Reintroducing Savanna’s Act

North Dakota State students share their thoughts on the bill

The Native American Student Association discuss upcoming events and their experiences in the community.

Savanna’s Act, the purpose of which is to collect information on missing or murdered indigenous women, and originally proposed by Heidi Heitkamp, has now gained the attention of Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, as well as the nation.

The North Dakota State Native American Student Association (NASA) shared their feelings on what the bill could mean for North Dakota and the nation.

James Joski, a member of NASA, said he thought the bill was a good start, and that it would lead to larger and more search and rescue operations when someone, man, woman or child, from a native community goes missing.

Tyrel Iron Eyes, president of NASA, said that while he’s “sad that it’s taken this long to get here,” he’s “glad we’re at this point.”

One student, Dara Jerome, said it was “frustrating to do something now when Heidi (Heitkamp) proposed this bill.”

The bill was originally introduced Oct. 5, 2017 by former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in response to the Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind case.

The LaFontaine-Greywind case was the case of a pregnant young Native woman, Savanna, who went missing in the North Fargo area. It was later discovered that she was murdered by a neighbor and the baby was cut directly from the mother’s body.

The case stirred up controversy and outcries from some Native communities for one reason and one reason only — it wasn’t unusual.

That was the problem. Indigenous women go missing at a higher rate than any other population. The proposed bill, Savanna’s Act, was an effort to change that. It was an effort to look out for Native populations.

However, the bill didn’t make it through the House when proposed to the U.S. Congress. Today, Hoeven and Cramer have reintroduced it to the U.S. Congress, and the two have co-sponsored the bill.

Some of the frustrations being felt by the students in NASA, and potentially the greater Native populations around North Dakota and the United States, were that it could simply be appeasing the requests without provoking actual change.

Iron Eyes said if the bill is passed that he wanted to see if this is “more than just a token act that doesn’t actually do anything,” recounting experiences where people have asked why the bill is necessary or when they downplay the numbers, as Joski pointed out from his experiences.

According to Iron Eyes, he personally felt that he was appeased by the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010. Even though the act gives tribes the right and ability to try non-tribal members, Iron Eyes felt that it was near impossible for tribes to achieve that.

He continued to say the whole thing “felt symbolic” and that it didn’t give power to Native communities.

If students are interested in participating in NASA events, there is an upcoming Lakota Culture talk Wednesday, Feb. 13 and a Powwow Saturday, March 30. These events and all NASA meetings are open to anyone, Native or not.

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