Could Alaska’s rural Indigenous communities fight violence with broader law enforcement powers?

The village of Shishmaref, Alaska, which sits upon the Chukchi sea. Alaska senator Dan Sullivan and U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr are visiting Alaska this week to hear from Indigenous leaders about law enforcement challenges in rural communities. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr is coming to Alaska this week. Sen. Dan Sullivan said he will focus on rural law enforcement, particularly for the more than 70 Alaska villages that have no police officers, as he meets U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr this week.

On Alaska Public Media’s “Talk of Alaska” show Tuesday, host Lori Townsend asked Sullivan how he feels about Indian Country jurisdiction. That is, letting Alaska tribes enforce tribal law to fight crime.

“Do you favor allowing them to have the kind of police powers in their villages that Lower 48 [states] tribes have in reservation communities?” Townsend asked.

“Well, it’s an issue that we’re looking at,” Sullivan said.

Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan addressing the Alaska Federation of Natives in Anchorage on October 20, 2018. (Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)

Sullivan did not take a stand on an Indian Country pilot program in the House version of the Violence Against Women reauthorization bill. The program, beefed up by Congressman Don Young, would let up to five Alaska Native tribes enforce tribal law to tackle domestic violence. Townsend asked if he would support keeping the program in the Senate version of the bill.

“I think, you know, we’re going to have a discussion about that. I think you have to look at the different issues with regard to, you know, jurisdictional authority over non-Natives,” Sullivan said. “Those communities are not all Alaska Native communities.”

The broader problem of domestic violence is one of Sullivan’s signature concerns. The senator said he’s working on a series of bills based on the “Choose Respect” campaign he pursued when he was state attorney general.

One of those bills became law last year. The Power Act requires the chief federal judge of each judicial district to conduct public events promoting free legal services for crime victims.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls set to present final report in June, CBC News

Finland: UN Committee blasts Finland over electorate ruling for Sami Parliament, Yle News

United States: Alaska reckons with missing data on murdered Indigenous women, Alaska Public Media

Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media

For more news from Alaska visit Alaska Public Media.

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