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Bill seeking data on missing indigenous people to be widened

January 23, 2019

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Ruth Buffalo tearfully pitched a bill to fellow lawmakers Wednesday that would collect data on missing and murdered Native Americans in North Dakota, a situation she described as crisis.

“We know data tells a story,” Buffalo told the House Judiciary Committee. “If there is no data available, then the issue does not exist.”

Buffalo, the first female Native American Democrat elected to the state Legislature, said she was working on an amendment with the state Attorney General’s office that would include data on all missing people but that would highlight indigenous people.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Troy Seibel said the state does not collect information on missing people in North Dakota. He said the state supports Buffalo’s bill and is working with her to craft amendments that would include data on all missing people in North Dakota.

The bill will return to the committee later for review, before going to the full House for consideration.

The agency estimates the initial cost of the establishing data collection at $75,000.

Buffalo said collecting such data would help solve crimes and “prevent further tragedies from occurring.”

Buffalo, who represents a district in Fargo, is a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes on the Fort Berthold Reservation, home to the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes.

She also introduced a bill earlier this month intended to help resolve crimes against indigenous people. That bill would require more law enforcement training related to missing and murdered Native Americans.

That bill still awaits action by the House.

Buffalo’s two bills mirror Savanna’s Act, which was introduced by North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in 2017. That proposal came in response to the August 2017 death of Spirit Lake Tribe member Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind who disappeared in Fargo.

Heitkamp’s bill passed unanimously in the Senate, but ultimately stalled in the House.

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