You are here Sen. Murkowski reverses position on ‘Alaska exception’ to domestic violence law

By Sari Horwitz, The Washington Post

The 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act was heralded by President Barack Obama as a significant step for Native American women because it allows tribal courts to prosecute certain crimes of domestic violence committed by non-Native Americans and enforce civil protection orders against them.

Before the bill passed the Senate, however, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, added Section 910, known as the “Alaska exception,” that exempted Alaska Native tribes. Murkowski argued that her provision did not change the impact of the bill since even without it, the bill pertained only to “Indian country,” where tribes live on reservations and have their own court systems. As defined by federal law, there is almost no Indian country in Alaska.

Now, after pressure from Alaska Natives, Murkowski is reversing her position and trying to repeal the provision she inserted.

The senator’s change of mind is the subject of much debate in Alaska, with state officials saying that ending the exception won’t make any difference for Alaska Natives because it only applies to Indian country and the state already takes action to protect Native women and children. Tribes and the Justice Department, on the other hand, argue that repealing the provision will have a significant impact.

Associate Attorney General Tony West, who called for the repeal of the “Alaska exemption,” says that the state needs to enforce tribal civil protection orders in cases of domestic violence and that the legislative change would send a strong message about tribal authority.

“It’s important to send a very clear signal that tribal authority means something, that tribal authority is an important component to helping to protect Native women and Native children from violence,” said West, who testified in June before a hearing in Anchorage of the Task Force on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence. “Those civil protective orders can help to save lives.”

Murkowski’s provision, which was originally an amendment she co-sponsored with Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, in 2012, was supported by state officials. Begich has also changed his position since then.

Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty and Gary Folger, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, have said that Alaska is already enforcing civil protection orders issued by tribes to try to keep one person from stalking or committing abuse or violence against another person.

But Murkowski’s “Alaska exception” reopened a contentious debate surrounding criminal jurisdiction over Alaska Native villages, and it has created confusion among law enforcement officials.

Alaska Native women protested Murkowski’s exception, and the Indian Law and Order Commission called it “unconscionable.”

“Given that domestic violence and sexual assault may be a more severe public safety problem in Alaska Native communities than in any other tribal communities in the United States, this provision adds insult to injury,” the commission said.

Troy Eid, a former U.S. attorney and chairman of the commission, said that only one Alaska Native village has a women’s shelter. He and the other commissioners were stunned by what they heard in remote Alaska Native communities, he said.

“We went to villages where every woman told us they had been raped,” Eid said. “Every single woman.”

On her Facebook page last year, Murkowski wrote: “It hurts my heart that some Alaskans may think I do not fully support protecting Native women from violence with every fiber of my being.”

“In Alaska, we have one, and only one reservation: Metlakatla,” Murkowski wrote. “The other 228 tribes have been described by the U.S. Supreme Court as ‘tribes without territorial reach.’ The expansion of jurisdiction over non-members of a tribe is a controversial issue in our state, and what works in the Lower 48, won’t necessarily work here.”

Murkowski said she still has concerns about repealing the exemption but said in a statement: “We must turn the tide of the rates of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse in our state.”

Johnson Legislation Helps Indian Country Adoption Tax Credit

By Mark Brown, KELO.com

Washington D.C. (KELO AM) – U.S. Senators Tim Johnson (D-SD), James Inhofe (R-OK), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) today introduced the Tribal Adoption Parity Act. The legislation ensures parents adopting American Indian and Alaskan Native children through tribal courts are treated fairly under our nation’s tax code by making it easier for adoptive parents across Indian Country to claim the full adoption tax credit for “special needs” children.

“The Tribal Adoption Parity Act will provide financial relief for families in South Dakota by making it easier for adoptive parents in Indian Country to claim the full adoption tax credit,” Johnson said. “It is unacceptable that parents who adopt an Indian child through a tribal court are prevented from accessing the financial relief that is provided to adoptive families in non-tribal areas. This bill addresses an oversight in our tax code by ensuring that adoptive parents throughout Indian Country receive fair tax treatment.”

Under current law, parents adopting a child who has been determined by a State as “special needs” can claim the full adoption tax credit regardless of their qualified adoption expenses.  Congress created the “special needs” determination to provide an added incentive for parents adopting children who might otherwise be difficult to place in adoptive homes.  In Fiscal Year 2011, 84 percent of the nearly 50,000 children adopted through public agencies were designated as having “special needs.”  Parents adopting children through tribal courts, however, are currently ineligible for the special needs adoption tax credit.  This unfortunately results in parents and children throughout Indian Country unfairly missing out on an important tax credit that would make a significant difference in their day-to-day lives.  Becoming eligible for the special needs adoption tax credit would help further reduce the financial costs associated with adoption and lessen administrative burdens.

In 1978, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act that gives Indian tribes exclusive jurisdiction over custody proceedings involving Indian children within a reservation.  The special needs adoption tax credit currently fails to recognize the authority that tribal governments have over adoption proceedings of Indian children. The Tribal Adoption Parity Act would amend the Internal Revenue Code to provide fair tax treatment to parents adopting Indian children through tribal courts.  As a result, a tribal government would be permitted to designate an adoptive Indian child as having “special needs.” This legislation would ensure that families in Indian Country are treated fairly by providing the same financial relief that adoptive families currently receive across the nation.

The bill has been endorsed by organizations such as the National Indian Child Welfare Association, the Child Welfare League of America, Voice for Adoption, the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, the Donaldson Adoption Institute, and the Joint Council for International Children’s Services.

In 1996, Congress created the adoption tax credit to ease the initial financial burden for adoptive parents.  The adoption tax credit provides a tax credit of up to $10,000 and is adjusted for inflation. The credit was $12,970 for tax year 2013. Since 2003, families adopting children with “special needs” are allowed to claim the full adoption tax credit regardless of their qualified adoption expenses. The definition of “special needs” varies from state to state. Examples of factors that can qualify a child for the “special needs” determination include: age; membership in a minority or sibling group; ethnic background; medical condition; or physical, mental, and emotional handicaps.

The National Taxpayer Advocate Service, an independent organization within the Internal Revenue Service, recommended the adoption tax credit be amended to recognize tribal governments in its 2012 Annual Report to Congress, which can be accessed here.

 

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.

Comprehensive bill introduced to improve lives of Native children

12/9/2013 Cherokeepheonix.org

BY STAFF REPORTS

WASHINGTON – United States Senators Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, introduced a comprehensive plan on Oct. 30 to find solutions to the complex challenges facing Native American children throughout Indian Country.

The bipartisan legislation, Heitkamp’s first bill as a senator, would create a national Commission on Native American Children to conduct an intensive study into issues facing Native children – such as high rates of poverty, unemployment, child abuse, domestic violence, crime, substance abuse, and few economic opportunities – and make recommendations on how to ensure Native children are better taken care of and given the opportunities to thrive. 

Heitkamp and Murkowski are both members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

“We have all heard stories or seen first-hand the struggles that too many Native children and their families face from extreme poverty to child abuse to suicide. Since I’ve been in public office, I’ve worked to address many of these challenges, and I’m proud my first bill as a U.S. Senator will take a serious look at finding solutions to better protect Native children and give them the opportunities they deserve,” said Heitkamp. “Tragically, for children in our nation’s tribal communities, the barriers to success are high and they are the most at-risk population in the country, facing serious disparities in safety, health and education.”

She said the government needs to strive for a day when Native children no longer live in third-world conditions; when they don’t face the threat of abuse on a daily basis; when they receive the good health care and education to help them grow and succeed.

“The federal government pledged long ago to protect Native families and children. We haven’t lived up to that promise. But we can change that,” Heitkamp said.

Murkowski agreed that the federal government must uphold its trust responsibility to tribes, especially to Native children.

“This commission will examine from the lens of justice, education, and healthcare how to improve the lives of our Nation’s native children,” Murkowski said.

Conditions for young people in Indian Country are tragic: 37 percent of Native children live in poverty; suicide rates are 2.5 times the national average for children 15-24 years old; high school graduation rate for Native students is nearly 50 percent, compared to more than 75 percent for white students; and while the overall rate of child mortality in the U.S. has decreased since 2000, the rate for Native children has increased 15 percent.

Tribal governments face numerous obstacles in responding to the needs of Native children. Existing program rules and the volume of resources required to access grant opportunities stymie efforts of tribes to tackle these issues. At the same time, federal agencies lack clear guidance about the direction that should be taken to best address the needs of Native children in order to fulfill our trust responsibility to tribal nations.

To help reverse these impacts, the Commission on Native Children would conduct a comprehensive study on the programs, grants, and supports available for Native children, both at government agencies and on the ground in Native communities, with the goal of developing a sustainable system that delivers wrap-around services to Native children. 

Then, the 11-member commission would issue a report to address a series of challenges currently facing Native children. A Native Children Subcommittee would also provide advice to the commission. The commission’s report would address how to achieve: better use of existing resources, increased coordination, measurable outcomes, stronger data, stronger private sector partnerships, and implementation of best practices.

Murkowski to lead GOP outreach to Native Americans

Source: San Francisco Chronicle

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska’s senior U.S. senator has been picked to lead the National Republican Senatorial Committee‘s “Native American Program.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, in a release, said she was proud to take on leadership of the new initiative. It is aimed at improving communications between Senate Republicans and Native American voters.

NRSC Chairman Jerry Moran said in a release that he’s “thrilled” to have Murkowski involved.

Murkowski serves on the Senate Indian Affairs committee, and received strong support during her 2010 re-election campaign from Alaska Natives.

The NRSC backed Murkowski in the 2010 GOP primary, which she lost to Joe Miller. It then backed Miller as Murkowski mounted a write-in campaign to keep her job.