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Bill brings funding for AMBER Alert systems to Indian Country

A tribute to Ashlynne Mike is seen in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The 11-year-old girl was abducted and murdered on the Navajo Nation in May 2016. Photo by Dezzo Stanley

Tribes will finally be eligible for AMBER Alert grants if a bill introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) becomes law.

States already receive federal funds to help them develop child abduction alert systems. But tribes are left out and McCain, a former chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, wants to change that.

“According to data produced by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, there are 7,724 American Indian children listed as missing in the United States,” McCain said in a press release. “We must give Indian tribes the tools they need to help our children and put an end to this tragedy.”

McCain cited an incident in which a 11-year-old girl went missing on the Navajo Nation last May. The tribe wasn't able to send out information about Ashlynne Mike's abduction because it doesn't have an AMBER Alert system of its own.

An alert eventually went out through law enforcement channels in New Mexico, where Ashlynne went missing. She was later found murdered on the reservation. A tribal citizen has been charged in connection with her death.

“Senator McCain’s bill is an opportunity for the Navajo Nation to use federal resources to implement our own AMBER Alert system—it will reaffirm our power to oversee and manage these critical alerts as a Nation, rather than relying on an outside government entity,” Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty said in a press release in support of S.772, the AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act.

“We have to implement the best system possible for the protection and accountability of our Navajo children,” Crotty added.

In addition to bringing AMBER Alert funds to Indian Country, the bill recognizes that resources on reservations are limited. So it authorizes the Department of Justice to waive a requirement for tribes to contribute at least 50 percent of the cost for a grant.

Additionally, the bill defines Alaska Native regional corporations and Alaska Native village corporations as "tribes" so they can be eligible for grants.

The bill was introduced on March 29 and referred to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. A hearing hasn't been scheduled.

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