Friday for Trump’s signature:

S.209, the Practical Reforms and Other Goals To Reinforce the Effectiveness of Self-Governance and Self-Determination (PROGRESS) for Indian Tribes Act. The bill brings long-overdue reforms to the self-governance programs at the Department of the Interior and at the Department of Health and Human Services.

S.294, the Native American Business Incubators Program Act. The bill creates a new program at the Department of the Interior to boost entrepreneurship and economic development in Indian Country, where unique legal and policy challenges, along with limited infrastructure, hinder growth.

S.832, a bill to nullify a “supplemental treaty” that some citizens of the Warm Springs Tribes were forced to sign back in 1865, amid pressure from non-Indian settlers. The agreement, which has been disavowed by the tribe and the state of Oregon, attempts to limit the rights of the Warm Springs people.

Prior to S.227 and S.982, the following three bills were signed into law, back in December 2019:

S.256, the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Programs Reauthorization Act. The new law reverses decades of federal policy in which Native Americans were discouraged or prevented from speaking their own languages.

S.50, the Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act. The new law fulfills a promise made in tribal treaties to maintain fishing sites and villages along the Columbia River in Washington and Oregon.

S.216, the Spokane Tribe of Indians of the Spokane Reservation Equitable Compensation Act. The new law compensates the Spokane Tribe for the loss of its lands to the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington state.

Separately, Trump in December 2019 signed a national defense bill that included provisions to extend federal recognition to the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians, headquartered in Montana. The package also restored homelands to the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, both in California.

Assuming Trump signs S.209, S.294 and S.823, tribes will have seen eleven substantive Indian Country measures become law during the 116th Congress. The session concludes in December, but with the election fast approaching, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for the list to grow.

Indianz.Com Video: Savanna’s Act | S.227 | 116th Congress #MMIW

Indianz.Com Video: S.982 | Not Invisible Act | 116th Congress #MMIW #MMIP #NotInvisible

Apart from the work of the legislative branch, Trump on the executive side established Operation Lady Justice to examine ways to address the crisis of missing and murdered Native people. The Presidential Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives, which consists of federal officials, is to deliver its first report to the White House next month.

The task force was unable to hold in-person meetings this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A series of virtual listening sessions and consultations, many of which were marred by technical difficulties and logistical challenges, took place between May and September.

Written comments are still being accepted, though, though October 21. They can be sent via email to, by fax to 202-514-7805, or by mail to:

Operation Lady Justice
c/o Executive Director Marcia Good
Office of Justice Programs, Room 6336
U.S. Department of Justice
810 7th Street NW
Washington DC 20531

During the first listening session of the Operation Lady Justice task force in February, tribal leaders called on the Trump administration to change the structure of the body to ensure their input was considered in a manner consistent with the government-to-government relationship. Although officials said they were looking at ways of including more voices through advisory or working groups, the suggestion was never fully implemented.
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