Alaska Native Priority Issues to Address Violence Against Indian Women

Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center

17th Annual Tribal Consultation On Violence Against Women

Traditionally, Native women were respected and held sacred within their Nations. Order was maintained within Tribal communities, and if abuse did occur, the wrongdoers were dealt with swiftly. U.S. colonization through imposing legal and policy barriers on Alaska Natives eroded this sacred status and dehumanized Native women. These systemic barriers devalued Native men, removed our children, stripped our languages, and required us to denounce living our way of life and practicing our culture to become a citizen of the United States.

Imagine the trauma these demands have had on us as a people. We have had many traumas imposed on us from cradle to grave. The current spectrum of violence against Native communities is intertwined with systemic barriers embedded within the federal government. These barriers developed as the United States seized the homelands and natural resources of Native peoples, forcibly removed and relocated Native people, perpetrated violence against Native people, and created living conditions and a culture where it was acceptable to victimize Natives and especially Native women.

While Alaska Native governments face the same systemic barriers as other Indian tribes, many other laws and policies were enacted or implemented with the specific purpose of eroding the sovereignty of Alaska Native Tribes. To address violence against Alaska Native women these barriers must be permanently removed. The following priority issues were presented by Alaska Native tribal leaders during the 2022 annual government-to-government consultation in Anchorage.


Address Lack of Stable Tribal Justice Funding

The underfunding of Tribal justice systems is a systemic barrier preventing the tribal governments from developing stable justice systems capable of responding to the crisis of violence against Alaska Native women. It is a dereliction of the federal trust responsibility that results in lost lives, high rates of criminal victimization, and unaddressed trauma for generations of victims. In Public Law 280 (PL 280) states, like Alaska, Tribes have virtually no BIA law enforcement presence or funding for courts and law enforcement other than funding appropriated from year to year for special annual PL 280 appropriations. This yearly appropriation essentially provides no sustainability or safety. For the federal agencies to assume that Tribes should conform and operate similar to state programs does a disservice to the victims.

Qaspeks Ceremony with the Yup’ik Women’s Coalition, Emmonak Women’s Shelter and Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center opening the VAW annual government-to-government consultation in Alaska Sept. 21-23, 2022 / Photo courtesy of Tami Truett Jerue

In addition, the federal government must address funding disparities for Tribes in PL 280 states. Indian Nations in PL 280 jurisdictions have received substantially lower amounts of support or none at all in the BIA compacting process for Tribal law enforcement and Tribal courts. Consequently, the Tribes in PL 280 jurisdictions have had far less opportunity to develop their own police departments and court systems. The DOJ and BIA should request federal funding and authority to add additional funding to Tribal compacts to end this disparity in funding between Tribes regardless if concurrent jurisdiction lies with the federal or respective state government. 

Fund tribal justice systems at necessary levels as documented and recommended in various federal reports and laws, and other federal documents, including the 2018 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ Broken Promises Report and the 2009 Tribal Law & Order Act.

Address Implementation Of Special Tribal Criminal Jurisdiction (STCJ)

To implement, develop, and maintain STCJ, tribal governments require stable and sufficient funding. Tribal governments in Alaska implementing STCJ pilot projects will require regular, predictable and sufficient funding for implementation of the pilot projects to support comprehensive law enforcement, justice systems, and victim and offender services.

The technical assistance providers for the Alaska Pilot Project should be funded immediately similar to how NCAI was funded to support VAWA 2013. The funding for the implementation of STCJ should not be contingent on Tribal justice systems looking and acting like the western courts. Tribal justice systems as defined by the Tribes themselves must be allowed to develop and their decisions recognized. This approach will allow for recognition of the many positive outcomes and successes possible with operating an Indigenous justice system—more timely and increased accountability, healing, preservation, and strengthening of family and communities. Oftentimes perpetrators within our communities are part of our community and we want to see services to address their needs to stop the violence. 

The formation and funding of an Alaska Intertribal workgroup for all Tribes aspiring to be a pilot project Tribe whether in the first year or in the future is strongly recommended. Similar to the Intertribal Working Group (ITWG), it can support and help advise and direct the STCJ Alaska Pilot Project.

In addition, tribal leaders recommended the following priority issues be addressed:

  • Support for Tribal law enforcement recognition and support fixing legislation and 25 C.F.R. §12.21 that authorizes Special Law Enforcement Commissions.
  • The Tribal Reimbursement program should be the least restrictive possible to Tribal governments. 
  • Provide funding for a dedicated Tribal Liaison in the Alaska United States Attorney’s Office to carry out statutory duties required under 25 U.S.C. § 2810.
  • Prioritize and release the Alaska Special Tribal Criminal Jurisdiction Training and Technical Assistance Solicitation for Alaska Tribes designated by the Attorney General as participating Tribes under the Alaska Pilot Program immediately. 
  • Support Technical Assistance providers for Alaska who are located in Alaska. In recent months we have had numerous concerns regarding the national TTA providers who cannot imagine that a community can be without the Internet. Many of our rural villages struggle with a consistent Internet connection and a few have been without Internet access for months. They try to use their phones for that Internet connection when necessary, but often the signal is weak and there are many dropped attempts to handle the Internet-required forms, issues, etc.

Address Victim Services Program

While the non-Indigenous communities may not have the needs associated with systematic and historical  “victimization,” the AI/AN communities do, and we need to be able to address these needs by adequately funding Tribes and recognizing their self-determination and authority in creating culturally appropriate, holistic services. The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) funding is a way to achieve this through comprehensive victim services that are based on Tribal needs and the values of our communities. In addition, cultural programs help to both heal victims' trauma and reduce continual violent behavior within our families and communities, and these programs need to be funded.  

Tribal leaders recommended the following specific issues be addressed as priorities to increase victim services for Alaska Native victims:

  • Identify historical trauma as a victim need that can be served under the Tribal Victim Services Set Aside Program (TVSSA).
  • Require OVC and DOJ to work towards amendments in the law that serve Tribal needs, including infrastructure, court services and law enforcement.
  • Evaluate past grant victim service programs prior to the TVSSA Program since 2018, and create a comprehensive, increased services formula-based program for victims of violence and accountability for those who use violence.
  • Ensure that OVC is appropriately staffed and understands the challenges of all Tribes, to work towards solutions to create safer communities.
  • Establish a standing Tribal VOCA advisory committee to guide OVC’s decision-making about the implementation of the TVSSA. In addition, fund a cadre of Tribal technical assistance providers who can work with Tribal governments to develop multi-year Tribal strategic plans for developing crime victims services appropriate for their communities. These Tribal technical assistance providers could be organized regionally and should be funded to travel and engage in the communities they serve. 
  • Alaska needs Alaska Tribal TA providers from within the state who understand our needs. 
  • Push for improvements to the laws, policies, and regulations for VOCA funding that allows for funding services and departments tied to victim services. We need to be able to fund core criminal justice services. We need flexibility to build our programs as we deem necessary for success. We need to fund law enforcement, court services, perpetrator services and prevention.
  • Federal staff assigned to Alaska must be available during Alaska working hours. Federal staff call us in the wee hours of the morning and when we need them during all business hours, they are not there. In addition, the Tribal staff assigned to specific regions should be working the hours of the respective region.  

Address Better Coordination Among Federal Agencies

We call upon the US DOJ—OVW and OVC, BIA, HHS, DHS, and other agencies for better coordination among federal agencies to meet President Biden’s top priority of safety and well-being of all Native Americans. Tribes, who are often understaffed, have to jump through the hoops of all the different departments, their programs and requirements. Federal agencies need an overall czar, if you will, who can pull together all the grant programs under DOJ, HHS, BIA, DHS, etc., will coordinate and streamline all available programs so that there is consistency and ease of use as required in the Paperwork Reduction Act. Far too often we have different electronic grant platforms for administration, different finance requirements, different special conditions, etc. The approach should be simplified to enable the Administration to work hand in hand with Tribal Nations and Tribal partners to build safe and healthy Tribal communities and to support comprehensive law enforcement, prevention, intervention, and support services. Any regulation or requirement that does not assist with this goal should be eliminated.

There must be a mandate that all federal agencies that provide funding, services, or assistance to Tribes, collaborate with each other to better streamline funding, grant procedures, and regulations. Federal agencies must also improve coordination of the scheduling of consultations, mandatory grantee conferences, and providing Tribal oversight and evaluation of training and technical assistant providers.   

Thank you for taking the time to listen to our concerns. We believe in the continuation of building alliances to enhance and promote the voice of Alaska Native survivors, advocates, and Tribal leaders at the village, state, federal, and international levels. By working together, we stand stronger in our advocacy efforts for equal access to justice, local village-based solutions to local village problems, and access to services and advocacy designed by and for Native women.