VAWA advocate closes operation after DOJ questions funding

Diane Millich, Southern Ute, shared her story of surviving domestic violence, at the signing of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act on March 7, 2013. Photo from National Congress of American Indians

Diane Millich, Southern Ute, shared her story of surviving domestic violence, at the signing of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act on March 7, 2013. Photo from National Congress of American Indians

A survivor of domestic violence has shut down her operation due to a loss of federal funds from the Department of Justice.

Diane Millich, a member of the Southern Ute Tribe of of Colorado, made national news a year ago at the signing of S.47, a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that recognizes tribal jurisdiction over non-Indian offenders. She shared her story of surviving abuse and a near-fatal shooting at the hands of her non-Indian former husband.

“Today is about women like Diane. I’m so grateful Diane shared her story. That takes great courage,” President Barack Obama said at the signing ceremony.

Millich created a non-profit called Our Sister’s Keeper Coalition to help other survivors. But DOJ’s Office on Violence Against Women cut off all federal funds in 2012 and the group shut its doors in September, The Durango Herald reports.

“We were serving a lot of women,” Dedra White, the group’s former director and Millich’s sister, told the paper. “A lot.”

According to DOJ’s Office of Inspector General, Our Sister’s Keeper Coalition received $570,000 in federal funds between 2007 and 2011. Of that amount, auditors found problems with about $200,000 in spending that were considered “unsupported” and “unallowable.”

“We found that, OSKC did not comply with essential grant conditions in the areas of internal controls, grant drawdowns, grant expenditures, budget management and control, grant reporting, and grant goals and accomplishments,” the March 5 report stated. “Most significantly, OSKC commingled the OVW grant funds with funding from other sources, did not consistently identify funding sources for expenditures, made drawdowns in excess of grant expenditures, charged unallowable and unsupported costs to the grant, did not submit accurate or timely grant reports, and did not meet grant goals and objectives.”

Millich did not talk to the paper about the audit.

Get the Story:
Sister’s Keeper under criticism for funds use (The Durango Herald 3/12) DOJ Office of Inspector General Report:
udit of the Office on Violence Against Women Grants Awarded to Our Sister’s Keeper Coalition, Durango, Colorado (Redacted Version), Audit Report GR-60-14-004 (March 5, 2014)

TCC convention speaker blasts governments’ treatment of Natives

By Jeff Richardson, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

FAIRBANKS — A colonial attitude and lack of tribal sovereignty are contributing to an “unconscionable” record for Alaska Native justice, the head of the Indian Law and Order Commission told a Fairbanks audience on Tuesday.

Attendees watch on a television in the hallway as Keynote speaker Troy A. Eid, Chairman of the Indian Law and Order Commission, speaks at the Tanana Chiefs Conference Annual Delegate and Full Board of Directors Meeting Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at the Westmark Hotel.

Attendees watch on a television in the hallway as Keynote speaker Troy A. Eid, Chairman of the Indian Law and Order Commission, speaks at the Tanana Chiefs Conference Annual Delegate and Full Board of Directors Meeting Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at the Westmark Hotel.

In a fiery speech at the Tanana Chiefs Conference convention, Troy Eid blasted the state and federal governments for treating Alaska Natives like second-class citizens. The result, he said, has been an ineffective and unequal system for the state’s indigenous people.

“You are not stakeholders,” Eid told TCC delegates at the Westmark Hotel. “You are members of sovereign governments.”

Eid received a standing ovation following his remarks, which were the keynote speech for a conference with the theme “The time is now.” Eid’s independent commission was created in 2010 to review the justice system for American Indians and Alaska Natives and report its findings to President Obama and Congress.

The report, which was released last November, gave a dismal review of Alaska’s system. 

Eid, a former U.S Attorney for Colorado, called the status of Alaska Natives a “civil rights crisis.” A fourth of Alaska Native youth suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, he said, the same rate as military veterans returning from Afghanistan. Suicide rates in Alaska rival those in Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world.

Alaska has domestic violence rates 10 times higher than the national average, and 12 times higher against women, Eid said.

He said lawmakers in Juneau and Washington could help change that.

The first step, he said, is to stop excluding Alaska Natives from federal legislation that protects Native Americans in other parts of the country. Eid dismissed the argument that the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act requires that Alaska Natives be treated differently than their counterparts in the Lower 48.

“They’re laws Congress made and Congress can revisit it. … It’s not as if these are immutable, unchangeable laws,” he said.

Eid also criticized the state for battling against tribes who want local courts and police, saying that local efforts to combat crime often prove more effective. Tribal courts are now limited to family issues, such as child custody and adoption.

“It is time for the state of Alaska to stop fighting against Alaska Natives,” he said.

Following the remarks, Fort Yukon Chief Steve Ginnis asked delegates to consider a resolution that would ask the federal government to treat Alaska Natives under the same civil rights legislation as other Native Americans.

President Jerry Isaac echoed the comments.

“It’s undoubtedly a long struggle with the tribes in Alaska to be recognized in a place that they deserve,” he said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who spoke by videoconference with TCC delegates, was asked if she would pledge to support such a resolution. She said ANCSA has set up a system which creates a special distinction for Alaska Natives, and that identical legislation for Alaskans and those in the Lower 48 isn’t always possible.

However, Congress needs to make sure the end result shouldn’t be unequal treatment for Alaskans, she said.

“We need to be sure that Alaska Natives are treated justly and fairly, as are all Natives,” Murkowski said.

New law offers protection to abused Native American women

Lisa Brunner in Mahnomen County, Minn., home of the White Earth Indian Reservation. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

Lisa Brunner in Mahnomen County, Minn., home of the White Earth Indian Reservation. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

By Sari Horwitz, Washington Post

In WHITE EARTH NATION, Minn. — Lisa Brunner remembers the first time she saw her stepfather beat her mother. She was 4 years old, cowering under the table here on the Ojibwe reservation, when her stepfather grabbed his shotgun from the rack. She heard her mother scream, “No, David! No!”

“He starts beating my mother over the head and I could hear the sickening thud of the butt of the shotgun over her head,” Brunner said. “Then he put the gun back on the rack and called her a bitch. He slammed the bedroom door and sat down on the squeaky bed. And then I heard the thud-thud of his cowboy boots as he laid down, squeaking again, and he went to sleep.”

There were many more beatings over the years, Brunner said. Twenty years later, she said, she was brutally assaulted by her own husband on this same Indian reservation, an enormous swath of Minnesota prairie that has seen its share of sorrow for generations.

An estimated one in three Native American women are assaulted or raped in their lifetimes, and three out of five experience domestic violence. But in the cases of Brunner and her mother, the assailants were white, not Native American, and that would turn out to make all the difference.

President Obama, joined by Vice President Biden, members of women’s organizations, law enforcement officials, tribal leaders, survivors, advocates and members of Congress, signs the Violence Against Women Act in March. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

President Obama, joined by Vice President Biden, members of women’s organizations, law enforcement officials, tribal leaders, survivors, advocates and members of Congress, signs the Violence Against Women Act in March. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

For decades, when a Native American woman has been assaulted or raped by a man who is non-Indian, she has had little or no recourse. Under long-standing law in Indian country, reservations are sovereign nations with their own police departments and courts in charge of prosecuting crimes on tribal land. But Indian police have lacked the legal authority to arrest non-Indian men who commit acts of domestic violence against native women on reservations, and tribal courts have lacked the authority to prosecute the men.

Last year, Congress approved a law — promoted by the Obama administration — that for the first time will allow Indian tribes to prosecute certain crimes of domestic violence committed by non-Indians in Indian country. The Justice Department on Thursday announced it had chosen three tribes for a pilot project to assert the new authority.

While the law has been praised by tribal leaders, native women and the administration as a significant first step, it still falls short of protecting all Indian women from the epidemic of violence they face on tribal lands.

The new authority, which will not go into effect for most of the country’s 566 federally recognized Indian tribes until March 2015, covers domestic violence committed by non-Indian husbands and boyfriends, but it does not cover sexual assault or rape committed by non-Indians who are “strangers” to their victims. It also does not extend to native women in Alaska.

Proponents of the law acknowledge that it was drawn narrowly to win support in Congress, particularly from Republican lawmakers who argued that non-native suspects would not receive a fair trial in the tribal justice system.

For their part, native women say they have long been ill-served by state and federal law. U.S. attorneys, who already have large caseloads, are often hundreds of miles away from rural reservations. It can take hours or days for them to respond to allegations, if they respond at all, tribal leaders say. Native women also have to navigate a complex maze of legal jurisdictions.

“There are tribal communities where state police have no jurisdiction and federal law enforcement has jurisdiction but is distant and often unable to respond,” said Thomas J. Perrelli, a former associate attorney general who was one of the administration’s chief proponents of the amendment. “There are tribal communities where the federal government has no jurisdiction but state law enforcement, which has jurisdiction, does not intervene. And there are still other tribal lands where there is a dispute about who, if anyone, has jurisdiction. All of this has led to an inadequate response to the plight of many Native American women.”

More than 75 percent of residents on Indian reservations in the United States are non-Indians. In at least 86 percent of the reported cases of rape or sexual assault of American Indian and Alaska native women, both on and off reservations, the victims say their attackers were non-native men, according to the Justice Department.


Main Street in Mahnomen, Minn.

Main Street in Mahnomen, Minn. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)


Heavy snow slides off grain and seed storage units on the White Earth Nation reservation.

Heavy snow slides off grain and seed storage units on the White Earth Nation reservation. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)


‘Not enrolled’

The loophole in the American Indian justice system that effectively provides immunity to non-
Indians is the story of a patchwork of laws, treaties and Supreme Court decisions over generations.

At the root of the confusion about Indian jurisdiction is the historical tension over Indian land. As American settlers pushed Native Americans off their tribal lands and then renegotiated treaties to guarantee tribes a homeland, large areas of the reservations were opened for white families to homestead.

That migration led to the modern-day reservation, where Indians and non-
Indians often live side by side, one farm or ranch home belonging to a white family, the next one belonging to an Indian family. It is a recipe for conflict over who is in charge and who has legal jurisdiction over certain crimes.

“The public safety issues in Indian country are so complicated,” said Deputy Associate Attorney General Sam Hirsch, one of the Justice Department officials who focus on tribal justice issues. “No one would have ever designed a system from scratch to look like the system that has come down to us through the generations.”

Over the past 200 years, there have been dramatic swings in Indian-country jurisdiction and the extent of tribal powers.

In 1978, in a case widely known in Indian country as “Oliphant,” the Supreme Court held that Indian tribes had no legal jurisdiction to prosecute non-
Indians who committed crimes on reservations. Even a violent crime committed by a non-Indian husband against his Indian wife in their home on the reservation — as Brunner said happened to her on the White Earth Nation reservation — could not be prosecuted by the tribe.

The court said it was up to Congress to decide who had that authority.

“We are not unaware of the prevalence of non-Indian crime on today’s reservations, which the tribes forcefully argue requires the ability to try non-Indians,” the court said. “But these are considerations for Congress to weigh in deciding whether Indian tribes should finally be authorized to try non-Indians.”

Congress took no action for 35 years.

As a result, native women who were assaulted were often told there was nothing tribal police could do for them. If the perpetrator was white and — in the lingo of the tribes — “not enrolled” in the tribal nation, there would be no recourse.

“Over the years, what happened is that white men, non-native men, would go onto a Native American reservation and go hunting — rape, abuse and even murder a native woman, and there’s absolutely nothing anyone could do to them,” said Kimberly Norris Guerrero, an actress, tribal advocate and native Oklahoman who is Cherokee and Colville Indian. “They got off scot-free.”

In 2009, shortly after taking office, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. was briefed by two FBI agents on the issue of violence on Indian reservations.

They told him about the soaring rates of assault and rape and the fact that on some reservations, the murder rate for native women is 10 times the national average.

“The way they phrased it was, if you are a young girl born on an Indian reservation, there’s a 1-in-3 chance or higher that you’re going to be abused during the course of your life,” Holder said in an interview. “I actually did not think the statistics were accurate. I remember asking, ‘check on those numbers.’ ”

Officials came back to Holder and told him the statistics were right: Native women experience the highest rates of assault of any group in the United States.

“The numbers are just staggering,” Holder said. “It’s deplorable. And it was at that point I said, this is an issue that we have to deal with. I am simply not going to accept the fact it is acceptable for women to be abused at the rates they are being abused on native lands.”

Measuring tape

Diane Millich, left, joins Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Deborah Parker, vice chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes of Washington state, at the bill-signing ceremony in March.

Diane Millich, left, joins Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Deborah Parker, vice chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes of Washington state, at the bill-signing ceremony in March. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)


Diane Millich grew up on the Southern Ute Indian reservation, nestled in the mountain meadows of southwestern Colorado. When she was 26, she fell in love and married a non-Indian man who lived in a town just beyond the reservation.

Not long after they were married, Millich’s husband moved in with her and began to push and slap her, she said. The violence escalated, and the abuse, she said, became routine. She called the tribal police and La Plata County authorities many times but was told they had no jurisdiction in the case.

One time after her husband beat her, Millich said, he picked up the phone and called the sheriff to report the incident himself to show that he couldn’t be arrested, she said. He knew, she said, there was nothing the sheriff could do.

“After a year of abuse and more than 100 incidents of being slapped, kicked, punched and living in terror, I left for good,” Millich said.

The brutality, she said, increased after she filed for a divorce.

“Typically, when you look backwards at crimes of domestic violence, if less serious violence is not dealt with by the law enforcement system, it leads to more serious violence, which eventually can lead to homicide,” said Hirsch, the deputy associate attorney general.

One day when Millich was at work, she saw her ex-husband pull up in a red truck. He was carrying a 9mm gun.

“My ex-husband walked inside our office and told me, ‘You promised until death do us part, so death it shall be,’ ” Millich recalled. A co-worker saved Millich’s life by pushing her out of the way and taking a bullet in his shoulder.

It took hours to decide who had jurisdiction over the shooting.

Investigators at the scene had to use a measuring tape to determine where the gun was fired and where Millich’s colleague had been struck, and a map to figure out whether the state, federal government or tribe had jurisdiction.

The case ended up going to the closest district attorney. Because Millich’s husband had never been arrested or charged for domestic abuse on tribal land, he was treated as a first-time offender, Millich said, and after trying to flee across state lines was offered a plea of aggravated driving under revocation.

“It was like his attempt to shoot me and the shooting of my co-worker did not happen,” Millich said. “The tribe wanted to help me, but couldn’t because of the law. In the end, he was right. The law couldn’t touch him.”

Section 904

Last year, Millich and other American Indian women came to Washington to tell their stories to congressional leaders. They joined tribal leaders in lobbying for the passage of the 288-page reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which included language proposed by the Justice Department that for the first time would allow tribal courts to prosecute non-
Indians who assaulted native women on tribal lands. It would also allow the courts to issue and enforce protective orders, whether the perpetrator is Indian or non-Indian.

Opponents of the provision, known as Section 904, argued that non-native defendants would not be afforded a fair trial by American Indian tribes. In the case of Alaska, the Senate excluded Native Alaskan women because of especially complicated issues involving jurisdiction.

At a town hall meeting, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said that “under the laws of our land, you’ve got to have a jury that is a reflection of society as a whole.”

“On an Indian reservation, it’s going to be made up of Indians, right?” Grassley said. “So the non-Indian doesn’t get a fair trial.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), another opponent, said the Violence Against Women Act was “being held hostage by a single provision that would take away fundamental constitutional rights for certain American citizens.”

The bill passed the Senate last February but was held up by House Republicans over Section 904. They argued that tribal courts were not equipped to take on the new responsibilities and non-Indian constituents would be deprived of their constitutional rights without being able to appeal to federal courts.

“When we talk about the constitutional rights, don’t women on tribal lands deserve their constitutional right of equal protection and not to be raped and battered and beaten and dragged back onto native lands because they know they can be raped with impunity?” Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) argued on the floor.

Underlying the opposition, some congressmen said, was a fear of retribution by the tribes for the long history of mistreatment by white Americans.

With the support of Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a member of the Chickasaw Nation, the House accepted the bill containing Section 904 on a vote of 229 to 196. On March 7, President Obama signed the bill with Millich, Holder and Native American advocates at his side.

The Justice Department has chosen three Indian tribes — the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona, the Tulalip Tribes of Washington state and the Umatilla tribes of Oregon — to be the first in the nation to exercise their new criminal jurisdiction over certain crimes of domestic and dating violence.

“What we have done, I think, has been game-changing,” Holder said. “But there are still attitudes that have to be changed. There are still resources that have to be directed at the problem. There’s training that still needs to go on. We’re really only at the beginning stages of reversing what is a horrible situation.”

Lisa Brunner and her daughter, Faith Roy, fold clothes at home on the White Earth Indian reservation in Minnesota.

Lisa Brunner and her daughter, Faith Roy, fold clothes at home on the White Earth Indian reservation in Minnesota. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)


‘Sliver of a Full Moon’

Last summer, several Native American survivors of domestic violence from around the country put on a play, “Sliver of a Full Moon,” in Albuquerque. The play documented the story of the abuse and rape of Native American women by non-Indians and the prolonged campaign to bring them justice.

Using the technique of traditional Indian storytelling, Mary Kathryn Nagle, a lawyer and member of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, wove together their emotional tales of abuse with the story of their fight to get Washington to pay attention.

Millich and Brunner played themselves, and actors played the roles of members of Congress, federal employees and tribal police officers who kept answering desperate phone calls from abused native women by saying over and over again, “We can’t do nothin’, ” “We don’t have jurisdiction,” and “He’s white and he ain’t enrolled.”


Lisa Brunner, seated, with her daughters Samantha, left, and Faith Roy.

Lisa Brunner, seated, with her daughters Samantha, left, and Faith Roy. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)


Brunner portrayed herself in a play that told the story of the abuse and rape of Native American women by non-Indians and the campaign to bring them justice.

Brunner portrayed herself in a play that told the story of the abuse and rape of Native American women by non-Indians and the campaign to bring them justice. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)


By that time, Brunner’s intergenerational story of violence and abuse had taken a painful turn. Her youngest daughter, 17, had been abducted by four white men who drove onto the reservation one summer night. One of them raped her, Brunner said.

It was the real-life version of author Louise Erdrich’s acclaimed fictional account of the rape of an Ojibwe woman by a non-Indian in her 2012 book, “The Round House.” In both the real and the unrelated fictional case, the new congressional authority would not give the tribe jurisdiction to arrest and prosecute the suspects, because they were not previously known to the victim.

Last week, inside her home on the frigid White Earth Nation, which was dotted by vast snowy cornfields and hundreds of frozen lakes, Brunner brought out a colorful watercolor she had painted of three native women standing in the woods under a glowing full moon. The painting was the inspiration for the title of Nagle’s play, she said, but it’s also a metaphor for the new law.

“We have always known that non-
Indians can come onto our lands and they can beat, rape and murder us and there is nothing we can do about it,” Brunner said. “Now, our tribal officers have jurisdiction for the first time to do something about certain crimes.”

“But,” she added, “it is just the first sliver of the full moon that we need to protect us.”

The lawless ‘end of the land’


Click image to view video

Click image to view video

By John D. Sutter, CNN

February 4, 2014

Editor’s note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion and head of CNN’s Change the List project. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. E-mail him at

Nunam Iqua, Alaska (CNN) — Over the course of several years, Beth’s boyfriend shattered her elbow, shot at her, threatened to kill her, lit a pile of clothes on fire in her living room, and, she told me, beat her face into a swollen, purple pulp.

These are horrifying yet common occurrences here in the 200-person village of Nunam Iqua, Alaska, which means “End of the Land” in the Yupik Eskimo language.

Yet the violence is allowed to continue in part because Nunam Iqua is one of “at least 75 communities” in the state that has no local law enforcement presence, according to a 2013 report from the Indian Law and Order Commission.

“There would be someone to call for help” if there were police, said Beth, a 32-year-old who asked that I not use her real name because her abuser is still free. “Someone who could actually do something — right there, as soon as they get the call.”

Seems reasonable, huh?

Not in rural Alaska.

Here, state troopers often take hours or days to respond, usually by plane.

The flight takes 45 minutes, at minimum.

Alaska State Troopers will tell you they’re doing the best they can to police a state that’s four times the size of California and has very few roads.

The challenges are daunting, to be sure, and I don’t blame the hard-working law-enforcement officers. But the logistics can’t be an excuse for impunity.

Alaska is failing people who need help most.

The rapist next door

High rates of violence

I traveled out here to the village at the edge of land — the kind of place where a Bond villain would hide out, or where WikiLeaks would stash a computer server — in December because the state has the nation’s highest rate of reported rape, according to FBI crime estimates. You voted for me to cover this topic as part of CNN’s Change the List project, which focuses on social justice in bottom-of-the-list places.

There are many reasons Alaska’s rates of violence against women are thought to be so high — from the long, dark winters to the culture of silence and the history of colonization. But the most tangible reason is this: Much of Alaska is basically lawless.

The scope of the tragedy in Nunam Iqua, a Yupik Eskimo village, is unthinkable: Nearly every woman has been a victim of domestic or gender-based violence, rape or other sex crimes, according to women I met in town; a corrections officer in Bethel, Alaska, the regional hub; the director of the women’s shelter in Emmonak, Alaska; and Nunam Iqua Mayor Edward Adams Sr., whose wife was slashed across the face by a family member, he said — and who has a bullet lodged behind his right ear.

“I don’t hear anymore” out of that ear, he said.


 Click here to read rest of story.



Marysville offers local domestic violence services

Source: Marysville Globe

MARYSVILLE — Mayor Jon Nehring has proclaimed October to be Domestic Violence Awareness Month in Marysville. Police and other city officials are donning purple ribbons on their uniforms and on their vehicles in support of raising awareness about domestic violence.

Behind all of the ribbons and proclamations are two women who work specifically to help domestic violence victims in Marysville and other communities. Legal Advocacy Director Lisa Nicholson and Victim Advocate/Prevention Educator Alyssa Morgan have been on the front lines, combating the issue, through Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County in Everett.

The city of Marysville began contracting for their services last February. Nicholson and Morgan share an office in the Marysville Municipal Court building where they provide social service support to victims.

In the past fiscal year, the agency has served 128 residents in Marysville. Services range from legal assistance in criminal and civil courts, to support groups, shelter and transitional housing for victims. Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County also runs the New & Again Thrift Shoppe, through which all proceeds go toward helping victims, and residents of the shelter and transitional housing can receive items at no cost to them.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence states that domestic violence is one of the most chronically underreported crimes. Annually, domestic violence affects more than 4 million Americans, one in three people have witnessed a domestic violence incident, and children who grow up in violent homes are believed to be abused and neglected at a rate higher than the national average, according to statistics.

Nicholson and Morgan hope their broad range of services will reverse the trend.

“Victims should know that, if they call 911, they will be supported,” said Nicholson, who added that victims can also call their free and confidential 24-hour hotline at 425-252-2873. “Know you’re not alone. We’re here.”

Domestic Violence Awareness Month provides an opportunity for citizens to learn more about preventing domestic violence, and to show support for the numerous organizations and individuals who provide critical advocacy, services and assistance to victims. Both women see it as a collective effort between their office, Marysville Police and other city officials. They praise the city for making the domestic violence issue a priority, and believe that Marysville sees the benefit of having legal advocates in the community.

“Marysville is an example to other jurisdictions,” Nicholson said. “We’re a blend of systems-based advocacy, and community-based advocacy, and that offers a more comprehensive set of services.”

Nicholson and Morgan hope that Domestic Violence Awareness Month will not only bring awareness to the issue, but better understanding.

“Victims need support through the process, because it’s not as simple as saying, ‘Just leave,’” Morgan said.

“There are other dynamics,” Nicholson said. “Fear of being hurt, fear of your children being hurt, income, no resources — it’s not easy to pick up and leave.”

They also hope awareness brings more funding for prevention programs, including education as early as elementary school, to help children learn the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships, and an emphasis on not glamorizing teen violence.

“If more people are aware, more victims are willing to call,” Morgan said.

In challenging tribal court, Alaska state goes to bat for man convicted of beating his wife

August 25, 2013 Anchorage Daily News



Earlier this month, when Edward Parks was convicted in Fairbanks of the kidnapping and brutal assault of his girlfriend, the prosecutor told a Fairbanks reporter it was a victory in the “state’s larger war against domestic violence.”

But three months earlier, with Parks sitting in jail awaiting trial for beating Bessie Stearman so badly he broke three of her ribs and collapsed one of her lungs, the Parnell administration intervened on his behalf before the Alaska Supreme Court. In a case that’s still pending, the state government is seeking to void a tribal court order declaring him an unfit parent.

For Natalie Landreth, a Native-rights attorney representing the adoptive parents of one of Parks’ children, the state’s move was an outrageous example of attaching greater importance to its political fight against tribal rights than the protection of the child, who is now 5.

“Why on earth would you step in to defend someone’s right to access a child when he has just been convicted of almost murdering the mother?” Landreth said.

Attorney General Michael Geraghty said the state is intervening on Parks’ side to protect Parks’ constitutional rights, not get his child back.

“I guess I can understand to a lay person how it might appear that we’re supporting Mr. Parks, but I don’t think that’s the case. We’re supporting his due process rights as we would with any other Alaskan,” Geraghty said. “That doesn’t mean we think he’s a good guy, that he should be a parent or that he’s entitled to custody of his kids.”

Parks has his own attorney to defend his rights and the state’s entry into the case on his behalf was optional, Geraghty acknowledged, but he said the state chose to file its own brief in the Alaska Supreme Court because the case was bigger than Parks.

At issue is whether a small tribal court in the village of Minto, 130 road miles west of Fairbanks, could strip Parks of his parental rights to one of his daughters, named “S.P.” in legal filings, and approve her adoption by Jeff Simmonds, the cousin of the child’s mother, and Simmonds’ wife Rozella. According to court filings, S.P. is a member of the Minto tribe, as is her mother, Stearman, the victim of Parks’ rage. Jeff Simmonds is also a Minto tribe member, while Rozella Simmonds is a Zuni Pueblo Indian from the Southwest.

One of Parks’ parents is Alaska Native and Parks himself is an enrolled member of the tribe at Stevens Village, about 60 miles north of Minto on the Yukon River, according to the court filings.

To the state, that meant that the Minto court was trying to enforce its order against a nonmember of its tribe. The Minto court’s declaration on May 7, 2009, that Parks was an unfit parent was improperly reached, the state said in its brief to the Alaska Supreme Court, filed in April.

The proper venue for that question is before a state judge in Fairbanks, not the elders of the Minto court, the state said.

Landreth, from the Native American Rights Fund office in Anchorage, said the state is overreaching and ignoring the years of legal precedent since Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978.


‘sovereignty issues are current issues’


Alaska, like other Western states with significant Native American populations, has had a contentious history with tribal rights. The federal government recognizes more than 200 tribes in Alaska — most of them small, rural villages — and they form parallel governments to the municipalities under state law, and the state itself — at least for duties and rights granted by Congress. Native rights are based in the U.S. Constitution and in aboriginal-rights doctrine subscribed to by the United States. Tensions over tribal sovereignty have grown or subsided, depending on who was governor and what issues were hot at the time.

“Certainly tribal sovereignty issues are current issues, they’re topical issues, I agree with that,” Geraghty said. But the decision to intervene on Parks’ behalf against the Minto tribal court was about Parks’ legal rights, not an effort by the state to restrict tribes.

Landreth doesn’t see it that way. By declaring that Parks shouldn’t be bound by the tribal court even though his daughter, his daughter’s mother, and one of the adopted parents are tribal members, the state is trying to make new, impractical law, she said.

“The legal term for that kind of argument is ‘Just Silly,'” Landreth said. “Tribes, especially in Alaska, are so small that nobody’s going to marry someone in their own tribe because they’re mostly related within two degrees of blood.”

If both parents have to be members of the same tribe for a tribal court to have jurisdiction under the Indian Child Welfare Act, that would foreclose a decision in almost every case except those involving the largest tribes in the state, like the Tlingit-Haida people, she said.




S.P. was born in Fairbanks in 2007. At the time, Bessie Stearman, her mother, was on probation for drug charges, according to the filings with the Supreme Court. By the following January, Parks had been jailed on an assault charge for breaking Stearman’s finger “in a dispute relating to the trimming of S.P.’s fingernails.” The attack came to the attention of a tribal social worker.

In May 2008, with Parks working on the North Slope, Stearman was jailed for probation violations. She asked Rozella Simmonds to care for S.P.

Parks found out, quit his job, and returned to Fairbanks. He learned that the Minto tribal court had granted temporary, emergency custody to the Simmondses, and agreed to that arrangement at least for the time being, though he preferred placing the baby with his mother instead.

Over the course of the next year, the tribe held more hearings and set up a visitation schedule for S.P. with Parks and Stearman. The couple continued in their relationship and eventually had three more children, including a set of twins.

“Yeah, she went back to him,” said assistant District Attorney Andrew Baldock. “As domestic violence cases go, it’s not unusual for that sort of thing to happen.”

Parks got a lawyer, Don Mitchell, an Anchorage attorney who has written extensively about Native law — and who has a problem with tribes as legal entities in Alaska.

Parks demanded that S.P. be returned to him. He accused the tribe of kidnapping her. On May 5, 2009, he “abducted” S.P. from the Simmondses, according to Landreth’s petition. The Alaska Office of Children’s Services, with the help of Fairbanks police, returned S.P. “to her tribal foster home,” Landreth wrote.

Two days later, the tribal court convened again, this time in a hearing to terminate the parental rights of Stearman and Parks. The court met in Minto. Stearman, Parks, Parks’ mother and Mitchell participated over a speakerphone in the Tanana Chiefs Conference office in Fairbanks.

Parks told the court it had no jurisdiction over him. Mitchell wanted to speak on Parks’ behalf, but was told by a “court facilitator” — a clerk of sorts — that lawyers are only allowed to advise their clients and submit written documents, not make oral arguments.

The court allowed the interested parties to speak, went into closed session, and returned with its verdict: S.P.’s parents were unable to provide a “violence-free environment” and were not fit as parents. The child would continue to live with Stearman’s cousin and his wife.




Parks and Stearman filed suit in Superior Court in Fairbanks on Sept. 17, 2009, trying to get S.P. back. Mitchell originally represented him. The judge, Paul Lyle, refused Landreth’s request to dismiss the case, ruling that Parks was denied due process by the Minto court.

While the case was kicking back and forth between Lyle’s court and the Alaska Supreme Court, Parks lost control again, this time apparently worse than at any other time.

On Dec. 18, 2011, according to the Fairbanks News-Miner, Parks took Stearman to an area near South Cushman Street in Fairbanks and began beating her. He brought her home, tied her with a belt, and kicked and choked her some more. Parks held her for two days, refusing to take her to the hospital until she promised not to call police.

“There were some very small children that were in the residence,” Baldock, the prosecutor, said in a telephone interview. “She was not physically able to go to the hospital — she had a collapsed lung and a couple broken ribs and the children were just kept in the other room away from her.”

But not S.P. She was safe with Jeff and Rozella Simmonds.

Parks was arrested. On Feb. 9, 2012, a Fairbanks grand jury handed up a seven-count indictment that included two kidnapping charges. Another count was for witness tampering. From his jail cell, Parks continued to try to get Stearman to not testify against him, Baldock said. Parks also used delaying tactics to put off the trial, apparently believing Stearman would change her mind, Baldock said.

It didn’t happen. She testified against him. After a one-week trial, the News-Miner reported, he was convicted Aug. 12 on all counts.

Baldock said he was carrying out state policy to aggressively pursue domestic violence cases under Gov. Sean Parnell and Attorney General Geraghty’s “Choose Respect” campaign.

“I can’t speak anything about the civil stuff,” Baldock said, referring to the state’s role in the Minto tribal case, “but certainly from the attorney general on down, there’s a real impetus in making sure that these kind of cases are handled appropriately.”

The civil lawsuit had ground along as Parks waited for trial in his jail cell in Fairbanks. The state intervened on his behalf April 26.

“Having the government in your corner is certainly a useful situation for any litigant,” said Mitchell, Parks’ attorney. “I viewed it as a helpful development.”

Mitchell had to drop out of the case because he had represented both Stearman and Parks, and they had become adversaries in the criminal case. Each now has their own attorney in the civil case. He still believes it was right to pursue the lawsuit.

“At the heart of this problem is the fact that every single person who lives in a village is a citizen of the state of Alaska who is entitled to have access to the same procedural and substantive protections as any other citizen of Alaska, and that has been thrown out the window in the political enthusiasm for the invention of Indian tribes in Alaska and the further invention of tribal courts,” Mitchell said.

But Landreth said the tribal court got it right years before.

“Respondent now has 43 criminal entries on Court View,” she wrote in 2012 in her second petition to the Alaska Supreme Court, referring to Parks’ record in the state’s on-line court database. “As this case has progressed, the wisdom of the Minto Tribal Court’s decision to place S.P. in the Petitioners’ (Simmondses) stable home has become even more apparent.”

The matter is pending in the Alaska state courts. Parks is due to be sentenced in February.


Reach Richard Mauer at or 257-4345.

Jackson Katz: Violence against women—it’s a men’s issue

Jackson Katz asks a very important question that gets at the root of why sexual abuse, rape and domestic abuse remain a problem: What’s going on with men?

Why you should listen to him:

Jackson Katz is an educator, author, filmmaker and cultural theorist who is a pioneer in the fields of gender violence prevention education and media literacy. He is co-founder of Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP), which enlists men in the struggle to prevent men’s violence against women. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, MVP has become a widely used sexual and domestic violence prevention initiative in college and professional athletics across North America. Katz and his MVP colleagues have also worked extensively with schools, youth sports associations and community organizations, as well as with all major branches of the U.S. military.

Katz is the creator of popular educational videos including Tough Guise: Violence, Media and the Crisis in Masculinity. He is the author of The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help and Leading Men: Presidential Campaigns and the Politics of Manhood. He has also appeared in several documentaries, including Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes and MissRepresentation.

“After I watched this talk, my first thought was, ‘If only every man, woman and teenager could see this video and hear this message.'” – Daily