by Jenni Monet
At the start of the Navajo Nation’s new winter legislative session, President Russell Begaye made it clear which issue sits high on the leadership’s agenda. Begaye signed a proclamation aimed at raising awareness of human trafficking in and around the border-towns of the sprawling reservation.
“We just want to announce and proclaim the month of January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month,” Begaye said as he assembled with other Navajo leaders outside council chambers.
In August, Begaye enacted a tribal council resolution to criminalize the sex slave trade within the reservation borders — what the International Labour Organization estimates is a $150 billion industry worldwide.
“(There’s a perception that) trafficking only happens in places like Asia, or Russia or Eastern Europe — places like that…but it does happen in the United States, and it does happen on Navajo Nation,” Begaye said.
While there are many advocates who pushed for the human trafficking resolution, it was Council Delegate Nathaniel Brown who first formally introduced the measure in April.
On this morning, Brown was among several who turned out to raise awareness about an issue that — for the Navajo Nation — is lacking in any real discernible data and is also difficult to detect.
“The next thing we need to do… we would like to have all our Navjao departments to be educated on what is human trafficking, where to call once they identify it, so we can begin to start saving our children,” Brown said.
The Navajo Nation represents the only federally recognized tribal government to amend its criminal codes to prosecute the international human trafficking trade in the tribal courts.