[At a January conference, Minnesota tribal police made it clear
they are not waiting for permission from the federal government to
move forward in protecting their members. They are not alone. ]



 Mary Annette Pember 
 March 14, 2018

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 _ At a January conference, Minnesota tribal police made it clear they
are not waiting for permission from the federal government to move
forward in protecting their members. They are not alone. _ 

 Native people experience several risk factors such as poverty,
homelessness, sexual violence, and substance abuse that make them more
vulnerable to becoming victims of sex trafficking. , Shutterstock 


Frustrated with the slow response of federal, state, and county law
enforcement agencies to the devastating toll of sex trafficking in
their communities, several Native tribes are addressing the problem
for themselves.

“The U.S. government has forgotten about us for centuries. We are
always last on the list when it comes to funding. Why should we wait
for them to help us?“ asked Mike Diver, interim chief of the Fond du
Lac tribal police department in Minnesota.

Diver made the remarks during a presentation at a January conference
against sex trafficking in Indian Country held in Palm Springs,
California. Coordinated by the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual
Assault Coalition and the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office
of Violence Against Women, the meeting was the first national DOJ
conference on sex trafficking in Indian Country, according to the DOJ
in response to an email from _Rewire.News_.

Diver and fellow Fond du Lac police officer Kelly Haffield presented
information at the conference about the new Minnesota tribal sex
trafficking coalition, Tribes United Against Sex Trafficking (TRUST),
comprised of representatives from the 11 Minnesota tribes.

Supported by a two-year grant from the Minnesota Department of Health,
TRUST members are working on training tribal police, casino
surveillance staff, and staff at local hotels to recognize instances
of sex trafficking and help tribes create a coordinated method of
responding to the crime and helping victims. Haffield serves as Fond
du Lac’s representative with the TRUST coalition.

Accurate data about rates of sex trafficking in Indian Country is
difficult to come by. The DOJ recently came under fire
during a hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
for its failure to collect data about this activity.

A March 2017 Government Accountability Office report
[] about action needed to
identify numbers of sex trafficking victims found that there were 14
investigations and only two federal prosecutions of sex trafficking in
Indian Country between 2013 and 2016. The authors noted that this data
fails to reflect the actual numbers of sex trafficking victims.

Haffield and others in tribal law enforcement say the 2016 findings
from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey by the
National Institute of Justice (NIJ) are better indicators of the
numbers of victims of sex trafficking in Indian Country. “People are
more likely to respond truthfully to a survey than during a police
investigation,” noted Haffield. She explained that if people are not
under the threat of criminal charges, they are less likely to withhold

NIJ’s 2016 report []
found that 84.3 percent of Native women experience violence in their
lifetimes. Over 56 percent are victims of sexual violence, and 96
percent of these victims experienced violence by non-Native
perpetrators. Haffield noted that trafficking victims frequently fall
into the victims of violence categories cited in the NIJ report.

TRUST coalition members are in the early stages of creating a unified
response to sex trafficking in their communities. Although coalition
members have yet to discuss enacting tribal laws, tribes have the
option of writing their own law codes specifically addressing

To date, four tribes—the Snoqualmie Tribe
in Washington, the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation
in North Dakota, the Fort Peck Tribes
of the Assiniboine and Sioux in Montana, and the Navajo Nation
of Arizona and New Mexico—are known to have passed their own laws
prohibiting sex trafficking on their reservations.

The Navajo Nation passed their human trafficking law in August 2017.
Nathaniel Brown, Navajo tribal council delegate, first introduced the
to the Navajo tribe in April 2017 after attending a conference
[] with several other Arizona tribes
coordinated by the Arizona Governor’s office.

“I saw that we have a breeding ground on Navajo for this crime. We
have high rates of poverty, sexual violence, and drugs. Many of our
people go missing. What we didn’t have was a word to describe sex
trafficking,” Brown said.

“We are hearing stories in our communities about gang activity. Some
Navajo people have come forward with stories about being taken by sex
traffickers,” he added.

At first, leaders were reluctant to believe that sex trafficking was
occurring on the Navajo reservation, explained Brown.

“Members of the Navajo Law and Order Committee told us since we had
no data, the crime didn’t exist. So the law was rejected,” Brown

Brown went back to meet with members of the Sexual Assault Prevention
Subcommittee. “We put our heads together with Eric Gale of the
Navajo Department of Social Services,” Brown said.

“Eric helped us explain [to the Law and Order Committee] that we
don’t know how many cases of sex trafficking aren’t being reported
and we currently have no way to collect or compile data,” Brown

In August 2017, Navajo President Russell Begaye signed the Navajo
Nation law against human trafficking. The law expressly criminalizes
traffickers and creates a category under which to gather data relating
to trafficking. In the past, trafficking activities may have been
included under arrests or investigations of prostitution or sexual
abuse. To date, there have been no arrests under the sex trafficking

According to Brown, the Nation intends to use the law to charge
non-Native people who may be engaged in sex trafficking on the

If used to charge and prosecute non-Natives, this law presents a
direct challenge to the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court ruling _Oliphant v.
Suquamish_, in which tribes lost the authority
to prosecute non-Natives in Indian Country. No tribe has yet
successfully overturned the _Oliphant v. Suquamish_ decision. The
Navajo are clearly taking a national stand.

“We are a sovereign nation. We will continue to fight against these
outdated laws made by non-Native people. We want to make our laws more
powerful to help Native people,” Brown stated.

In an emailed response to questions from _Rewire.News_ about the
Navajo Nation’s intent to prosecute non-Natives under the new law,
Wyn Hornbuckle, deputy director of the DOJ’s Office of Public
Affairs, wrote, “Regarding the Navajo Nation, we’re aware of the
report and will decline to comment at this time.”

It’s clear, however, that tribes are not waiting for permission from
the federal government to move forward in protecting their members.


Deanndra Yazzie, 19, of the Navajo or Dine’ tribe described via
telephone interview with _Rewire.News_ her ordeal when she was lured
into the car of an alleged serial rapist in December 2017. The man,
who allegedly kidnapped and assaulted her for several days, told her
he was going to force her into sex trafficking, Yazzie said.

After Yazzie moved to Phoenix from the town of Chinle, Arizona, on the
Navajo reservation, she lost her job and struggled with drug use. She
was homeless when some non-Native women she thought were friends
invited her to join them on a trip to the grocery store in the car of
a man who was a stranger to Yazzie.

The car stopped abruptly and the friends jumped out. One said to her
as she exited, “Hey, you’re a pretty girl; you should talk him
into giving you some money.”

Suddenly Yazzie was alone with the man, who locked the doors.
Tightening her seat belt, he pulled out a gun and pointed it at her
head, she said. “If you try anything I’m going to kill you,” he
told her, Yazzie recalled.

For the next 48 hours, the man kept her locked in his home where he
alternately beat and raped her, she said, sometimes burning her with a
meth pipe. Yazzie said he injected her with drugs to keep her quiet
and told her of his plans to traffic her out to others for money.

When he spoke of driving to the store, she convinced him to take her
along. The moment he took his eyes away, she jumped out of the car and
rushed into a convenience store screaming for the clerk to call the
police. Frightened, the man drove away.

Although the clerk ignored her pleas to call police, she made her way
to a friend’s house. Later police tracked her down and took her
report. Police arrested and charged 33-year-old Jonathan Rouzan,
accusing him of kidnapping, burning, and assaulting Yazzie, as well as
three other women in separate incidents.

“I had really bad PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] after the
attack and started using heroin heavy,” she said. Eventually,
finding herself sick with no money to buy more drugs, she walked to a
local hospital and went into the detox unit.

“I’m going to counseling now and doing better,” she said.

Yazzie told _Rewire.News_ that she is speaking out publicly about her
ordeal to help others. “No one wants to talk to the police; they
call you a snitch if you do,” Yazzie said.

She has shared her story with other media, including the _Navajo
Times_ [].

“In the Navajo tradition, women are supposed to be private. Talking
about something like this is seen as flaunting yourself,” she said.
But each time she tells her story she grows stronger. “A huge weight
comes off me.”

“Maybe it will help other women come forward and tell their
stories,” Yazzie said. Moreover, Yazzie hopes her story helps put a
stop to men like Rouzan who prey on women like her.


Native people experience several risk factors such as poverty,
homelessness, sexual violence, and substance abuse that make them more
vulnerable to becoming victims of sex trafficking. Traffickers also
target Native people because they are easy to market as exotic or as
representatives of other races, according to law enforcement.

Sex trafficking, by definition of Minnesota state law
[], is a
problem in the Fond du Lac community, where Interim Chief of Police
Diver and Patrol Officer Haffield have found that the majority of
women arrested for drug offenses on the Fond du Lac Reservation
admitted to being coerced to exchange sex for drugs.

“Sex trafficking and drugs go hand in hand. Drugs offer a means to
control victims,” according to Diver.

Minnesota has become a leader in the nation in its response to sex
trafficking perpetrators and victims. Minnesota state law defines
trafficking as “receiving, recruiting, enticing, harboring,
providing, or obtaining by any means an individual to aid in the
prostitution of the individual” or “receiving profit or anything
of value, knowing or having reason to know it is derived from [sex
trafficking].” The state also enacted a Safe Harbor law, a
victim-centered law that excludes juveniles engaged in sex work from
prosecution and includes a service model called No Wrong Door
aimed at ensuring that all people who enter the system, via law
enforcement or social services, are offered victims services.

Minnesota is also a public law 280 state. Under this law
states in which tribes are located have primary responsibility to
prosecute crimes on reservations.

Although tribal leadership may shy away from connection in the public
eye between tribal casinos and sex trafficking, it is a problem that
tribes now realize needs to be addressed, according to tribal law
enforcement representatives at the conference.

“The casinos and reservations are in fact part of sex trafficking
circuits,” Diver said.

The 11 tribes in Minnesota operate a total of 14 casinos. Most have
hotels attached to the properties.

“Before I understood how to recognize the signs of sex trafficking,
I never would have thought in a million years that it was present in
my community,” Diver said.

For instance, casino staff now take notice when a young woman from
three states away accompanying an older man checks into a casino hotel
without any luggage. “When tribal police check up on these women
sometimes we find they have no identification and no additional
clothing beyond several pairs of underwear and bras,” Diver said.

Tribal police are finding that traffickers move women and girls
continuously through the casinos. “New girls mean new customers; the
girls are so terrified of their pimps that they seldom disclose
anything against them,” Diver said.

Traffickers also recruit Native people from reservations where
vulnerable victims of sexual violence and/or drug users make easy
targets. “The stories are usually similar. A young person, often a
victim of sexual violence already, gets involved with drugs, runs away
with a ‘boyfriend’ who is selling drugs. The boyfriend begins
pimping the person out,” Diver said.

Many traffickers are lured to reservations by the belief that all
Native people receive large per-capita casino payments from their
tribes. Thus potential victims provide traffickers with the additional
allure of having cash that can be extorted from them. The Indian
Gaming Regulatory Act allows tribes
[] to issue
per-capita payments to members from casino funds, but only about half
of the tribes offering payouts distribute the large windfalls
often featured in media.

Most payouts are minimal, amounting to less than $1,000 per year.

“I guarantee that there are criminals in Chicago, Milwaukee, and
other major cities who know exactly when members receive their per cap
payments, “ Haffield said.

Criminals may also be aware that law enforcement resources are scarce
in Indian Country. The Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA) was enacted in
2010 as a means for the federal government to help and support tribes
in policing, prosecuting, and providing victims services for tribal
citizens. But, according to a 2017 report
[] by the DOJ’s Office
of the Inspector General (OIG) regarding the DOJ’s enforcement of
TLOA, law enforcement remains severely inadequate in Indian Country,
limiting tribes’ ability to address crime. The OIG report exposes
the DOJ’s failure to meet some of the most basic mandates of TLOA.
Limited resources and geographic isolation are significant challenges
for tribal communities in addressing crime.

One solution to this trafficking-associated problem may lie in the
fine print of regulations of tribal lands. Carla Fredericks of the
Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation (MHA) published a paper
[] with
colleagues from the American Indian Law Clinic at University of
Colorado suggesting that tribes could make use of their regulatory
authority over companies doing business on the reservation. For
instance, the Fort Berthold reservation—home to the MHA tribe, which
oversees leasing to non-Native owned companies of its oil and gas
holdings—in North Dakota has extensive lands included in the Bakken
oil boom development. And crime rates in the Bakken region are rising
In 2013, the number of people charged in federal courts in the region
rose by 31 percent.

Tribes could potentially increase taxes for corporations doing
business on their lands to help cover the costs of additional law
enforcement and victims services associated with increased crime on
the reservation. In their paper, the authors point to a U.S. State
Department report
[]about the link
between extractive industries and sex trafficking. Due to insufficient
funding, tribal law enforcement is woefully unprepared to address
rising crime rates.

The disparity between law enforcement resources for tribes and the
rest of the United States is glaring. For instance, according to a
2013 report, “A Roadmap for Making Native America Safer
[],” created by the Indian Law
and Order Commission, the national average ratio of law enforcement
officers to residents in rural areas is 3.5 per 1,000 residents.
Indian Country, however, was staffed at 1.9 officers per 1,000
residents in 2013; tribal governments do not receive comparable
federal financial support for law enforcement as do surrounding states
and counties.

And according to a 2016 University of Colorado report
“MHA Nation law enforcement does not currently have the jurisdiction
or capacity to address this burgeoning problem, along with the traffic
violations and regulatory issues that have increased with development.
At the most basic level, there are not enough officers to effectively
police the vast stretches of the reservation …. While the MHA Nation
desires to protect their community by preventing trafficking and
holding offenders accountable, the limits imposed by federal Indian
law restrain their ability to act decisively and effectively.”

As Native leaders await change at the state and federal levels, tribal
law enforcement sent a strong message during the Palm Springs
conference. They are not waiting for the federal government to take
action against sex traffickers in their communities.

“Our main goal is to help tribal nations and victims,” Diver

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