‘It’s time for justice. It’s time for healing.’: Bill seeks to address Minnesota’s missing and murdered indigenous women
ST. PAUL — A bill in the Minnesota House of Representatives aims to address the untold numbers of missing and murdered indigenous women in Minnesota.
The bill, HF 111, would establish a task force to examine the systemic causes of that violence, ways to collect data on it, plus how to prevent it and lessen the damage it causes.
A series of women testified in favor of the bill Tuesday, Jan. 29, at a hearing of the House’s Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Division.
“Five hundred years we’ve been waiting for this,” said Mysti Babineau, a Red Lake Nation member who said she was raped for the first time when she was nine years old, watched her grandmother’s murder at 12 and, at 20, escaped a kidnapping. “My sisters, my people, have gone missing since European settlers set (foot) on Turtle Island. It’s time for justice. It’s time for healing.”
The Urban Indian Health Institute recorded 5,712 cases of murdered or missing indigenous women or girls in 2016, only 116 of which were logged in a Department of Justice database, and, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said murder is the third-leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaskan Native women.
Minnesota has the ninth-most murdered or missing indigenous women or girls cases, the institute said in a report held up by Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein, DFL-New Brighton, at Tuesday’s hearing.
“This is a national endemic,” said Kunesh-Podein, the bill’s chief author in the House. “This is a tragedy that has happened through historic times, and it hasn’t gotten the attention or the compassion that it should have gotten over all of these times.”
Minnesota isn’t the only state with this kind of legislation in the works. A pair of Nebraska state senators are pushing a bill to investigate violence against American Indian women, and some lawmakers in Washington state are working on legislation that would require the Washington State Patrol to study and report to the legislature there on ways to increase resources for reporting and identifying missing Native women.
Closer to home, North Dakota Sens. Kevin Cramer and John Hoeven are co-sponsoring “Savanna’s Act,” a measure that aims for better coordination between different law enforcement agencies and requires the federal government to standardize how it reports — and responds to — the murders or disappearances of American Indians.
The act, introduced to the senate by former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., in 2017, and this year by Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., is named after Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a 22-year-old woman from the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation who was murdered in Fargo in August 2017, her unborn child pulled from her womb via crude cesarean section.
The task force outlined in Kunesh-Podein’s bill in Minnesota would be required to report to the legislature by Dec. 15, 2020.
“We can send a message that Minnesota will not let indigenous women continue to vanish,” Kunesh-Podein said in a news release on Tuesday. “No one should wonder if their daughters, their sisters, their mothers and loved ones will return when they walk out the door. Native women are not a disposable community.”