Department of Justice grants will aid tribal law enforcement and aid Indigenous victims of crime

The US Department of Justice has announced that it will award more than $246 million in grants to Native American and Alaska Native communities to improve law enforcement and justice. The welcome announcement was made in Anchorage on Wednesday at the start of the federal government’s annual tribal consultation conference on violence against women.

Allison Randall, Acting Director of the Office of Violence Against Women Justice, made the announcement at the 17th Annual Consultation Meeting.

“There’s never enough funding, but we want to do everything we can to bring funds to the tribes,” Randall said.

Tribal officials expressed gratitude for the injection of cash, but many had one request: make sure it is not intercepted at the state level.

“I want to see it go straight to the tribes. I don’t want him going to the state,” said Joel Jackson, council president for the organized village of Kake, a Tlingit government in southeast Alaska.

[Alaska again has the nation’s highest rate of women killed by men]

The state has a poor law enforcement and public safety record in Alaskan villages, Jackson said. He cited a $10 million allocation announced in 2019 by then-US Attorney General William Barr that was supposed to help the Villages. It never helped Kake, Jackson said. “Where did that money go? I asked over and over again,” he said.

The federal government announced in 2019 that some of the money would go to both the state government and 20 tribal organizations, but the list did not include Kake.

Jackson recounted the shocking murder of a 13-year-old girl, Kake, in 2013 when it took state troopers 16 hours to arrive in the village. “To me, it still feels like yesterday,” he said. “This young girl lay in the back entrance of a church directly across from our house for 16 hours.”

Lenora Hootch, tribal leader of Emmonak Native Village, a Yup’ik government on the lower Yukon River, also said it was a mistake to rely on the state for public safety. “The State of Alaska has failed in its responsibility to provide adequate and timely law enforcement and justice services to Alaska Natives in rural Alaska, including the villages in our Alaska region. State,” Hootch said in his testimony. For rural natives, she said of the state’s centralized law enforcement system, “It doesn’t work, and it never has.

The shore of Kake, a Tlingit village of around 500 people, is seen in 2012. The following year, a 13-year-old girl was the victim of a shocking murder. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Division of Community Affairs)

She said isolated Emmonak is blessed with two village policemen and a state trooper, but the trooper is also responsible for other villages in the area. And the service is limited.

“After 5 p.m. the answering machine is turned on and directed to the dispatcher in Fairbanks,” located 530 miles to the northeast. “Five hundred miles away, the dispatcher says, ‘What’s going on?’ And the caller responds, ‘We need help right now. Family violence. Children involved. Then we wait to find out if someone will come. Too often no one comes.

The 48 lower tribal chiefs also criticized the state governments.

Jauna Majel-Dixon, a member of the Pauma-Yuima Band of Luiseño Indians who chairs the Tribal Actions Leadership Council that advised the attorney general, said state government interference is a chronic problem for the tribes.

“States like to get ahead of everyone else,” Majel-Dixon said in her opening address to the conference.

Majel-Dixon and others had other recommendations, including ending the competitive process that pits tribes against each other for grants.

Moving to sustainable support would provide funding “that we don’t have to compete for, and that we know will be there every year,” said Norma Contreras, president of the La Jolla Band of Luiseño Indians, in her testimony.

The conference, with invited representatives from the 574 tribes recognized by the U.S. government, is a requirement under the Violence Against Women Act. The law was originally passed in 1994 and sponsored by the then senator. Joe Biden. Over time, the law, which is reauthorized every five years, added provisions for tribal law enforcement and justice. The most recent update, signed by President Biden in March, removed what was called a “genuine connection” requirement for tribes to have legal jurisdiction over non-natives by tribal authorities. These ties included family relationships and residence on tribal lands; now the law extends tribal jurisdiction without such restrictions.

The three-day conference in Anchorage is the first to be held in Alaska and the first since 2019 to be held in person. The last two conferences were virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The views and recommendations of Native American and Alaska Native tribes will be used by the Justice Department when developing its policies, said Sherriann Moore, deputy director of tribal affairs for the Office on Violence Against Women.

“We really want to know what will work best in your communities,” Moore said during the conference’s opening session. “We’re not here to tell you what we think will work.”

Originally published by the Alaska Beaconan independent, nonpartisan news agency that covers the Alaska state government.

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