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​One Congressman blocks Savanna’s Act, North Dakotans outraged

by C.S. Hagen | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | News | December 19th, 2018

Jessica Perez and her son Malachi after signing the letter to Congressman Kevin Cramer urging him to help Savanna's Act pass - photograph by C.S. Hagen

FARGO – While a lone Virginian Congressman blocks passage of Savanna’s Act, people across North Dakota are applying pressure to the state’s representative in Washington, D.C. to help push the bill forward.

On Wednesday, dozens of concerned people in Fargo, Minot, Bismarck, and Grand Forks contacted the office of current Congressman Kevin Cramer to demand his verbal support to push the act through the U.S. House of Representatives. The FM Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women – Human Trafficking Task Force organized the push to get the word out about the issue.

Congressman Bob Goodlatte is the lone dissenting vote blocking the act, which already passed unanimously through the U.S. Senate.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp first introduced Savanna’s Act in October 2017 naming the bill after Savanna Greywind, a 22-year-old member of the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe who was horribly murdered during a fetal abduction.

Petitioners sign letter to Congressman Kevin Cramer urging him to help Savanna's Act pass - photograph by C.S. Hagen

Heitkamp has called Goodlatte petty for playing politics.

“The actions of one Congressman shouldn’t stop us from improving tribal access to law enforcement databases and preventing the cycle of exploitation, abuse, and violence in Indian Country,” Heitkamp said in a press release.

“I’d like to see Congressman Goodlatte actually visit a reservation in North Dakota and explain to the families of victims why he is blocking this bill. Unlike Congressman Goodlatte, I am serious about saving lives and making sure Native American women are invisible no longer – and I’m determined to not let Savanna’s Act go down without a fight.”

Jessice Perez and son Malachi outside of Congressman Kevin Cramer's office - photograph by C.S. Hagen

Approximately 84 percent of Native women and girls experience violence in their lifetime. Actual records of missing and murdered women are difficult to find, but the National Crime Information Center reported 125 cases of Native American women and girls who went missing in North Dakota in 2016.

Savanna’s Act, if passed, will allow the gathering of data on missing and murdered Indigenous women, and men, improve law enforcement databases and create a clearer set of guidelines on how missing persons are reported in Native country.

It was unclear why Godlatte, who is chairman of the House Committee of the Judiciary and is retiring from his position, is blocking Savanna’s Act, or how one dissenting vote could hold up the passage of any bill. One reason may be that the House Committee of the Judiciary is responsible for oversight of the Department of Justice and Homeland Security, and has jurisdiction of matters concerning immigration, terrorism, and crime.

More than a dozen people arrived at Cramer’s office in Fargo to sign a letter urging him to publicly push the bill forward. With two days left before the end of the Congressional session, the matter is urgent, Jessica Perez, from Moorhead, said.

“The Savanna’s Act itself is creating awareness of Indigenous people who go missing and murdered, and will bring more resources to combat this,” Perez, who brought her son, Malachi, to Cramer’s office, said.

“Women’s lives are at stake and we need to fix this now,” Amy Jacobson, who is helping MMIW task force, said. “If it doesn’t pass we go into a new Congressional session and we would have to go through the whole process again. We can’t play games with women’s futures.”

Janel Herald, spokesperson for the Greywind family - talks about imprtance of Savanna's Act - photograph by C.S. Hagen

Janel Herald, spokesperson for the Greywind family, also signed her name to the letter.

“Savanna’s Act is not only important to Native Americans, but it should be to Cramer as well,” Herald said. “There is a lot more that needs to be done, but this is a good first step. It is pivotal for Cramer to put his name onto this.” 

Cramer's office was asked for a statement, but did not reply. 

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