A year after the abduction and death of a girl on the Navajo Nation, Congressional leaders are taking steps to ensure funding for the AMBER Alert system for tribal communities. Members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs heard comments from tribal leaders, law enforcement officials and others this week on a bill authored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. to amend the PROTECT Act.
Navajo Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty was among those speaking at the meeting in Washington, D.C. in favor of Senate Bill 772.
“It’s important as a Navajo Nation leader–as a mother–to make sure that our children not only feel protected, but our community feels that their leadership is responding to their needs,” Crotty said in an interview. “We’re working swiftly with our federal partners to make that a reality, and that we not only prevent—but if a future incident may occur that we’re well-prepared and that child is returned safely home.”
Crotty stressed the importance of allowing tribes to continue to be part of discussions. She urged the committee members to keep the dialog going. Challenges to implementing a notification system include covering the vast reservation that spans 27,000 square miles. Nearly 40-percent of the reservation has no cell service.
Crotty, chair of the Navajo Sexual Assault Prevention Subcommittee, is leading the effort for an effective notification system following the death of Ashlynne Mike on the Navajo Nation in May 2016. Officials issued an AMBER Alert several hours after she disappeared while walking home from school. Her body was found later. Tom Begaye Jr., of Waterflow, Ariz. is charged in connection with her kidnapping and murder. The girl’s death led her family to call on the tribe for enhanced technology and alerts. Tribal officials have since formed a task force to create a more effective notification system.
The official hearing on May 10 was cancelled after President Donald Trump’s sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey. The Senate invoked a two-hour rule which cancelled all hearings. Senators McCain, Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., instead participated in an informal listening session with people, like Crotty, who traveled long distances to give their testimony. The committee consists of eight Republicans and seven Democrats. The Indian Affairs Committee is rescheduling the business meeting for a future date to consider a bills on Indian education and to extend federal recognition to six Virginia tribes.