And press release:
Begich Wants Parnell to Change Stance on Village Public Safety Issues, Violence Against Women Act
“We’ve suffered these problems long enough.”
In a letter sent yesterday, U.S. Senator Mark Begich urged Alaska Governor Sean Parnell to change his stance on tribal jurisdiction issues and to reconsider his support for a provision in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that prevents Alaska tribes from using local authority to protect victims and prevent violent behavior.
“There is a long narrative in Alaska’s history that points to the lack of readily available state law enforcement and judicial systems as key contributors to the public safety problems plaguing rural villages, which is still true today,” Begich wrote. “We’ve suffered these problems long enough. How many national reports documenting horrific conditions in rural villages must we withstand before we choose to solve the local and tribal jurisdiction issues?”
Begich was referring to the recent report from the Indian Law and Order Commission, “A Roadmap for Making Native America Safer” which singled out Alaska’s rural communities and villages for their staggering rates of domestic violence, suicide and sexual assault. The reported pointed to more local and tribal control as a solution to improve the situation in rural communities while calling the State’s approach to criminal justice issues “fundamentally on the wrong track.”
In his letter, Begich noted the good work the Choose Respect campaign has done to raise awareness on the issue of domestic violence and sexual assault prevention. However, he encouraged a full court press for improving village public safety using all available resources. “…as statewide leaders, we must choose to solve rural public safety problems and make tough decisions about greater local control,” said Begich. “I believe the way to truly show respect to the people and families of rural Alaska, is by trusting them with the authority to take responsibility for public safety in their communities.”
In the letter Begich, who sits on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, informed Parnell that the committee will hold a legislative hearing on S. 1474, the Alaska Safe Families and Villages Act, on April 2. The bill seeks to improve the delivery of justice in Alaska Native villages by encouraging the State of Alaska and federally recognized tribes to enter into intergovernmental agreements relating to the enforcement and adjudication of State laws dealing with drug and alcohol offenses. The bill also includes the repeal of VAWA section 910, which has been a major point of contention since last spring for its singling out Alaska tribes from the expanded authorities offered to tribes in the Lower-48.
At the request of the Alaska Federation of Natives, the Bristol Bay Native Association, the Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC) and other groups, Senator Begich has agreed to offer amendments to S. 1474 to strengthen the current bill to clarify tribal authority over matters critical to addressing village public safety.
“TCC appreciates Governor Parnell’s Choose Respect public awareness campaign to prevent domestic violence, but we need to do more to empower villages and tribes to combat these issues,” said Victor Joseph, president of TCC. “Safe Families and Villages would give tribes and tribal courts local control to make their communities safer and reverse these disturbing trends.”
“This is a good first step to address very serious circumstances which are long standing, pervasive, and crippling to our communities,” said Julie Kitka, president of AFN. “AFN looks forward to effective and timely action by the Obama Administration and the Congress.”
Begich has long been a supporter of strengthening local capacity, and introduced the first version of the bill in 2009. Begich introduced a revised version last fall. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is a co-sponsor.
Begich’s letter to Parnell is attached.