Push for federal help in Washington to address issue of missing, murdered Native women

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) is pushing for more attention to be paid to missing and murdered native women. She says these women are facing murder rates well above the national average and not enough is being done to address the issue. She’s pushing legislation that would call on the federal government to implement better practices. A member of a South Dakota tribe says something needs to be done immediately.

Carmen O'Leary says Native women need to see the same justice as people around the country.

“Native women deserve justice too,” said Carmen O’Leary, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota.

O’Leary says she wants an end to the negligence. She says native women are being murdered and going missing at extremely high rates. O’Leary says not enough is being done to change that.

“I want to take the target off Native women and that there’s consequences for the violence against native women,” said O’Leary.

A federally funded study shows that on some reservations, women are murdered at 10 times the national average, and 84 percent of native women have experienced violence in their lives. O’Leary says the first step is making people aware of the issue.

“If we won’t even acknowledge a problem, it’s very hard to come up with solutions,” said O’Leary.

Heitkamp is trying to get those solutions. She introduced “Savanna’s Act,” named after Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a 22-year old native woman murdered in August.

The legislation calls for better response protocols for missing and murdered cases, improved access to data and reporting statistics on missing and murdered Native women.

“It’s critically important that this issue be elevated to a national issue,” said Heitkamp.

Heitkamp says it is up to federal law enforcement to act quickly in these situations and get justice for victims’ families.

“Send the message that you can’t do this with impunity. We are going to catch you, and we are going to prosecute you,” said Heitkamp.

The legislation currently awaits a vote in the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.