Author: Orion Donovan-Smith

WASHINGTON – Lawmakers from the Inland Northwest are calling on leaders in the House of Representatives to allow votes on two bills to address violence against Native American women and girls, which despite bipartisan support have stalled as COVID-19 has thrown the legislative schedule into disarray.

Central Washington Rep. Dan Newhouse and North Idaho Rep. Russ Fulcher, both Republicans, were among a dozen representatives who signed a July 17 letter asking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her GOP counterpart to bring the legislation to the floor before Congress breaks for its August recess.

Both bills passed the Senate in March, just as Congress was turning its attention toward the pandemic, and the lawmakers wrote that the issue can’t wait.

“Each of our congressional districts are impacted by unsolved murder cases or missing person reports from native communities,” the letter, led by Newhouse and Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., reads. “We have heard the outcries from families and loved ones of these indigenous women, and we are working to – finally – begin addressing this issue. In order to do so, we need your support and action.”

The crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women, referred to as MMIW, has been gaining attention after years of activism from Native communities. A 2016 study funded by the National Institute of Justice found that more than 84% of Indigenous women have experienced violence in their lifetimes, and in some counties they are murdered at a rate 10 times the national average, according to a 2008 NIJ-sponsored study.

Ann Ford, a Coeur d’Alene tribal member and youth coordinator for the Spokane Tribe, joined the movement against MMIW after Olivia Lone Bear, a Native woman who had lived on the Spokane Reservation, went missing on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota in 2017. She was found dead nine months later, and the cause of death was ruled undetermined.

“It broke my heart that, even close to home, that girl that I knew was missing,” Ford said. “It seems like no one takes it serious. Is it just because we’re Native American?”

Ford carried a sign calling attention to the crisis to last year’s Indigenous Peoples March in Spokane and as far as Washington, D.C., and New York City.

The problem is neither new nor easy to solve, said Margo Hill, a Spokane tribal member and professor at Eastern Washington University. Hill, a former lawyer for the Spokane Tribe and Coeur d’Alene tribal court judge, said the roots of the problem began when white settlers arrived in North America.

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