- Native Americans
Making Native Voices Heard in Congress
Working as the Congressional Advocate on Native American Policy has been an amazing opportunity. My two years with FCNL allowed me to truly understand the issues we are working on. There are only a handful of fellowships in tribal policy. The fact that this fellowship is hosted by a faith-based advocacy organization makes it truly unique.
I began my fellowship in November 2017. After consulting with several interfaith partners and tribal organizations, I determined FCNL’s policy priorities for the Native American Policy Program. My policy work focused on the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW) and ending violence against Native women.
Native women experience violent crimes at higher rates compared to other women in the United States. This crisis has led to the silent epidemic of MMIW. While this is well known in Indian Country, it has received little attention outside our communities. Thanks to widespread organizing and advocacy efforts, the problem is now being recognized by state and federal policymakers.
Native women experience violent crimes at higher rates compared to other women in the United States. This crisis has led to the silent epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
In the last two years, several bills related to missing and murdered Indigenous women have been introduced. One bill that FCNL has been working on is Savanna’s Act. In August 2017, Savanna LaFontaine Greywind, a Spirit Lake Dakota and Turtle Mountain Chippewa woman, went missing and was found brutally murdered by her neighbor.
Savanna’s story is incredibly tragic, especially since she was pregnant. Her story is just one of many cases of missing Native women later found murdered. To honor Savanna’s memory, former Senator Heidi Heitkamp (ND) introduced Savanna’s Act (originally S. 1942). This bill will improve data collection of missing cases; increases tribal access to criminal databases; and increases coordination between state, federal, tribal, and local law enforcement agencies.
Savanna’s Act was very close to passing in December 2018, but it couldn’t quite make it over the finish line when the 115th Congress ended. Thankfully, it was reintroduced in both the House and the Senate at the start of this year’s 116th Congress. In addition to the stand-alone bill, Savanna’s Act is incorporated in the House version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA or H.R. 1585). This comprehensive VAWA bill will restore tribal jurisdiction over violent crimes, which is a big step forward to ending violence in tribal communities.
FCNL has and always will work with tribal leaders, organizations, and coalitions to ensure that Native voices are properly represented in Congress.
As it stands, tribes only have jurisdiction over non- Native Americans for crimes of domestic violence. A VAWA reauthorization that restores their jurisdiction over violent crimes, such as sexual assault and child abuse, will help tribes keep their communities safe. Together with our partners, FCNL was able to push a VAWA reauthorization bill through the House early this year. Although the Senate still has to pass VAWA, we will continue to push for the inclusion of strong tribal provisions until it is successfully reauthorized.
While my fellowship is ending, I know that I am leaving FCNL’s Native American Policy Program in the capable hands of the next fellow, Kerri Colfer. She will build on my advocacy work and continue to develop the program.
FCNL has and always will work with tribal leaders, organizations, and coalitions to ensure that Native voices are properly represented in Congress. I, myself, will use my FCNL experience to continue advocating for tribes on the Hill.
Lacina Tangnaquodo Onco (Shinnecock/ Kiowa), is FCNL’s first congressional advocate for Native American Policy. She will be joining the Native American Finance Officers Association, as a policy specialist, and will be advocating for sound economic and fiscal policies in Indian Country.