Pamela Foster and her daughter, Ashlynne Mike. Photo: Pamela Foster
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Navajo mother hails action on bill named in memory of Ashlynne Mike

The mother of Ashlynne Mike, an 11-year-old girl who was kidnapped and murdered on the Navajo Nation, is hailing action on a bill to protect children across Indian Country.

Pamela Foster has been lobbying for passage of S.772, which makes tribes eligible for federal AMBER Alert grants for the first time. Her efforts have been recognized with a new title for the bill -- the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act.

"We now have the opportunity to create plans to protect our children and to prevent other families from experiencing the tragedy of losing a child," Foster said on Monday after the bill passed the House. "Now it is up to those of us who live in Native communities to use the resources that the Congress has provided us and to work tirelessly on behalf of our children.”

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye also welcomed the development. Though the tribe did not have an AMBER Alert in place when Ashlynne went missing, a new mass notification system finally went online in January.

“We thank the House for including the name of our beloved child, Ashlynne Mike, who was taken from us,” Begaye said in a press release. “We appreciate her name being added to the bill itself and we urge members of Congress to pass it as soon as possible.”

Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: S.772, the AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act

Ashlynne and her younger brother were abducted on the New Mexico portion of the Navajo Nation in May 2016 but the tribe was unable to inform the public immediately about the missing children because it lacked an AMBER Alert system at the time. Instead the alert had to be sent out, following a delay, through the state.

While Ashlynne's brother eventually found his way to safety, it was too late for his sister. She was sexually assaulted and murdered by a tribal citizen who has been sentenced to life in prison for the crime.

The tribe, whose reservation spans three states and is the largest in the nation, has since finalized the process to implement an AMBER Alert system. But the rest of Indian Country would benefit once Congress takes S.772 over the finish line.

If the bill becomes law, tribes would eligible for federal AMBER Alert grants for the first time in the history of the program. Currently, grants are limited to states.

"We must do more to ensure Native American tribes have the resources they need to quickly issue AMBER Alerts and give abduction victims the best possible chance to survive," Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the sponsor of S.772, said in a statement.

Though S.772 cleared another major hurdle, Begaye and McCain noted that one more remains. Since the text of the measure was slightly modified in the House, it must be sent back to the Senate for one more vote.

That shouldn't be a major problem as the bill had passed the Senate by unanimous consent last November.

"It’s critical the Senate quickly takes up this much-needed legislation and sends it to the president’s desk,” said McCain.

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Navajo Nation signs contract to implement AMBER Alert system on reservation (December 14, 2017)
Indian Country public safety bills advance amid silence from Trump administration (December 5, 2017)
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