Point of View: Bipartisan OK lawmakers on saving Indigenous women

February 28, 2021

Senator Carri Hicks (D-OK) and Representative Daniel Pae (R-OK) make the bipartisan case for House Bill 3345, or Ida’s Law.

As Oklahomans born and raised, we saw the injuries inflicted upon our Indigenous brothers and sisters when land was repeatedly taken by the federal government. Oklahomans cannot move forward as a state that truly builds a better future for all until we answer the call for justice and accountability.

Oklahomans are now taking the steps to legislate support for the indigenous community, but more bipartisan action is crucial to saving lives. Bipartisan judicial reform can help Indigenous communities receive state-based protections, aid and security by redirecting funding for incarceration to further improve community enforcement through training and rehabilitation efforts. Ida’s Law, or House Bill 3345, was introduced and passed the Oklahoma House in March of last year. After failing to receive a vote in the Senate, we’ve re-introduced the bill in both chambers of our state’s Legislature this year alongside the bipartisan co-chairs of the Native American Caucus, State Rep. Ken Luttrell (R-Ponca City) and Rep. Collin Walke (D-Oklahoma City).

In Oklahoma, 9.4% of the population is Indigenous, and we’re one of the Top 10 states in the nation for missing or murdered Indigenous women. Without guidelines and with limitations in data collection and reporting, it’s impossible to fully understand how many Indigenous members of our community are missing or murdered every year.

What we do know is that current estimates find that thousands of Indigenous women are missing or murdered here in Oklahoma. That truth is unacceptable, and it’s far past time that serious action is taken to literally save lives. Young Indigenous women and girls deserve justice, and as young state legislators, we’re committed to that cause.

As a part of our proposal, we recommend that Oklahoma join a federal pilot project to finally unite tribal governments, law enforcement agencies and other key partners under the common cause of protecting Indigenous women and saving lives. By strengthening existing partnerships and creating new ones altogether, we can build a system that is responsive, comprehensive and sorely needed in our communities.

Beyond that pilot program, it’s Ida’s Law that truly has the power to reduce harm in Indigenous communities. Named for a young member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes who disappeared from El Reno in 2015, the law would create a special liaison at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations to handle cases where it’s suspected an Indigenous person is missing or murdered. The bill takes critical steps to bring tribal, state and federal law enforcement together to coordinate on cases, resolving existing jurisdictional issues and allowing law enforcement to do its job.

Arizona, Montana, South Dakota and North Dakota have all taken powerful steps forward to protect Indigenous women in their own states, and to pass Ida’s Law in Oklahoma would be to follow a growing national trend. With bipartisan bills advancing through Congress to encourage coordination between law enforcement and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, it’s clear that the time for action in Oklahoma is now.

A bipartisan coalition is the strongest way to pass innovative and collaborative legislation that aids marginalized communities, like those of Indigenous people. As members of the Millennial Action Project’s Criminal Justice Reform Advisory Council, we’re actively working with young state lawmakers from across the country and the aisle to solve the greatest shortcomings in our justice system. With legislation such as Ida’s Law, and with countless other opportunities to address our broken criminal justice system before us, it’s critical that the entire state Legislature — Republicans and Democrats — comes together for the systemic change that Oklahoma needs.

Ida’s Law is one of our top legislative priorities in 2021, and we will advocate for its passage during this session. In the mission to reform our judicial system and listen to those demanding change in our marginalized communities, we urge our fellow lawmakers and Oklahomans to stand up for Indigenous lives and make 2021 a year of action — because working together makes us stronger than working apart.

Sen. Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City, represents Senate District 40. Rep. Daniel Pae, R-Lawton, represents House District 62.

Read this article on theoklhahoman.com >

Rep. Sara Jacobs


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