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Tribal Lawmakers Work to Combat Human Trafficking on the Navajo Nation

House Committee on Education and the Workforce

Human sex trafficking has increased sharply throughout the U.S. in recent years. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports, now lawmakers on the Navajo Nation are working to prevent it on the reservation.

Navajo officials passed the tribe’s first law to combat human trafficking in July. It increases penalties and broadens tribal jurisdiction to allow prosecutions in such cases.

Navajo Council Delegate Nathaniel Brown serves on the Arizona Human Trafficking Council. He spearheaded the law and says the main challenge is education.

"There’s no word in Navajo for human trafficking. We have to come together and call it what it is. Even though the law has passed there still this lack of knowledge on what human trafficking is," says Brown.

Officials will soon begin training tribal police, educators and the general public to recognize human trafficking when it happens. There’s currently no data for trafficking on the Navajo Nation, and Brown says one his main priorities is to begin a study.

According to the Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research at Arizona State University, trafficking involving minors in the U.S. has more than tripled in recent years.

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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