Great Falls Tribune: Resolution to focus on plight of Native American women

Montana’s congressional delegation introduced a resolution Tuesday to designate May 5 as National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls in memory of the birthday of Hanna Harris, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe who was murdered in July 2013.

The resolution by U.S. Sens Steve Daines and Jon Tester and U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke will honor the lives of missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Native women.

According to a Department of Justice study, in some tribal communities, American Indian women face murder rates that are more than 10 times the national average, the delegation noted.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, homicide was the third leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women between 10 and 24 years old and the fifth-leading cause of death for those women between 25 and 34, lawmakers said.

Daines said he was heartbroken by Tuesday’s death of RoyLynn Rides Horse, 28, who died Tuesday, nearly two months after she was found beaten, choked and set on fire on Montana’s Crow Indian Reservation.

“Tragically it’s a symptom of the greater epidemic of tribal women who go missing and are murdered at staggering rates,” said Daines, a Republican, said. “We are ringing the alarm to this devastating epidemic.”

Tester, a Democrat, said it was critical to shed more light on the hardships that Native American women and their families often face.

“But words must be followed up with actions, and I am committed to working with the Montana congressional delegation and Montana tribes to increase the safety of Native women and ensure they have every opportunity to thrive,” he said.

Daines and Tester are members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. A spokeswoman for Daines said the delegation would reintroduce the resolution every year to mark that day.

Zinke, a Republican, is introducing a companion resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives next week when the House is in session.

“The attack and murder of RoyLynn Rides Horse shook my soul as a husband, father, Montanan, and as someone whose job has been to keep people safe,” he said. ”I am saddened by the circumstances for this congressional resolution, but I am proud to help honor RoyLynn, Hanna Harris, and countless others who have tragically lost their lives.”

Toni Plummer-Alvernaz, executive director, Montana Native Women’s Coalition, thanked the delegation.

“This resolution is some small way will validate the hearts and assist in resolving the grief of all the Native families who have native women that are missing or murdered,” she said.