Study of issues facing Native American women proposed

The Judiciary Committee heard testimony Jan. 24 on a bill that seeks to increase investigative resources dedicated to the state’s Native American community.

Native American women go missing at a higher rate nationally than any other demographic, according to Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer, who sponsored LB154. As introduced, the bill would direct the Nebraska State Patrol to conduct a study focusing on the scope of the problem, identifying barriers and creating partnerships to increase the reporting and investigation of missing Native American women.

Brewer said Native American women are in a unique position because often there is little to no coordination between tribal, county and state law enforcement.

“This failure to communicate between these agencies has left a ‘no man’s land’ where people fall through the cracks and there’s no ability to track the numbers,” he said.

An amendment to the bill proposed by Brewer would expand the study to include missing Native American children.

The study would be conducted in conjunction with the state Commission on Indian Affairs, tribal and local law enforcement, federally-recognized tribes and urban Indian organizations. The Nebraska State Patrol would be required to submit a final report of its findings to the Executive Board of the Legislature by June 1, 2020.

April Satchell of Lincoln spoke in support of the bill. She said the 2013 Violence Against Women Act gave tribal police criminal jurisdiction over non-indigenous people for crimes committed on tribal land. However, she said, this provision only applies if that perpetrator remains on tribal land, which rarely happens.

“A non-Native man can rape us, murder us, and as long as we don’t know who that person is, the law right now does not protect us,” Satchell said. “Why aren’t we given the same rights? Why am I standing before this committee and asking for this protection when I’m an American?”

Also speaking in support of the bill was Renee Sans Souci, a member of the Omaha tribe of Nebraska. She said there is an urgent need to gather data and develop a system that is coordinated between federal, state, tribal and urban organizations.

“I maintain a hypervigilance over my children and teach them how to protect themselves in any situation,” she said. “I’m sure I’m not the only native mother who does this. It is exhausting.”

Representing the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, Scott Shafer said the state is in nothing short of a “data crisis.”

“The issue of missing Native American women and children has long been perceived as a serious problem, but in far too many instances the information has been anecdotal,” he said. “In short, it’s hard to fix a problem if you don’t have an adequate understanding of the problem.”

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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