Tight-knit communities mourn, holding vigils for those they’ve lost. Police open cases but are not always able to resolve them. As the senior senators for states that are home to large Native communities — Nevada and Alaska — we’ve heard these same heartbreaking stories again and again. We’re determined to do all we can to stop the violence against American Indians and Alaska Natives.
We know these cases are underreported. Cases like LaFontaine-Greywind’s and Sergie’s receive media attention. But without numbers, it’s easier for the crisis to be unrecognized — by the public and, until more recently, by the federal government.
Then, too, there are legal hurdles, including thorny layers of jurisdiction on tribal lands, which muddy the waters and allow some investigators to pass the buck on difficult-to-solve cases.
Before our two bills became law, there was no enduring strategy in the government to combat this ongoing epidemic. Now, federal agencies are required to work much more closely with one another and with tribes to bring perpetrators to justice and to prevent violence against Indigenous people in the first place.
These new statutes enforce more stringent data collection and set clear law enforcement guidelines for responding to these crimes. Critically, they also create a commission made up of tribal leaders, survivors, service providers, federal agencies and law enforcement to make recommendations about how to tackle the problem. We included this requirement because we know that tribal leaders in Nevada, Alaska and across the nation are best equipped to ensure our government is doing right by our villages and communities.
But we need to be clear: There is much more to do. Implementation of the Not Invisible Act and Savanna’s Act will require an all-hands-on-deck approach. It will need to be done in a truly bipartisan manner. We need the commission to take care to honor the perspectives and voices of tribes and survivors. We need the data to be collected quickly so we can help more women in the future.
We need to equip our local and tribal law enforcement partners with the guidelines and support to prevent more women and girls from going missing and to help find those we’ve sadly already lost.
Both of us are committed to making sure that these laws to safeguard Native women and girls are put into practice. We’re at the beginning of a long-overdue change in responding to violence against American Indians and Alaska Natives. We have to demonstrate through our actions that we value the lives, the well-being, and the central role of women and girls in Native communities. Now, let’s all get to work.