Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives (MMIWR)

It is important to understand the connection between domestic violence, dating violence, and sexual violence and the high incidence of missing and murdered Indigenous women and relatives (MMIWR) in the United States. The crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and relatives is not new. It is more than an epidemic—rather, it is part of the spectrum of violence experienced by Native women for centuries. This crisis of MMIWR has deep roots in colonization and genocide and can be attributed to the lack of legal protections as a result of the systematic erosion of Tribal sovereignty stretching back more than 500 years.

Current federal Indian law is often referred to as a maze of injustice. Ongoing federal intrusion into the sovereign authority of Indian nations to protect their people and create safe communities has resulted in perpetrators facing little, if any, consequences for their crimes, including government and federal employees who oversee federal programs (ex., boarding schools, healthcare services, military recruiters, etc.). The high rates of violence and murder of Native women and the lack of accountability for such crimes are clearly tied to this federal intrusion, the erosion of Tribal authority, and the federal government's failure to fulfill its trust responsibility to safeguard the lives of Native women. Today, this crisis continues with the limited federal prosecutions of perpetrators and the high rate of federal case declinations by United States Attorneys in crimes of domestic violence, sexual assault, sex trafficking, and murder in Indian country.

For Native Hawaiian women, this federal intrusion and the resulting rates of violence against Native women are reflected in the U.S.’ overthrow of the Native Hawaiian monarchy. In 1993, the U.S. apologized, recognizing the long-range economic and social changes that have been devastating to the population and the health and well-being of Native Hawaiians.

In response to the crisis of MMIWR, a groundswell of grassroots advocates, family members, and tribal leaders from across the nation continue to call for public attention and accountability by federal authorities to address these crimes.

On October 10, 2020, Savanna’s Act and Not Invisible Act were signed into law to address the missing and murdered Indigenous women and relatives (MMIWR) crisis. Tribal leaders, Native organizations, grassroots advocates, and survivors—who fought long and hard to get this crisis recognized and addressed on the federal level—supported these two bills. The passage of Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act are small but important steps in the right direction to provide justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women and relatives and for all Native people who have experienced violence in their lives.

Savanna’s Act is named in honor of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a 22-year-old pregnant citizen of the Spirit Lake Nation in North Dakota who was viciously murdered in August 2017. Savanna’s Act aims to improve MMIWR data collection and directs the Department of Justice to review, revise, and develop law enforcement and justice protocols to address missing and murdered Indigenous peoples.

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The Not Invisible Act of 2019 complements Savanna’s Act, with its purpose to identify and combat violent crime against Indians or within Indian lands through the creation of an advisory committee on reducing violent crime against Native people. The advisory committee is composed of Tribal leaders, law enforcement, federal partners, service providers, and survivors, who will make recommendations to the U.S. Department of Interior and Department of Justice to combat violence against Native Americans and Alaska Natives.

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The Not Invisible Act Commission is a cross-jurisdictional advisory committee composed of both federal and non-federal members, including law enforcement, Tribal leaders, federal partners, service providers, family members of missing and murdered individuals, and survivors. The Commission has developed recommendations through the work of six subcommittees focused on improving intergovernmental coordination and establishing best practices for state, Tribal, and federal law enforcement to bolster resources for survivors and victims' families and combatting the crises of missing persons, murder, and trafficking of American Indian and Alaska Native peoples. The Not Invisible Act Commission was authored by then-Rep. Haaland and passed into law in October 2020.