Newly-proposed federal legislation tackles a silent crisis—the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) introduced H.R. 2438—the Not Invisible Act of 2019—on Wednesday, just ahead of the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Last month, a bipartisan group of senators introduced similar legislation in the upper chamber.
"Women are disappearing and dying in Indian country. We must act," Haaland said Sunday.
The Not Invisible Act (pdf) would create an advisory committee composed of law enforcement, tribal leaders, federal partners, service providers, and survivors tasked with making recommendations to the Department of Interior and Department of Justice; establish best practices for law enforcement on the epidemic; and establish a position within the Bureau of Indian Affairs to be filled by an expert in charge of improving coordination of violent crime prevention efforts across federal agencies.
To mark the day of awareness, Cherokee writer Rebecca Nagle provided statistics to outline the shocking scope of the problem. Her Twitter thread Sunday noted, in part:
Lack of response from local law enforcement and from Congress has created this crisis.— Rebecca Nagle (@rebeccanagle) May 5, 2019
The loopholes in our current legal system has made Native women and girls targets. When we are attacked more often than not, nothing happens.#MMIW #MMIWG #WhyWeWearRed
Haaland also noted the bleak situation and issued a call-to-action in an op-ed at The Guardian on Thursday.
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"The epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women has been overlooked for far too long, but we're finally giving a voice to this silent crisis," Haaland wrote.
"When your community is at risk—when it could be your daughter, your sister or your mom—the issue demands urgency," she added, and praised indigenous women for sounding alarm about the crisis.
"The attention this issue has received wouldn't have been possible without the women in Indian country saying, 'enough is enough, we deserve to feel safe too,'" wrote Haaland. "It was a call for Congress to direct real resources to the problem."
The bill's bipartisan backers include Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), and Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.). As such, says a statement from Haaland's office, H.R. 2438 is the first bill ever to be introduced by four enrolled members of federally recognized tribes.
Last week, I joined with all four of my Native American colleagues in Congress (@RepDebHaaland, @RepMullin & @RepDavids) in introducing the bipartisan #NotInvisible Act - which would better equip communities to confront the heartbreaking #SilentCrisis of #MMIW.— Rep. Tom Cole (@TomColeOK04) May 6, 2019
The bill has support from groups including the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center, Urban Indian Health Institute, and Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty, who called the bill an important step.
Stamping out the epidemic, however, will require more far-reaching efforts, said Leanne Guy, executive director of the Southwest Indigenous Women's Coalition.
"If we are to truly address violence against indigenous women and girls," she said at a rally in Phoenix Sunday, "we must also acknowledge and address and eradicate the racism, patriarchy, capitalism, and misogyny that is deeply rooted in the founding of this country and that currently permeates the very systems that are built to protect this country's citizens."
"As long as we're seen as relics, mascots, and exotic objects of sexual conquest," Guy added, "we will continue to be rapeable, beatable, takeable, and killable."