March 12th, 2020: Today, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) spoke on the Senate floor in recognition of Ashley Johnson-Barr Day, a day of recognition passed by the Alaska State Senate yesterday, to bring awareness to violent crimes committed against children. Senator Murkowski honored Ashley’s life, a 10 year old girl who was murdered in her hometown of Kotzebue, Alaska. She also commended her colleagues for prioritizing the need to urgently address the crisis of missing, murdered, and trafficked Indigenous women by taking up and passing her legislative efforts to combat the epidemic.
“Ashley was one of those kids who loved purple—a beautiful young child growing up in Kotzebue who would have gone on to have a good and productive life in an Inupiaq community in the northwestern part of the state. But Ashley Johnson-Barr is remembered now, because at the age of 10 years old she was brutally raped and murdered. She was literally taken from the kids’ playground and taken to a location not too many miles outside of the community and her death and the tragedy around the circumstance of how she left this world is one that is an open and a raw and a hurtful and horrific scar on Alaska, on Alaskan communities,” said Senator Murkowski. “It is a reminder that in my state, there is a darkness that is very, very difficult to talk about and that darkness is reflected in the statistics that we see when it comes to sexual assault, domestic violence, and more brutal acts of murder inflicted, unfortunately in a disproportionate way, on Native women and Native children.”
Yesterday, on Thursday, March 11, the Senate passed unanimously two bills, Savanna’s Act and Not Invisible Act, led by Senator Murkowski and Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) which aim to combat the epidemic of missing, murdered, and trafficked Indigenous women by improving the federal government’s response through increased coordination, development of best practices, and creation of an advisory committee on violent crime.
“This is something that we have been trying to shine the spotlight on. We are making significant progress and headway. In Alaska, thanks to the efforts and heart of Attorney General Barr, we have seen federal funds come our way. We have seen commissions and stakeholders that are truly unprecedented. But we have much, much work to do. And on this day, when in Alaska when we are recognizing the very short life of a beautiful child, Ashley Johnson-Barr, I thank my colleagues for working with us on these matters, helping us move Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act, and working together to do more as we deal with those who are trafficked, those who are assaulted, those who are violently murdered in their homes and in their hometowns,” Murkowski said. “We have much work to do but good coordination and good cooperation moving forward.”
Vivian Korthuis, Chief Executive Officer of the Association of Village Council Presidents:
“The Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP) thanks Senator Murkowski, Senator Cortez Masto, and their colleagues for passing the Savanna’s Act and Not Invisible Act. There is a public safety crisis in rural Alaska, and to end it all levels of government must work together. These bills pave the way for greater collaboration among agencies and governments, and increases the exchange of valuable information, both of which will better protect our women and children. This legislation brings us closer to our goal of public safety in each of our communities. Quyana.”
Savanna’s Act, sponsored by Senator Murkowski and co-led with Senator Cortez Masto, improves coordination among all levels of law enforcement, increases data collection and information sharing, and empowers tribal governments with access to the necessary law enforcement databases in cases involving missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, wherever they occur. The legislation, originally introduced by former U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota with Murkowski as a cosponsor, is named for Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, who was abducted and killed in 2017 in Fargo, North Dakota.
Not Invisible Act, sponsored by Senator Cortez Masto and co-led with Senator Murkowski, improves engagement among law enforcement, tribal leaders, federal partners, and service providers. The bill also designates an official to coordinate efforts across agencies and establishes a commission of tribal and federal stakeholders to make recommendations to the Department of Interior and Department of Justice on combating the epidemic of disappearances, homicide, violent crime and trafficking of Native Americans and Alaska Natives.