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Missing, Murdered Indigenous Women Focus of SD Legislation

Homicide is the third-leading cause of death for Native American and indigenous Alaskan women ages 10-24, and the fifth-leading cause for women ages 25-34. (LorieShaull/Flickr)
Homicide is the third-leading cause of death for Native American and indigenous Alaskan women ages 10-24, and the fifth-leading cause for women ages 25-34. (LorieShaull/Flickr)
March 8, 2019

PIERRE, S.D. – Murder rates for Native American women in some U.S. counties can be 10 times higher than the national average for all races, and legislation at the State Capitol could help create a database to track the issue.

Rep. Tamara St. John is co-sponsoring Senate Bill 164. It directs state authorities to prepare guidelines for reporting and investigating cases of missing and murdered indigenous women.

She says incidents of violence and sex trafficking targeting Native American women have been ignored for decades.

"They are sisters, they're loved ones, they are somebody's daughter,” St. John stresses. “They are important. They are everything but non-important."

The bill also would mandate training programs for law enforcement on how to conduct investigations.

In 2016, the National Crime Information Center reported nearly 6,000 cases of missing Native American women and girls, but the U.S. Department of Justice was tracking only about 100 cases.

The South Dakota bill follows stalled federal legislation known as Savanna's Act. The bill is named for Savanna Greywind, who went missing in North Dakota in 2017.

St. John says the South Dakota legislation is critical because of a combination of factors – the Interstate 90 corridor, the state's multiple reservations, and so-called man camps around pipeline construction, often on or near reservations.

"We saw the big oil boom in North Dakota and some of those social impacts that come from those things,” she points out. “Although the economic boom is something that people love, the social impacts can be devastating."

Two-thirds of assaults or rapes against Native American women are committed by white and other non-Native American people, but prosecution is difficult because non-Native men can't be arrested or prosecuted by tribal authorities if the assault occurs on a reservation.

Tribal authorities say when sent to the FBI or other U.S. law enforcement, two-thirds of the reports aren't accepted for investigation.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - SD