Alaska Native tribes no longer have to register restraining orders with state

By Matt Buxton, Newsminer.com

FAIRBANKS — Alaska Native tribes will no longer have to jump through extra hoops to have their domestic violence restraining orders enforced by the state.

A legal opinion issued by Alaska Attorney General Craig Richards ruled Alaska law was out of line with the federal Violence Against Women Act, clearing the way for a direct link between tribal courts and state troopers.

“This opinion provides clear direction to officers on the ground as well as the victims they seek to protect,” Richards said in a news release. “There should now be no doubt that these protection orders must be enforced.”

The legal opinion found an Alaska law requiring tribal court-issued restraining orders be registered with courts before they could be enforced was superseded by federal Violence Against Women Act.

The Violence Against Women Act specifically says protective orders issued by Alaska Native tribes, other tribes and other governments do not need to be registered to be enforced.

“The State should not enforce or apply the provisions of state law that conflict with VAWA,” the opinion said, “and should investigate and prosecute violations of tribal and foreign protection orders that meet the full faith and credit requirements set forth in VAWA.”

Tanana Chiefs Conference President Victor Joseph applauded the decision, saying it will help curb domestic violence and empower tribes.

“This will no doubt add to the protection of our Native women and children in our villages,” he said. “It is one less step victims will have to take in order to get the protection from law enforcement that they deserve. It is also a step in the right direction needed to lower the high rates of domestic violence as recognized by the Indian Law & Order Commission’s report.”

The protective orders must still comply with the guidelines set out in the Violence Against Women Act. Those include the tribe having the appropriate jurisdiction over the issue and provide due process.

The protection orders must be for “the protection of victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, or stalking,” according to the federal law.

The order still encourages the tribes to register protection orders with the state court system.

“While not required for enforcement, registration of tribal and foreign protection orders helps officers to protect and serve the public,” the order explains.

The opinion was requested by Department of Public Safety Commissioner Gary Folger.

The jurisdiction of tribal courts is likely to continue to be an important issue in Alaska in coming years.

North Pole Republican Sen. John Coghill has introduced a bill that would give tribal courts jurisdiction over misdemeanor crimes. He said it not only lessens the cost for the state to enforce misdemeanor laws in rural Alaska, but importantly is a better tool to address problems in rural Alaska than the traditional court system.

“The tribal courts are using a restorative justice model that really suits many small villages,” he said. “To be fair, there are some that do it well and some that are not doing it as well as others, but the reality is something has got to happen in the rural communities to allow people to hold each other accountable.”

Granting tribes greater jurisdiction over criminal and civil issues has been a prickly issue for many legislators and administrations, but Coghill said there’s a compromise that can and should be struck.

“We have such a diversity in Alaska,” he said, “and if you can’t find a way to work in those diverse conditions, I think we’ve failed.”

Next week the Tanana Chiefs Conference will be hosting its annual Tribal Court Development Conference in Fairbanks.

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.