Tester Pushes for Federal Study on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

Senator Announces New Bill During Facebook Live with Missoula MMIW Advocate Briana Lamb

(U.S. Senate) – After grilling federal law enforcement officials at the Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) crisis in December, U.S. Senator Jon Tester introduced legislation today to commission a federal study on the crisis. The bill comes hours before the President’s State of the Union Address, which Tester will be attending with Briana Lamb, a Missoula-based advocate and activist who was the driving force behind Tester’s push to organize December’s historic hearing.

“The responses I got at the hearing made it clear that we have a lot of work to do when it comes to understanding this problem and figuring out how to fix it,” Tester said. “From federal to state to tribal law enforcement agencies, we need to make sure folks are working together to find and implement meaningful solutions.”

Tester’s bill—the Studying the Missing and Murdered Indian Crisis Act—would direct the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a full review of how federal agencies respond to reports of missing and murdered Native Americans and recommend solutions based on their findings.  In addition to improving law enforcement cooperation and information sharing, the bill also directs the GAO to make recommendations on how to address economic, social, and other underlying factors that are fueling this crisis. 

“Without quality data to inform public policy one is simply wandering blind like a deer on a Montana highway,” said Gerald Gray, Chairman of the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council (RMTLC), in a statement applauding the bill.

“For too long, law enforcement agencies have failed MMIWG victims, their families, and Indian Country as a whole, with an uncoordinated and haphazard approach to these crimes. The RMTLC commends Senator Tester for recognizing the urgency with which we need to collectively act, and for his unwavering commitment to undertake action that will make positive inroads into the MMIWG tragedy.”

As a senior member and former Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Tester has taken a three-pronged approach to addressing the MMIW crisis focused on raising awarenessproviding resources to support survivors, and empowering tribes to bring assailants to justice. 

He recently helped reintroduce two landmark pieces of legislation aimed at combatting the MMIW crisis. Savanna’s Act is a bipartisan bill aimed at improving information sharing between tribal and federal law enforcement agencies and increasing data collection on missing persons throughout Indian Country.

The SURVIVE Act would give tribes access to a critical source of funding they can use to help survivors of sexual and domestic violence get back on their feet. Last year, Tester secured a historic $133 million to help Native American communities assist survivors of violent crime through the Crime Victims Fund. The SURVIVE Act would make this funding permanent by establishing an annual five percent set aside specifically for tribes.

Access full text of the Studying the Missing and Murdered Indian Crisis Act HERE.

Read the RMTLC’s statement endorsing the bill HERE.