Tester urges Senate to address missing and murdered Native American women

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Citing an epidemic, U.S. Senator Jon Tester, D-Mont., called on the Senate to hold a hearing on the issue of missing and murdered Native American women.

In a letter to the leadership of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Tester demanded the committee bring together law enforcement agencies, tribes and Native American women for a public hearing in order to gather testimony and work toward a solution to the crisis.

“It is time we prioritize the significant challenges that Native women face and identify the barriers that give way to the staggering statistics we see today,” Tester wrote. “I believe a hearing is a critical step that will not only help raise awareness, but provide a space for much needed dialogue to foster action.”

According to information from the National Institute of Justice provided by Tester’s office, Native American women and girls in Montana face a murder rate that is 10 times higher than the national average. More than 80 percent of Native American women have experienced violence and almost half have experienced it within the past year.

Native American leaders recently told Tester at a public meeting that 20 Native American women have gone missing in Montana since the beginning of 2018, according to his office. Of those 20 women, only one has been found.

Tester has sponsored the bipartisan Savanna’s Act to improve information sharing between tribal and federal law enforcement agencies, increase data collection on missing Native American women and improve response protocols.

Tester told his colleagues that urgent action is needed to protect Native American women and increase safety in Indian Country.

“We owe it to the thousands of women and their families to work together and find solutions that prevent these horrible acts from happening,” he said.

This is not the first time Tester has drawn Senate attention to the concerns of Native American women. He helped pass a Senate Resolution designating May 5, 2018 as the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls, and earlier this year, secured $133 million from the Crime Victims Fund to help tribes assist survivors of violent crimes. Tester is also sponsoring the Securing Urgent Resources Vital to Indian Victim Empowerment (SURVIVE) Act, which would establish a long-term funding stream for tribes to support domestic violence shelters, legal assistance and abuse prevention in Indian Country.

Reporter Scott Shindledecker can be reached at (406) 758-4441 or sshindledecker@dailyinterlake.com.

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