New South Dakota law focuses on missing indigenous women
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A new South Dakota law is aimed at gaining an understanding of how many Native American women are missing or murdered in the state.
The law, which takes effect Monday, received unanimous support in the South Dakota House and Senate. The law requires the state Division of Criminal Investigation to collect data on missing and murdered indigenous people, and create procedures and training for investigating cases involving women and children.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Lynne DiSanto of Box Elder, said she hopes the new law sends a message that “every missing South Dakotan is important, worthy of our time and our resources.”
Republican Gov. Kristi Noem told the Argus Leader the new law will allow South Dakota to share information with other state and tribal agencies to “bring these women home.”
“If we’re going to create a stronger South Dakota, we need to take care of our most vulnerable population,” Noem said. “I’m proud of the way this bill paves avenues for us to work together and make real headway on this issue.”
Savanna’s Act — named for 22-year-old Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, whose body was found in a North Dakota river in 2017 — was reintroduced earlier this year after stalling in Congress last year. The federal bill proposes to increase tribal law enforcement’s access to criminal databases, increase data collection on missing persons cases and set new guidelines for law enforcement’s response to reports of missing Native Americans.
Rep. Tamara St. John, R-Sisseton, said she sees the state’s law as working in tandem with Savanna’s Act if it passes and connecting the tribes, state and federal entities.
Missing persons and homicide cases involving Native American women can fall into multiple law enforcement jurisdictions and can occur in isolated locations in South Dakota.
St. John said she doesn’t believe law enforcement is intentionally looking the other way, but that jurisdiction complexities can cause delays or cases to fall through the cracks, or the person isn’t reported missing at all.
Sex trafficking or drug addiction also may play into how a case of a missing Native American woman is handled, which can cause the family to perceive that it’s not being investigated, she said.
DiSanto and St. John point to the case of Corrine White Thunder as an example of why the legislation was needed. White Thunder’s body was found in the Missouri River in Pierre earlier this month after she was missing for 18 months, but she was not reported missing.
“Clearly, we have a breakdown of missing Native women specifically in South Dakota that no one is looking for, and that’s not right and it needs to be improved,” DiSanto said.