The Violence Against Women’s Act that is making its way through Congress has the support of the Association of Village Council Presidents for the most part. However, the Native non-profit organization which represents 56 tribes in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta is opposing part of the legislation, the part that doesn’t allow Alaskan tribes to prosecute non-tribal members.
That’s a sticking point for AVCP President Myron Naneng.
“Why do they always have to have an exclusion for non-tribal members?” Naneng said. “The tribal court should be able to deal with all people who live in the village.”
Reauthorizing VAWA has passed the Senate and will be considered by the House next. It does allow tribes on reservations to prosecute non-tribal members for domestic violence that occurs within their boundaries. However, in Alaska, there is only one reservation–Metlakatla in South East– so other tribes in the state would not have that right.
Senator Lisa Murkowski voted for the bill, saying she focused on ensuring that Metlakatla was treated no different than other reservations in the country. She said for the state’s other tribes, there is language that confirms that they have the power to issue domestic violence protective orders against their own members.
“So, what this does is simply maintain the status quo,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski included language to re-establish the Alaska Rural Justice and Law Enforcement Commission, which has the tribes, state, and federal governments working together on rural safety issues.
About 20 villages in the Y-K Delta have tribal courts, but the state court still deals with most crimes region-wide. Naneng says access to state courts is difficult for some villages because they are so remote, sometimes hundreds of miles away.
“How much does it cost to go from one of the villages to Bethel to go to court, especially from Lower Yukon?” Naneng said. “It’s probably over $1,000 round trip.”
Giving tribal courts more leverage to deal with crimes would help, he says.
Tribal courts can use traditional forms of resolution such as banishment, a form of punishment for people who consistently cause problems in a community. Naneng says tribes should be able to exercise that with non-tribal members as well.
“I think that the village should have the ability to ban these people from their communities which has been done and is still going on today,” Naneng said.
Naneng says AVCP would like to see changes made to the VAWA legislation in the House and they plan to work with other tribes in Alaska to lobby for that.