Law | Opinion

Kevin Washburn: Empower tribes to prosecute reservation crime






Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez and employees of the Northern Edge Navajo Casino in New Mexico release yellow balloons in memory of Ashlynne Mike. Photo from Navajo Nation OPVP Russell Begaye And Jonathan Nez / Facebook

Tribes need full authority and resources to prosecute crimes that occur on their own lands, Kevin Washburn, the former leader of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, argues in the wake of the tragic death of 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike on the Navajo Nation:
For more than a century, it has been primarily the responsibility of the federal government to address crimes like the vicious murder of 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike. And so these crimes keep occurring.

For decades, our laws have emasculated tribal governments and tribal authority. If tribal officials are denied the opportunity to solve these problems, and are not held accountable when they continue to occur, they will keep happening. The crimes on the Navajo Reservation cannot be addressed in Albuquerque or Phoenix. They must be addressed at the local level.

Only recently has Congress begun to recognize the importance of increasing tribal authority over reservation crimes.

During the Obama Administration, appropriations have increased by billions of dollars for Indian programs and health services, but tribes need money for public safety. In 2010, President Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act, which extended tribal criminal authority from misdemeanors to felonies, but tribal authority is still limited to only three years in prison per offense.

In 2013, Obama signed the Violence Against Women Act, which allowed tribes limited criminal authority over non-Indians, but only if the non-Indian victimizes a bona fide domestic partner on a reservation, such as a spouse.

The Navajo Nation has not had the opportunity to fully implement either law because they, frankly, lack adequate financial resources to do it.

As a result, crimes like the murder of Ashlynne Mike continue to occur and continue to be prosecuted in Albuquerque or Santa Fe, more than 200 miles from where the crime occurred.

Get the Story:
Kevin Washburn: Time to empower tribal authorities (The Albuquerque Journal 5/11)

Another Opinion:
Editorial: Police agencies should work on working together (The Albuquerque Journal 5/9)

Also Today:
Navajo Nation to create new tribal alert system in wake of girl’s death (AP 5/9)
Runners dedicate half-marathon to Ashlynne Mike (The Farmington Daily-Times 5/9)
Ashlynne's mother decries slow Amber Alert (The Farmington Daily-Times 5/8)
Word of caution shared at Ashlynne Mike funeral (The Farmington Daily-Times 5/7)

Related Stories:
Tribes to finally see funding to exercise jurisdiction over non-Indians (5/9)
Large crowd gathers to say goodbye to slain 11-year-old Navajo girl (5/6)
Leader of Navajo Nation Council criticizes coverage of girl's death (5/5)
Navajo Nation reeling after arrest made in 11-year-old girl's death (5/4)