PIERRE, S.D. -- South Dakota could begin to address the disproportionate rate of violence perpetrated against indigenous women thanks to a bill advanced by lawmakers on Tuesday, Feb. 12.
Senate Bill 164 would amend current missing persons investigation guidelines for the Division of Criminal Investigation to include uniform procedures for reporting on cases of missing and murdered indigenous women of South Dakota. The bill's prime sponsor Sen. Lynne DiSanto, R-Box Elder, said she decided to pursue the legislation when she learned that, despite the fact that Native women in some areas are murdered up to 10 times more often than the national average, data collection and reporting of these cases is often weak and convoluted thanks to jurisdictional questions on reservations.
Rep. Tamara St. John, R-Sisston, is carrying the bill on the House side, and is a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe. She said collecting this data can help spotlight and personalize an issue that has been neglected.
St. John said the bill is "absolutely" motivated in part because of stalled discussions in Congress on Savanna's Act. Savanna's Act is a bill previously spearheaded by former-Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, and recently reintroduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, that would require the U.S. Department of Justice to standardize protocol and data collection on cases of missing and murdered indigenous people.
She said that the history of violence against native women goes back decades, and that she thinks stereotypes lead to a dehumanization of and lack of care for native women.
But, by collecting data on these cases and "putting this light on it, I think we can make a huge difference," St. John said.
The bill passed the committee unanimously. It now goes on to the Senate floor for consideration.