SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Two years after the disappearance of a Native woman from Fargo, the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women was front and center when four Democratic candidates took the stage at a first-of-its-kind presidential forum on Native issues in Sioux City.
U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) and author Marianne Williamson (D) took up tough issues facing Indian Country on Monday, Aug. 19, for the first day of the Frank LaMere Presidential Candidate Forum, among them violence against Native women.
The first day of the forum fell on the two-year anniversary of the disappearance of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a Fargo-area Native woman who was brutally murdered and dumped into the Red River. The anniversary served as a somber reminder of what remains an ongoing issue across North America.
Speaking to press after her appearance, Klobuchar said that a store can use an SKU number to track stolen merchandise, but "you're telling me we can't find a human being, a Native woman?"
"Well, that's just because people didn't care enough," she said.
She said during the forum that as president, she would appoint a U.S. attorney general who would work with district attorneys and tribes to "put (the issue) out there, out front," as well as push legislation like Savanna's Act — named for Greywind — that would collect data on missing Native women. She also said the Violence Against Women Act, with strengthened protections for Native women, should be reauthorized.
.@amyklobuchar today on #MMIW: "There are thousands of women right now, Native women, who are just missing. They've just vanished off this Earth.— Sarah Mearhoff (@sarah_mearhoff) August 19, 2019
Well, you know that's not true, and you know if they were white women, we'd probably know what happened to them." pic.twitter.com/bFxjucbloo
Warren emphasized the role of tribal law enforcement, saying that the federal government needs to provide law enforcement "on the front lines" with adequate resources "so they can provide the first line of defense." Bills like Savanna's Act would help tribal law enforcement better coordinate with federal law enforcement, she said, as well as raise public awareness.
"Over and over, I'm struck by women who go missing and it doesn't make a headline for a week, a month. Women who are murdered and it never makes a headline," Warren said. "A problem that is not seen is a problem that is not fixed."
Bullock pointed to state legislation, like Montana's Hanna's Act — named for the late 21-year-old Northern Cheyenne Hanna Harris — which provides state funding for a missing persons specialist.
But "we should not have to rely on state legislatures and state tribal leaders to take the lead," he said.
In addition to legal change, Williamson called for a "spiritual renewal" because "violence against women and girls is one of the most demonic signs of a nation ... that has lost its soul."
According to the Indian Law Resource Center, Native women in some areas are murdered 10 times more often than the national average. More than four in five Native women have experienced violence, and over half have experienced sexual violence.
Also on Monday during her opening remarks, Warren apologized for her past controversial claims to Native American heritage, telling the audience, “I know that I have made mistakes."
"I am sorry for harm I have caused,” she said. “I have listened, and I have learned a lot. And I am grateful for the many conversations we’ve had together.”
The forum was named in honor of Frank LaMere, a Native American rights activist from the Sioux City area, who died in June. It was hosted by Native voting rights group Four Directions.
It will continue into Tuesday, when candidates Mark Charles (I-Navajo Nation), former Congressman John Delaney (D-Ohio), former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) will take the stage.