By VIDA VOLKERT
GALLUP, N.M. (AP) _ Dale West, an experienced investigator with the Navajo Department of Criminal Investigations, broke down in tears on his way to 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike's funeral May 6, 2016, and could not make it to the Farmington Civic Center where more than 1,600 people gathered to say goodbye to the beloved child.
``Everybody has different reactions when they break down,'' said West, who in recent months was promoted to director of the department. ``For me, it did not hit me until I was tasked with going to the funeral, and I was on my way there, and I couldn't do it, and I couldn't make it. It's those kinds of challenges that hit you.''
West was the supervisor of criminal investigations in the Shiprock District when Mike was kidnapped and taken to a remote location in the desert where she was raped and brutally murdered. West had been to the crime scene, and was instrumental in processing evidence that lead to the capture of Tom Begaye Jr. _ who was ultimately found guilty in connection with Mike's death.
Begaye Jr. was sentenced to life in prison Oct. 20, 2017.
``We've had other cases where an individual came by, picked up a girl, and then took her out to the middle of nowhere, but not to that level,'' West said. ``We have a lot of homicides on the Nation, multiple assaults, especially with domestic violence. You'll have an individual take a girlfriend or a wife out to the middle of nowhere and assault them. Those kinds of dynamics are fairly similar and, unfortunately, they happen more regularly. But children are not too common.''
For Gilbert Yazzie, a former police officer with the Drug and Gang Enforcement Unit of the Navajo Police Department who was recently promoted to criminal investigator, the breaking point was March 15, 2015, when Navajo Police Officer Alex Yazzie was gunned down and killed while responding to an active shooter call in the Sanostee area.
Gilbert Yazzie said he was among a group of officers with the Navajo Nation Police Department who had been deployed to pursue a suspect who reportedly beat up his mother and wife with a pistol. The suspect, identified as Justin Fowler, led the officers on a high-speed chase to Red Valley, Arizona, where Fowler fired an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, killing Officer Alex Yazzie and wounding officers James Hale and Herbert Frazier.
``It was pretty much the hardest thing that ever hit me in my 18 and a half years with the Navajo Police,'' Gilbert Yazzie said, recalling the shooting, and the moments the officers fell. ``That would stay with me forever.''
Frazier was shot in the shin and Hale was shot in the right leg, which had to be amputated. The suspect was also shot and killed. Gilbert Yazzie credited the late police officer, Houston Largo, with saving Hale's life.
``He was the one who basically saved James Hale after he got shot. He was bleeding. (Houston Largo) had a tourniquet on him. Put the tourniquet on to almost stopping the bleeding. Otherwise, we would have lost James.''
Two years later, Houston Largo was shot and killed while responding to a domestic disturbance call in Casamero Lake. The suspect, Kirby Cleveland, was arrested, charged with murdering Largo and is in custody awaiting trial.
``I responded there as well,'' Gilbert Yazzie said.
CRACKING DOWN CRIME
Both Gilbert Yazzie and West said they decided to become criminal investigators because they were moved by a desire to get more involved in the investigation and prosecution of crime on the Navajo Nation, where most crimes or 90 percent of the cases _ are related to drug or alcohol abuse, and the top cases in terms of volume include aggravated assault and sexual assault, according to West.
``The violations against not just women and children, but where we are seeing the rise is on sexual assaults on men on men,'' West said. ``So that's where we are seeing a spike. It's increasing.''
West could not immediately release statistics on the number of cases investigated by his office because data is kept manually, a challenge the department is trying to overcome with the collaboration of the Division of Public Safety Director Jesse Delmar and Navajo Chief of Police Philip Francisco.
``One of the things that CI is different than patrol, they are on electronic data base where they input in a computer. CI is all paper files,'' West said. ``We never had the funding to implement a data base. What we are working on, currently, is on a comprehensive computer program that would integrate public safety. So that's where we are working ... to get everybody on board and that would help our statistical base in tracking a lot of those numbers.''
In March 2016, the Navajo Division of Public Safety reported an average annual criminal statistical data of more than 250,000 offenses, 30,000 arrests, 12,000 DUIs, 250,000 calls for services within the exterior boundaries of the Navajo Nation.
On top of investigating homicides, the Navajo Department of Criminal Investigations also serve as the Nation's coroner, which means the staff investigates all deaths, including death of natural causes.
``We are the OMI for the Nation,'' West said. ``Sometimes people joke we are the grim reaper because we show up at all the death scenes.''
The number of deaths on the Nation ranges from 500-700 a year, with spikes in suicide in certain years such as 2015 and 2016, where at least one of the seven districts reported 20-30 suicides in one year, West said, adding the number of homicides ranges from 30-50 a year.
The task is monumental, considering there are only 27 criminal investigators covering a population of about 300,000 on a landmass as large as West Virginia, or 27,000 square miles. It's a monumental task, he said, that depends on strong collaborations from partners such as FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office.
He takes the recent visit of FBI Director Christopher Wray as a testament to that partnership.
``It's a big deal,'' he said. ``For a director to take notice and recognize the close working relationships that we have was a very positive thing. A lot of times we have policy makers in Washington, D.C., because that's where we get our funding to operate our police department and criminal investigation as well as our department of corrections, through funding from the U.S. Department of the Interior.''
Wray, who made a quick day's trip to the Navajo Nation early March along with the heads of the FBI divisions in Phoenix and Albuquerque, Michael DeLeon and Terry Wade, respectively, visited a homicide scene on route from Gallup to Window Rock, where he met with the Navajo leadership, including Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye. West said his department provided Wray and his group with different crime scenes they could visit to get an idea of the remoteness and challenges processing crime.
``We gave them a variety of scenes and from there they picked and chose. And that's something they didn't want to disclose, their travel routes,'' he said.
West said one of the challenges working with the FBI has always been ``their high turnover because the agents are here only for a few years and then they are transferred to another location.''
``So when you bring somebody in from the outside that starts working enforcement and individuals who don't understand the communities, the tradition, the culture the taboos and the large vast areas that we cover, that can be sometimes a challenge,'' he said. ``If you have a good FBI agent that comes in, the better working relationship they have with the CI, the better the case goes because the CI is familiar with the relatives and who needs to be talked to, the criminal histories, the family histories, the locations where they need to go.''
West said Navajo criminal investigators are recognized not just as tribal employees but also as a federal nexus of federal employees.
``We are very unique because we not only do tribal enforcement but state enforcement and federal enforcement. You don't have any other agencies like that within the Nation that have those duties and responsibilities,'' said West.
Information from: Gallup Independent, http://www.gallupindependent.com
Wells Fargo Donates $13M to Native Groups in First Phase of $50M Commitment
One grant recipient is the GRID Alternatives’ Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund. The organization helps tribal communities achieve clean energy goals while providing financial savings and job training opportunities. (Photo Credit: GRID Alternatives)
To support greater economic empowerment in tribal communities, the Wells Fargo Foundation has awarded nearly $13 million to nonprofits supporting American Indian and Alaska Native communities as part of its five-year, $50 million commitment to expand its focus on tribal philanthropy. The funding will help increase homeownership, energy sovereignty and workforce development on tribal lands, promote development of native owned small businesses, and help build capacity for nonprofits to better serve their clients in Indian Country.
The grants to 25 organizations range from $50,000 to $5 million and fall into four broad focus areas:
- Helping tribal members succeed financially. Grants to organizations like Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition and Cook Inlet aim to help tribal members build financial assets that can be passed from one generation to another or leveraged for post-secondary education or starting a business. Grants to ONABEN and American Indian Chamber of Commerce Education Fund will promote entrepreneurship and development of native owned businesses.
- Advancing tribal homeownership. Grantees First Nations Oweesta, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, Minnesota Housing Partnership and the National American Indian Housing Council are among several focused on tribal housing initiatives including down payment assistance, affordable housing solutions and expanding the capacity of Native Community Development Financial Institutions.
- Advancing energy sovereignty. A $5 million grant to GRID Alternatives provides seed funding for the organization’s Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund to catalyze the growth of solar energy and job training opportunities on tribal lands.
- Capacity building for native nonprofits. Native nonprofits serving critical needs in Indian Country — including the National Indian Council on Aging, the Indian Land Tenure Foundation and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society — received awards to build their organizational capacity and expand services.
“We believe it is important to support nonprofit and community organizations that empower tribal communities to determine their own way of life on their own lands — according to their time-honored cultures, traditions and beliefs — while also providing access to the tools and opportunities that can lead to financial success and well- being,” states Jon Campbell, President of the Wells Fargo Foundation.
Spearheading the initiative is veteran banker Dawson Her Many Horses. An enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, Her Many Horses brings 16 years of banking experience to the dedicated role. As senior vice president and senior relationship manager, he works closely with Cora Gaane, head of the bank’s National Tribal Philanthropy, as well as a cross-functional advisory council focused on identifying and addressing challenges within American Indian/Alaska Native communities through Wells Fargo’s business and operations, stakeholder and community engagement, policy and philanthropy. Based in Las Vegas, Her Many Horses serves customers throughout the United States.
Dawson Her Many Horses with Dr. Crazy Bull at the 25th Anniversary Gala for the American Indian College Fund. (Photo Credit: American Indian College Fund)
Wells Fargo has served tribal governments and communities for more than 50 years and currently provides capital and financial services to more than 200 tribal entities in 27 states. In 2016, the company developed and published an Indigenous Peoples Statement in consultation with tribal leaders, indigenous stakeholders and their representatives, to help guide Wells Fargo’s decision making for projects where proceeds of Wells Fargo financing may potentially impact American Indian, Alaska Native or other indigenous communities.
“We want to play a larger role in the development of tribal economies because we believe once tribes become financially successful, they also become more sovereign,” states Patty Juarez, National Diverse Segments Director. (Photo Credit: Wells Fargo)
The following organizations received funding from the Wells Fargo Foundation in 2018, the first year of Wells Fargo’s five-year commitment:
- Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians Economic Development Corp.
- Americans for Indian Opportunity
- American Indian Chamber of Commerce Education Fund
- American Indian College Fund
- American Indian Science and Engineering Society
- American Indian Graduate Center
- American Indian Higher Education Consortium
- Cook Inlet Lending Center
- Enterprise Community Partners
- First Nations Oweesta
- GRID Alternatives’ Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund
- Housing Assistance Council
- Indian Land Tenure Foundation
- Local Initiatives Support Corporation
- Minnesota Housing Partnership
- Native American Finance Officers Association
- National American Indian Housing Council
- National Congress of American Indians Fund
- National Indian Council on Aging
- Native Americans in Philanthropy
- Neighborhood Reinvestment
- Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition
- Operation Tiny Home
- Prosperity NOW
How to Apply:
National nonprofit organizations serving individuals, families and businesses in Indian Country who wish to be considered for a grant under the foundation’s commitment should contact AIANPhilanthropy@wellsfargo.com to determine eligibility. Community-based, local 501(c)(3) organizations serving the American Indian/Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities can continue to apply for grants through Wells Fargo’s online tool.
National Center Awarded $75,000 UPS Grant
The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (The National Center) was recently awarded a $75,000 grant from the UPS Foundation. The National Center will use the grant to further develop and promote the Native Edge portal – the organization’s innovative online platform that connects Native job seekers with employers and provides interactive educational business content to its users. The UPS Foundation drives global corporate citizenship and philanthropic programs for UPS.
“The National Center is honored to have the support of The UPS Foundation as we further develop the Native Edge portal,” said Chris James, National Center President and CEO. “UPS and The UPS Foundation have been tremendous partners with our organization through the years and have shown incredible corporate leadership. We look forward to continuing this partnership as we work to provide yet another valuable tool to Native American businesses and entrepreneurs.”
The Native Edge portal is an online community designed to be a one-stop-shop for doing business in Indian Country. It has four distinct components:
- The Hire Edge, which helps Native American business owners find employees, and job seekers to find potential employers. It also helps Corporate Diversity Recruiters exceed their diversity goals by matching them with Native American workforce.
- The Native to Native (N2N)Edge community allows businesses and entrepreneurs to network with each other and initiate new relationships.
- The Training Edge, which provides business owners and their employees with interactive tools and training sessions to help in their professional development.
- The Procurement Edge, which is a database for both federal and corporate procurement opportunities, and also allows for Native-owned businesses to partner and team with each other.
Established in 1951 and based in Atlanta, GA, The UPS Foundation identifies specific areas where its backing clearly impacts social issues. In support of this strategic approach, The UPS Foundation has identified the following focus areas for giving: volunteerism, diversity, community safety and the environment.
In 2016, UPS and its active and retired employees invested more than $116.6 million in charitable giving around the world. The UPS Foundation can be found on the web at UPS.com/foundation. To get UPS news direct, visit pressroom.ups.com/RSS.
“The UPS Foundation is honored to support the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development’s mission to increase economic development and entrepreneurship in Native American and Alaska Native communities,” said Eduardo Martinez, president of The UPS Foundation and chief diversity and inclusion officer at UPS. “Our goal is to fund powerful programs that make a lasting difference to the global community.”
About The National Center: The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. With over 40 years of assisting American Indian Tribes and their enterprises with business and economic development – they have evolved into the largest national Indian specific business organization in the nation. Their motto is: “We Mean Business For Indian Country” as we are actively engaged in helping Tribal Nations and Native business people realize their business goals and are dedicated to putting the whole of Indian Country to work to better the lives of American Indian people- both now… and for generations to come.