MARTY, S.D. — Earlier this month, an act intended to increase transparency and solve cases of missing and murdered native people was reintroduced at the federal level.
At the same time, a Marty woman has worked to assemble a coalition to address similar issues in Charles Mix County and the surrounding area.
“We’re just getting started, and so we’re trying to build a coalition of social services, police, medical (personnel) and other people that are really interested in stopping the flow of this,” said Sister Pat Mylott, who began the formation of the South Central Human Trafficking Coalition.
The first project the SCHTC hopes to take on, Mylott said, is educating hotel and motel managers and employees about how to spot signs of trafficking. She plans to enlist the help of an Omaha coalition which has significant experience with such training.
“The two biggest areas would be the Sturgis rally — where they bring in girls, but they come through here — and also the hunting season,” Mylott said of the prevalence of human trafficking in South Dakota.
While she said those two annual events have historically been peak times of trafficking, she expressed concern over how the issue might be compounded in the near future by the establishment of “man camps,” where large groups of workers from all over the country are expected to live while working on the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Paula Antoine, a board member of Dakota Rural Action from Winner and a member of the Lakota Nation, is opposed to the pipeline and the man camps that would develop as a result, such as one that could appear in Tripp County near Colome.
She’s expressed support for Savanna’s Act, which was recently reintroduced as a bill at the federal level.
Also known as Senate Bill 227, Savanna’s Act is named for Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, of Fargo. In 2017, 22-year-old LaFontaine-Greywind was murdered, and the child with which she was pregnant at the time was cut out of her.
The act was written with the intention of clarifying the responsibilities of and increasing coordination between federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement agencies when it comes to those cases, as well as to provide tribal governments with more resources and to collect more data on missing and murdered native people.
Currently, investigation into the cases of missing native women is complicated by several factors, including jurisdictional issues.
“What we’re concerned about with Savanna’s Act is just recognizing the fact that missing, murdered, indigenous women, children and men — their numbers increase around extractive industries, and mainly man camps,” Antoine said. “It’s a fact. We’re not making this up. The crime rates go up. The number of sexual assaults on both males and females go up. The number of missing and murdered people goes up. And it’s not a coincidence that you have a thousand men with disposable income looking for something to do in a rural state and in a rural location.”
According to the “findings and purposes” section of Savanna’s Act, American Indian and Alaskan Native people are 2.5 times as likely to experience violent crime and twice as likely to be raped or sexually assaulted as people of other races. Homicide is the third most common cause of death for native women between the ages of 25 and 34, and women on some reservations are murdered at 10 times the national rate.
“We can’t just forget about it. There’s so many of our relatives that are missing or murdered right now,” Antoine said. “If it was any other population, any other identified race, everybody would be screaming. … We wouldn’t have to demand that laws are made to specifically focus on this, because no one else is. And that’s what’s really sad about it: that our life is not valued the same.”