Demonstrators take to Fargo courthouse to fight for Savanna's Act
FARGO — Wearing traditional beaded earrings and a ribbon skirt, 30-year-old Alexa Seaboy stood outside the Quentin N. Burdick Federal Courthouse in downtown Fargo raising awareness of the violence against Indigenous women — women like Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind.
Seaboy, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe living in Fargo, was among a dozen people who gathered Monday, Aug. 19, the two-year anniversary of LaFontaine-Greywind's murder.
"The fact that something like this happened, it opens peoples' eyes up," Seaboy said. "We're not on the radar. We want to be heard. We want justice for terrible things like this. We're tired of being silent about it. I feel like Savanna definitely triggered a ripple effect, and it's heartbreaking to know that it took a tragedy like this."
The gathering was to advocate for Savanna's Act and other legislation aimed at addressing the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW). It was hosted by the Fargo-Moorhead MMIW Task Force, and member Amanda Vivier said it's time for the federal government to undo the wrongdoings that have caused generational trauma for Indigenous people.
Vivier said Indigenous women and girls are a target. LaFontaine-Greywind's daughter Haisley Jo, who was cut from her mother's womb, became a target before she was even born.
The LaFontaine-Greywind family's attorney, Gloria Allred, told The Forum there is a need for changes in the wake of "the most cruel, callous, criminal act that could ever have been inflicted on this innocent, young pregnant woman."
In a statement, Allred said the Fargo Police Department needs training in bias and implicit bias "to learn that the lives of Native Americans should be valued and treated with respect and dignity".
"When Savanna's family reported to the Fargo police department that Savanna was missing, they felt that they were treated with disrespect by the police and that the information they provided was scoffed at, perhaps because they are Native American," she said. "The information they provided at that time was, in fact, correct and had they been listened to, Savanna and Haisley Jo would likely have been found earlier, which would have avoided needless additional pain and suffering that the family experienced because they were disrespected by the police."
Fargo police spokeswoman Jessica Schindeldecker said new city employees, including officers, undergo online implicit bias training and this started several years ago.
In a statement from Rep. Ruth Buffalo, D-Fargo, shared during Monday's gathering, she said the community must continue to fight for Savanna "and the countless others by working toward justice for all."
In 2016, North Dakota had 125 reported cases of missing Native women, according to the National Crime Information Center, but Buffalo said numbers are likely much higher as no protocol exists to collect the data and cases are under-reported.
"The system is broken and must be fixed," Buffalo wrote. "It is a matter of life and death for our women, girls and peoples. We want to fortify Savanna's legacy by protecting future generations from the same tragedy."
Savanna's Act is meant to help fill the gaps and enhance data collection and sharing among federal, state and tribal officials. The bill encompasses more than tracking missing and murdered Indigenous people. It also seeks to address issues of domestic violence, sexual assault and sex trafficking.
American Indians experience violent crime at a rate 2.5 times higher than all other races, according to the bill. On some reservations, the murder rate of Indigenous women is 10 times the national average.
Similar demonstrations were held Monday outside federal buildings in Bismarck, Grand Forks and Minot.