Published March 4, 2018
WINDOW ROCK – The Navajo Nation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are presenting a united front to crack down on major crimes.
In an effort to get to know Indian Country, FBI Director Christopher Wray visited the Navajo Nation on Friday to meet with tribal and law enforcement leaders and discuss safety challenges faced by the country’s largest American Indian tribe. The visit was unprecedented, President Russell Begaye said. Wray is the first FBI director to visit the Navajo Nation.
“We appreciate your presence on Navajo land and for making the effort to learn about us,” President Begaye said. “We also thank the FBI for its quick responses. We have some real challenges, beginning with the size of our reservation, and we need as many people on the ground as we can get.”
The meeting, held at the Office of the President and Vice President, came seven months after Wray was sworn in as director of the nation’s principal federal law enforcement agency. President Donald Trump tapped him for the position in June, following the dismissal of former director James Comey.
Wray previously served as Assistant Attorney General under President George W. Bush, heading the Criminal Division of the Justice Department from 2003 through 2005. During his meeting with tribal leaders Friday, Wray said the FBI has advanced in the past decade.
“One thing I’ve noticed in the bureau now is how much more enthusiastic it is to partner,” he said. “It may have taken us a while to understand what partnership is, but it’s amazing how much more effective we are when we’re all trying to work together.”
Wray compared a partnership between the FBI and the Navajo Nation to relationships the federal agency has with foreign countries. By acknowledging the tribe’s status as a sovereign nation, the FBI can find ways to assist Navajo officers without stepping on their toes.
“I think the bureau is more thoughtful in how it deals with partnerships and understanding that one size does not fit all,” Wray said. “There are lots of different ways to partner. There are ways to find middle ground. We need to find a balance between being helpful and being respectful of sovereignty.”
Also present at the meeting were the heads of the Arizona and New Mexico FBI field offices, Navajo Nation Ambassador Peterson Zah, Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates, Honorable Delegate Edmund Yazzie, Honorable Delegate Raymond Smith Jr., Navajo Nation Police Chief Phillip Francisco and Jesse Delmar, executive director of the Navajo Division of Public Safety.
Chief Francisco commended the FBI for working with Navajo police. With only 200 patrol officers on 27,000 square miles of land, the Navajo force is severely understaffed, he said. With assistance from the FBI, Navajo officers make about 600 felony arrests per year.
Delmar asked the FBI for more manpower on the ground. The Navajo Nation leads Indian Country in major crimes, he said, and it needs help curbing crime.
“The FBI is engaged on the Navajo Nation every day,” he said. “You are our biggest resource. Sometimes you’re our only resource.”
President Begaye briefed Wray on pressing challenges, including human trafficking, drugs, gangs and cyberbullying. He also shared concerns about sexual violence, crimes against children, police officers who are killed in the line of duty, the influx in threats of school shootings, the debate over capital punishment and the lack of cell service on the reservation.
“The communication dead spots are real,” he said. “There are places out there where accidents or criminal activity happen and there’s no way to get the word out.”
Wray pledged to work closely with the Navajo Nation to streamline processes, revamp existing partnerships and provide better protection for the people.
“I’m interested in getting out of Washington and getting my feet on the ground,” he said. “Let’s match our strengths with your strengths. Let’s take your two and our two and somehow make it equal more than four. Let’s be greater than the sum of our parts.”
This BBSNews article originally appeared on Native News Online.