The bipartisan bill calls for the DOJ to put resources toward the safety of millions of women.
Eighty-four percent of indigenous women experience violence in their lifetime and, in some tribal communities, women are murdered at 10 times the national average.
Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) introduced legislation on Wednesday, called the Not Invisible Act, to speed up the federal government’s response to the killing, kidnapping and trafficking of Native American women, according to The Huffington Post. The senators are all on the Indian American Congressional Committee.
The bill would call for the Department of Justice to direct more resources toward the alarming crisis, based on recommendations from the local, tribal, and federal leaders.
At least 506 Native women and girls have gone missing or been killed in 71 U.S. cities, including more than 330 since 2010, according to a November report by Urban Indian Health Institute.
Sex trafficking is suspected. Yet law enforcement (and the media) in U.S. cities have not made investigations into the women’s disappearances a priority, according to Annita Lucchesi, doctoral intern at the Urban Indian Health Institute and Southern Cheyenne descendent.
Seattle activist Roxanne White put it more bluntly, “It’s racism.”
Raised on the Yakama Indian Reservation, White says, “They put borders up when it comes to protecting us. They say, ‘Well that’s jurisdiction. We can’t do nothing about that.’ But, if I commit a crime, I’ll be charged.”
In March, Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) called House Republicans who tried to strip protections for Native women from the Violence Against Women Act an “abomination.”
“The silent crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women has been my top priority, since long before being sworn into Congress,” she said. “Indigenous women deserve to be protected just like anyone else in this country.”
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) actually advocated for non-Native abusers: “Tribal courts do not necessarily adhere to the same constitutional provisions that protect the rights of all defendants in federal and state courts. This sets us down the road to a dangerous path.”
It was the same argument from 2013 when Republicans tried to repeal protections. One-hundred percent of the Republican vote wanted to do away with the Violence Against Women Act.
For several decades, United States law has stripped Native nations of authority to prosecute non-Natives, who reportedly commit the vast majority (96%) of sexual violence against Native women.
Lucchesi, who was one of the victims, started searching for missing women because there was no official data.
The reason for her research at the Urban Indian Health Institute: “My abuser almost killed me. The violence that I would have experienced that would’ve taken my life wouldn’t have even been counted in a meaningful way,” she said in an interview with The Huffington Post.
Two weeks ago, the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women’s Tribal Leaders Summit (CSVANW), was held in New Mexico with tribal leaders and organizations to discuss addressing violence against women, entitled “Safety is Sacred.”
Last week, New Mexico’s Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill to develop a task force to investigate the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women in New Mexico.
The Not Invisible Act would be one more step in challenging the federal and local law enforcement to stop ignoring Native American women.