Changing Woman, Part Three: The Leader

Published: Monday, September 10, 2018 - 5:00am
Updated: Thursday, September 13, 2018 - 1:21pm

Navajo Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty, whose middle name means “warrior,” has started her own #MeToo movement without the hashtags. She’s confronted her colleagues and has written policies about the violence against women that pervades her culture.

Laurel Morales/KJZZ
Three.
The Leader

Part 1: Kinaaldá

The first episode of Changing Woman focuses on the Navajo coming of age ceremony for girls, one of the most important and sacred rituals is experiencing a resurgence today. We’ll hear parts of the songs and the rituals from the kinaaldá and learn how powerful an impact it can have on a young woman.

Part 2: The Historian

We’ll meet Navajo historian Jennifer Denetdale. Through her story and the book she wrote about her great-great-great-grandparents, we will better understand how women’s power has been repressed.

Part 3: The Leader

Navajo Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty, whose middle name means “warrior,” has started her own #MeToo movement without the hashtags. She’s confronted her colleagues and has written policies about the violence against women that pervades her culture.

Part 4: The Mother

Jeneda Benally is making music that empowers indigenous youth because she wants her daughters to grow up in a world where they feel strong and powerful. She and her brother just released an album called “Fight Like A Woman.”

Part 5: The Healer

Like thousands of other Navajos, Haley Laughter was raised Mormon and had to seek out her people’s spiritual teachings. Today she bridges that cultural gap that so many young Navajos are trying to leap across.

Part 6: The Rockers

The Nizhoni Girls are redefining what it means to be Navajo. They're shaking down their assimilated ways in their songs and holding onto key Navajo beliefs in their activism.

One year before Hollywood’s #MeToo movement, there was a Navajo reckoning. It was started by one courageous leader.

July 20, 2016 was a typical day in the Navajo capital of Window Rock. Delegates were discussing health care, veterans services and a little league team fundraiser. But near the end of the meeting the speaker gave the floor to Amber Kanazbah Crotty, the only female council delegate.

Delegate Crotty stood and looked directly at the speaker as she spoke.

“I have witnessed and I have seen current delegates engage in inappropriate behavior that needs to stop,” Crotty said. “We must look at leadership and look at our role and how we continue to allow the system of rape and of sexual assault to perpetuate here on the Navajo Nation.”

Crotty paused, and tried to pull herself together.

Amber Crotty, addresses the Navajo Nation Council on July 20, 2016 at 01:28:30 in this video. Navajo Nation Council

“I want to say, Speaker, for the record I want to acknowledge as a political appointee, that I was physically groped by a delegate during official Navajo Nation activities,” Crotty said.

What Amber Crotty did was unprecedented. No one had ever taken a stand like this, especially in a room full of Navajo men, the leaders of the largest tribe in the country.

She and other female employees said they had been told not to say anything. And when Crotty took the floor, her colleagues tried to silence her. About five minutes into her testimony, Crotty’s mic was turned off. But she continued to speak… only louder.

“This should not happen on the Navajo Nation on our great nation,” Crotty said. “This should not happen. Ahéhee’.”

In a recent interview Crotty said she knew that the subject among Navajos was taboo.

“Individuals will say if we talk about it, you’ll bring it here,” Crotty said. “You’ll bring it here. And so what I have to remind our elders, is to tell them it’s here and it’s happening.”

Two months before Crotty took a stand, tragedy struck the Navajo Nation.

On May 2, 2016, Ashlynne Mike and her brother Ian didn’t come home from school. Their older sister became suspicious of a red van she saw and she told her parents about it. They called the police and were put on hold. The parents posted the disappearance on Facebook and the Shiprock community launched their own search party.

Ashlynne Mike
A school portrait of Ashlynne Mike.
Central Consolidated School District

The Navajo police department has less than 200 officers to cover 27,000 square miles, an area the size of West Virginia.

When their dad filled out a missing persons report that night, it took seven hours before an Amber Alert went out. Soon afterwards nine-year-old Ian was freed, and ran two miles for help. A couple driving through the reservation picked Ian up and drove him to the Shiprock police station. And still it took several more hours before the FBI issued the Amber Alert.

When the search crew finally found Ashlynne the next day, she had been raped and killed.

“It just touched every life here on Navajo Nation,” Crotty said. “That really physically, emotionally, and spiritually changed what is important here on Navajo Nation.”

As a Navajo lawmaker, Crotty felt it was her duty to do everything in her power to protect the vulnerable. She started by speaking up for the thousands who were too afraid. And now she barely goes a day without someone telling her their story, just as we saw with the movement elsewhere, except Crotty said most Navajo don’t do hashtags. Crotty became their Facebook and their Twitter. She became their ear, their shoulder, their hope that something might change.

“Now we’re looking at how many Navajos are really missing,” Crotty said. “When Ashlynne Mike’s funeral happened, and gosh was that a hard time, a woman came up to me and said, ‘My daughter’s been missing for 12 years. I just pray that she comes home.’ And I asked her how are they supporting you? What do you do when your child’s been missing that long? And there really was nothing. She was like, ‘I’m just waiting for the police.’”

Ashlynne Mike’s death unearthed something painful in Crotty. It triggered her own memories of abuse as a child and trauma surrounding sexual assault as an adult.

“What has been a struggle that I’m still struggling with — I cannot fix everybody’s situation,” Crotty said. “And there’s times that is so frustrating.”

She said for many, their abuse happened years ago and the statute of limitations has run out. It’s too late to seek any justice.

Amber Crotty
Amber Kanazbah Crotty outside the Navajo Nation Council Chamber in Window Rock. Laurel Morales/KJZZ

What Crotty has been able to do is author legislation and successfully lobby for federal funding to install an Amber Alert system across the reservation, which spans four states.

In addition Crotty co-sponsored legislation with Delegate Jonathan Hale to form a sexual assault prevention work group to develop more policies. Hale said he admires Crotty’s leadership.

“I admire her courageousness to acknowledge that this issue didn’t just happen then,” Hale said. “I think people just need to realize that it’s everywhere and that they need to open their eyes to it.”

Hale said Delegate Crotty can’t fight this fight alone.

“A lot more women are going to have to stand up, stand up to the situation, stand up to being leadership and try to make a difference,” Hale said.

Hale and Crotty agreed, there’s still so much more that needs to be done, and not just at the legislative level but at the police, hospital, education and research levels as well.

Crotty said the issue needs to be made a priority.

“It’s killing our people because they’re succumbing to their own abuse, their own neglect, their own violence,” Crotty said. “You literally in Navajo tear a child apart… spiritually, physically, emotionally, you literally tear that child apart.”

Studies show violence is a symptom of oppression, a symptom of built up anger and hurt from the Navajo's own trauma that has never healed.

As overwhelming as it all sounds, Crotty takes it in stride, saying it’s her duty as a leader.

“My great-great-grandma put a prayer in for me,” Crotty said. “She never imagined it would be me. Imagine her story and her life and what she endured for me to be here. She’s literally survived death march and death camp for me to be here.”

Crotty has launched her campaign for a second term in council, so she can continue to give voice to the powerless.

Delegate Crotty is not the first female council member. There’s been a half dozen before her. And they didn’t have it easy either. She said Annie Wauneka literally had to fight to be on the council floor in the 1950s.

“I feel very privileged to be in this time and this space, to be a delegate,” Crotty said. “Things have changed… it is possible.”

 

 

Part 1: Kinaaldá

The first episode of Changing Woman focuses on the Navajo coming of age ceremony for girls, one of the most important and sacred rituals is experiencing a resurgence today. We’ll hear parts of the songs and the rituals from the kinaaldá and learn how powerful an impact it can have on a young woman.

Part 2: The Historian

We’ll meet Navajo historian Jennifer Denetdale. Through her story and the book she wrote about her great-great-great-grandparents, we will better understand how women’s power has been repressed.

Part 3: The Leader

Navajo Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty, whose middle name means “warrior,” has started her own #MeToo movement without the hashtags. She’s confronted her colleagues and has written policies about the violence against women that pervades her culture.

Part 4: The Mother

Jeneda Benally is making music that empowers indigenous youth because she wants her daughters to grow up in a world where they feel strong and powerful. She and her brother just released an album called “Fight Like A Woman.”

Part 5: The Healer

Like thousands of other Navajos, Haley Laughter was raised Mormon and had to seek out her people’s spiritual teachings. Today she bridges that cultural gap that so many young Navajos are trying to leap across.

Part 6: The Rockers

The Nizhoni Girls are redefining what it means to be Navajo. They're shaking down their assimilated ways in their songs and holding onto key Navajo beliefs in their activism.

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