During Week of MMIW Advocacy, Tester Pushes Washington to Pay Attention to Crisis in Indian Country

Senator: “We can find solutions”

(U.S. Senate) – As U.S. Senator Jon Tester wraps up a week of advocacy for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), he is doubling down on his efforts to address the crisis. Tester spent the week continuing his fight to hold the federal government accountable to Indian Country and secure the safety of Native American women and children across Montana.

During a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday, Tester – a former Chairman of the Committee – pressed Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) officials on what the agency has done to improve communication between federal, state, and tribal law enforcement agencies, while calling for more funding to fight crime across Indian Country.

“In Montana, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe has 450,000 acres and one officer. That can be repeated throughout Indian Country. Does this budget have adequate funding levels to hire the law enforcement in Indian Country by the BIA?” Tester asked Department of Interior Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Sweeny.

When Sweeny responded that she was only looking to maintain current funding levels, Tester demanded more.

“If we don’t have people like you fighting for more law enforcement in Indian Country, it ain’t gonna happen,” Tester told Sweeny. “The reason we have drugs, crime that’s over the top – it’s driven by a lot of things [like] poverty, bad water, no housing, all the stuff we have to deal with on this Committee – but if they don’t have law enforcement it becomes a no-man’s land. We’ve got to step it up.”

The week kicked off with Sunday’s “National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls,” which Tester helped establish via Senate Resolution. On Monday, Tester led a bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators asking the government’s top watchdog 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. On Tuesday, Tester delivered a speech on the Senate floor calling for more legislative action on this critical issue.

“It’s nice to hold hearings and write letters, but nothing can really happen, unless we do our job,” Tester said. “Take funding for example: we worked hard to secure a five percent set-aside for Indian Country in the Crime Victims Fund this year. That’s $168 million that tribes can now use to prevent violence and support survivors across Indian Country. But this funding disappears next year if we don’t pass the SURVIVE Act to make this funding permanent. I would hope that everyone in this Senate, including the majority, will finally get behind the Violence Against Women Act and help move these other bills forward. Because together, we can find solutions to this crisis. We can support survivors. And we can bring their assailants to justice. But we can’t do it if Congress doesn’t act.”

Watch Tester’s full speech on the Senate floor HERE.

Tester has worked tirelessly to raise awareness, find solutions, and empower tribes to better address the MMIW crisis. He is fighting to pass Savanna’s Act, which would improve information sharing between federal, state, and tribal law enforcement agencies and establish better response protocols for cases of missing Native people. He has also introduced the Not Invisible Act, which would create an advisory committee made up of local, national, and tribal leaders to improve how federal law enforcement responds to cases of missing, murdered, and trafficked persons.

Read more about Tester’s work to address the MMIW crisis HERE.