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Official says Alaska should back tribal rights

Posted: December 8, 2013 - 1:08am

ANCHORAGE — The chairman of the U.S. Indian Law & Order Commission is sharply criticizing the state’s treatment of native Alaskans, saying the colonial model is “alive and well in Alaska,” and calling the public safety in rural Alaska a national disgrace.

Troy Eid was in Anchorage this week to present a recent report that addresses the successes and failures of reservation justice programs, and makes recommendations on new laws and policies.

The Nov. 12 report also chastised the state for opposing Alaska Natives who want their own village courts and police. The report said Alaska was falling behind the rest of the nation in providing a secure environment in rural villages.

“What’s so shocking about Alaska is that you have the most rural state in the country, and you have the most centralized law enforcement in terms of how the state provides — and fails to provide — services,” Eid said. “We cling to this model because we know it and because there’s a lot of perverse pleasure taken in controlling the lives of other people. ... The colonial model, which is alive and well in Alaska, does not work.”

Eid told an Anchorage crowd Wednesday that public safety and security are so bad in rural Alaska that it had become a national disgrace, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

“I don’t claim to be an Alaskan,” said Eid, a former U.S. Attorney for Colorado, “but I know injustice when I see it.”

Eid made his comments at the 23rd annual Bureau of Indian Affairs Tribal Providers Conference.

He said he received a letter from state Attorney General Michael Geraghty acknowledging that public safety was deficient in Alaska’s villages, but saying that increasing tribal court and police power would subject non-Natives to a justice system they couldn’t change democratically.

Geraghty told The Associated Press on Friday that he met with Eid and two other commission members Wednesday and had a positive and forthright discussion. He said he disagrees with the commission’s recommendation that Congress establish a reservation system in Alaska. But he agrees that there’s room for improvement.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for the state to work cooperatively with local tribes to enhance public safety in these communities,” he said. “And we’ve already started down that path.”

Congress established the commission in 2010 and directed it to hold hearings and meetings around the country and to report its findings to the president and Congress.

withTribal courts exist in Alaska, but they mostly deal with family matters, such as adoption.

The state recognizes the jurisdiction of tribal courts over village members. But it recently challenged a decision by the Minto tribal court that removed the parental rights of a convicted wife beater, arguing the tribal court exceeded its authority because the man was enrolled in another village.

Eid and commission member Carole Goldberg of the UCLA School of Law criticized the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, which paved the way for the trans-Alaska oil pipeline by settling Native land claims. That law established regional and village corporations in place of reservations.

Goldberg said the law was the “last gasp of termination policy” designed to separate Natives from their traditional lands. Native American tribal authority has been recognized by laws passed since then, although Alaska often was written out of legislation, such as the Violence against Women Act, Eid and Goldberg said.

“Alaska has been left behind because of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act,” Goldberg said.,

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