WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, welcomed unanimous passage in the Senate last night of the Ashlynn Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act of 2017. The bill, which previously passed the House, now heads to the president to be signed into law. The bill was written in response to the tragic 2016 abduction and murder on the Navajo Nation of 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike – when authorities did not issue an AMBER Alert until a day after Ashlynne’s abduction was reported.
The bipartisan legislation led by Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) would make the Tribal AMBER Alert pilot program permanent, expanding authority to all Indian Tribes to manage and operate their own comprehensive AMBER Alert systems. The bill also authorizes the U.S. Department of Justice to make Indian Tribes that put AMBER Alert systems in place for law enforcement agencies eligible for grants.
“Words cannot capture the gratitude and respect in my heart for Senator Udall and the others in Congress who have shown true compassion for our Native children,” said Pamela Foster, Ashlynn Mike’s mother. “This law will make a difference in the lives of Native families and will provide our communities with access to the same AMBER Alert technology, training and resources that communities elsewhere in the country have access to in the terrible aftermath of a child abduction. No other family should have to experience the nightmare that we have been through.”
“We need to do more to protect our children. We know that Indian Country is no stranger to tragedy, but we cannot allow ourselves to become hardened to such acts of violence,” Udall said. “I am grateful to Senator McCain for his work to ensure that Tribes have the tools they need to timely and adequately respond to child abductions. Every second a child is missing is potentially life threatening, and the AMBER Alert system has proven to be an effective tool in making sure information gets out to law enforcement and the general public quickly. Unfortunately, the AMBER Alert was issued too late to save Ashlynne. But this bill ensures that Tribes are now on a level playing field when it comes to accessing this system.”
Udall also announced Senate passage of the Native American Business Incubators Program Act, a bill he introduced in March of last year that would help launch small businesses and encourage job creation in Indian Country. The bill creates a competitive grant program to establish and fund business incubators that will assist in cultivating Native American-owned small businesses. The incubators will serve as a much-needed resource in Indian Country, where entrepreneurs often face start-up challenges such as difficulty accessing business loans, federal restrictions on leasing and other activities on Tribal land, and proximity to cities since many Tribes are located in highly rural areas.
“The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development thanks Vice Chairman Udall for his commitment to Native American and Alaska Native businesses and entrepreneurs,” said Chris James, President and CEO of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. “Finally establishing business incubators tailored to maximize the unique characteristics and capabilities of tribal and other native-owned business entities will help catalyze growth and success of economic development in Indian Country. We believe the Native American Business Incubators Program Act will have a positive impact on the economic vitality of our communities.”
The Native American Business Incubators Program Act and the Ashlynn Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act of 2017 were part of a legislative package, which also included the following bills. The full package now heads to the U.S. House of Representatives for further action:
S. 1116, Indian Community Economic Enhancement Act of 2017
S. 1223, Klamath Tribe Judgment Fund Repeal Act
S. 269, A bill to provide for the conveyance of certain property to the Tanana Tribal Council located in Tanana, Alaska, and to the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation located in Dillingham, Alaska, and for other purposes.
S. 943, Johnson-O’Malley Supplemental Indian Education Program Modernization Act