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Thu May 2, 2019, 12:53 PM

A Native American woman's brutal murder could lead to a life-saving law


A Native American woman's brutal murder could lead to a life-saving law

Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind’s murder sparked outrage in the US. A bill named after her aims to address the crisis of violence against Native women


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Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind’s boyfriend Ashston Matheny holds their daughter, as victim impact statements are read during the sentencing of Brooke Crews.
Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind’s boyfriend Ashston Matheny holds their daughter, as victim impact statements are read during the sentencing of Brooke Crews. Photograph: David Samson/AP

There was heartbreak across Indian country in August 2017 when the body of 22-year-old Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind was found duct-taped in plastic in the Red River.The ribbon of water demarcates North Dakota from Minnesota, a tributary flowing northward across the Canadian border. It is where, a few years earlier, an indigenous girl, 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, was discovered wrapped in a duvet cover and weighted down by rocks. The tales of these two tragedies and the river itself are emblematic of a modern violence against one of the world’s most vulnerable populations, indigenous women and girls. It is a problem police and authorities in the US have been accused of ignoring. The river, over the decades, has come to be seen by many in the indigenous community as a dumping ground for discarded bodies, but their sense is that detectives don’t take this seriously. Loved ones of the missing started to drag the Red on their own starting in 2014 after finding Fontaine. That year, advocates say they pulled seven bodies from the river.

Indigenous women in the United States and Canada are murdered, vanished or found dead without explanation at rates well above national per capita averages. Advocates on both sides of the border blame the crisis on a lack of specialized investigative policing as well as extreme gaps in government oversight. Others are more blunt and call the problem something else: racism, a discrimination breeding distrust in authorities among indigenous peoples. The discord suggests that whatever statistics are known are likely a disturbing undercount. Crimes are unreported and when they are, incidents often lack essential data and facts.



But unlike Canada, the US lags behind in awareness and action to curb the injustice. Fontaine, whose death is still unexplained, renewed calls by First Nations activists for a national inquiry into the broader issue – a cause the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, committed to in 2017. The nearly two-year investigation concluded in December. A report is expected to be released in June.It is unclear just how extensive the problem is in the US. A review of the FBI’s 2017 violent crime report lists incidents that occur on tribal lands but does not tell anything about the gender or ethnicity of the victims.



Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that young Native American women are less likely than other women to be victims of homicide. Advocates argue that such statistics may reflect poor data collection, not less violence. The murder of LaFontaine-Greywind sparked a national outrage in America, and last year, a bill named after her became the first in Congress to propose increasing coordination among federal, state and tribal law enforcement to curb the chronic rate at which indigenous women go missing or are slain. However, passing Savanna’s Act has been on an uneven path.

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https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/may/01/savanna-act-native-women-missing-murdered

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