Early on the afternoon of Aug. 19, 2017, Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind texted her mother and another relative to say she had ordered lunch for the family and was heading to a neighbor’s apartment to help with a sewing project.
Her mother texted her later, but got no response so she called police in Fargo, N.D., to report Savanna missing at 4:30 p.m. On Aug. 27, kayakers found her body snagged on a fallen log in the Red River. A citizen of the Spirit Lake Nation, Savanna had been wrapped in plastic garbage bags, her nearly full-term baby cut from her womb.
The neighbor and her boyfriend, Brooke Crews and William Hoehn, were convicted of several charges in Savanna’s death and sentenced to life in prison. Savanna’s daughter, Haisley Jo, is being raised by her grandparents and boyfriend.
Savanna’s horrific death inspired national legislation in her name. Savanna’s Act, intended to combat the epidemic of murdered and missing Native women and girls, was reintroduced this year after failing to pass the U.S. House of Representatives in late 2018. Sponsors include two lawmakers from Washington state, U.S. Rep Dan Newhouse and U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell.
Congress annually recesses for August, with both chambers adjourning until after Labor Day. When they return, lawmakers are expected to readdress the legislation, which supporters say would improve data collection and standardize law enforcement protocols for responding to cases of missing and murdered Native women and girls, among other efforts.
In the Senate, Savanna’s Act is in the Committee on Indian Affairs, said Reid Walker, communications director for Cantwell. She and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., reintroduced the legislation early this year. In 2018, Cantwell also co-sponsored Savanna’s Act, which was introduced by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.
“The hope is it will be voted on in that committee soon after the Senate resumes in September. After that vote, it goes to the full Senate for a vote, and that calendar is determined by the majority,” Walker said. “The senator has been urging her colleagues to move this to the Senate floor for a full vote.”
U.S. Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, U.S. Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif., and Newhouse reintroduced Savanna’s Act in the House in mid-May. It has been referred to the Judiciary Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee — specifically, the Subcomittee for Indigenous Peoples, said Elizabeth Daniels, communications director for Newhouse.
Dozens of women have vanished in and around the Yakama reservation. Sometimes, they just disappear. Sometimes, they’re found dead months or years later. Rarely is anyone held to account for the death.
In late May, Newhouse held a private roundtable in Yakima to hear about local efforts to address the decadeslong crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women. He mentioned then he wanted to request a field hearing in Central Washington where committees and members of Congress could learn firsthand about the issue, in particular on the vast Yakama Reservation.
It’s unknown exactly how many Native women and girls, and men and boys, have gone missing, have been murdered and have died mysteriously on and around the reservation over decades. Central Washington sits at the epicenter of this crisis, Newhouse has said.
Newhouse continues to seek the field hearing and is still receiving letters of support from different tribes and advocacy groups, Daniels said.