BISMARCK, N.D. — American Indian reservations in the Dakotas need more resources and cooperation from the federal government to combat crime and improve safety, tribal leaders told members of Congress on Wednesday as they detailed a range of problems including drug trafficking, sex crimes, and missing and murdered indigenous women.
Officials with federal law enforcement agencies testified during the field hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs that they're boosting efforts to combat crime in Indian Country but have limited resources.
The hearing was held by North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven, who chairs the committee, and the other two members of the state's all-Republican delegation, Sen. Kevin Cramer and Rep. Kelly Armstrong.
The testimony will be used to support legislation aimed at boosting public safety for tribes, including Savanna's Act, Hoeven said. The bill is named for Savanna Greywind, a 22-year-old Fargo woman with ties to two reservations who was killed while her baby was cut from her womb in August 2017.
The bill aims to improve tribal access to federal crime information databases and create standardized protocols for responding to cases of missing and slain Native American women.
Standing Rock Chairman Mike Faith noted the weekend discovery in Michigan of the dismembered body of Tamara LaFramboise, an American Indian woman from South Dakota who had gone missing.
"We had a woman who was missing for many months, and she was under the water, and that crime is unsolved," Three Affiliated Tribes Councilwoman Judy Brugh said, referring to the case of Olivia Lone Bear, whose body was discovered last summer in a pickup truck pulled from a lake on the Fort Berthold Reservation. She had been missing for nearly a year and her death remains a mystery.
Family members of the 32-year-old mother of five accused federal law officials of being slow to launch their search. Brugh on Wednesday also criticized the Bureau of Indian Affairs, saying the agency needs to "step it up" on the reservation.
Charles Addington, deputy director of the BIA's Office of Justice Services, said the agency has made great strides in combating drug trafficking on reservations. In fiscal 2018, the BIA and tribal law enforcement programs reported a 47 percent increase in drug cases and a 26 percent increase in drug-related arrests on reservations across the country, he said.
In January, BIA officers made five drug-related arrests on the Standing Rock Reservation, which straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border. They seized large amounts of methamphetamine and prescription pain pills and thousands of dollars in drug money, Addington offered as an example.
Drug trafficking is often tied to violence against Native Women, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Chairwoman Ella Robertson said in prepared remarks read by Councilwoman Lisa Jackson.
"We have experienced sex trafficking where some of our young women were trafficked off-reservation through methamphetamine drug trafficking and abused as part of a migrant industry," she said.
Cases of sexual abuse of children on reservations account for 40 percent of FBI investigations in the Upper Midwest and require 80 percent of agents' time, said Jill Sanborn, special agent in charge in Minneapolis.
Robertson urged Congress to pass Savanna's Act; the Survive Act, which would increase federal money to help crime victims on reservations; and the Tribal Law and Order Act, a provision of which would encourage the hiring of more law officers for Indian lands.
Myra Pearson, longtime chairwoman of the Spirit Lake Nation, said the tribe's reservation encompasses nearly 400 square miles and has just six federal officers. Law enforcement staffing, training and equipment for the reservation has historically been underfunded, she said.
"We are left with a justice system that is ill-equipped," Pearson said.
The relative silence over the disappearance of two Native American women was Deborah Maytubee-Shipman’s call to action.