OP/ED: Time to Act on the Indian Law and Order Commission’s Recommendations

The bipartisan Indian Law and Order Commission recently presented its findings here in Alaska. The Commission, which is composed of experts from across the political spectrum, found that the Parnell Administration’s record on rural law enforcement is “fundamentally on the wrong track.”

Sadly, Alaska has the highest rates of domestic violence and sexual assault in America. The Commission said that we should strengthen tribal sovereignty in order to combat sexual assault.

Unfortunately, the Parnell Administration has taken a different approach. In the Minto and Kaltag lawsuits, the Administration went to court to undermine tribal sovereignty. In Minto, a man beat his wife almost to death, breaking her ribs and collapsing one of her lungs. The tribal court responded by declaring him to be an unfit parent, a logical decision designed to protect the family. Yet the Parnell Administration went to court to invalidate the tribal court’s decision. The Administration says its motivations were to undermine tribal sovereignty, but if successful Parnell would put the wife and children in danger of a man with a history of domestic violence.

The Minto case is part of a longer, troubling record that the Indian Law and Order Commission criticized. When Dan Sullivan was Attorney General, the Parnell Administration attempted to block a Kaltag tribal court’s decision about child custody. As with Minto, the Administration was willing to sacrifice the safety of Alaskans in order to pursue an ideological goal of harming tribal sovereignty.

In reality, tribal sovereignty is an important tool to combat domestic violence. When the Parnell Administration fights tribal sovereignty, it increases the likelihood that more Alaska women and children will be victims of domestic violence. As the Indian Law and Order Commission noted in its extensive report, Alaska’s high rates of violence are partially a result of the Administration’s opposition to tribal sovereignty.

Now that the Indian Law and Order Commission has issued its report, the state should follow its recommendations. Some of those recommendations are federal, and Senator Begich’s call for Congressional hearings are a good first step to address them. The most far-reaching reforms, however, must come at the state level.

Unfortunately, the Parnell Administration’s initial response to the Commission’s report is not promising. Parnell’s Attorney General said that he did not agree with the “means” of reducing domestic violence, and attempted to justify the Parnell Administration’s opposition to tribal sovereignty. The Administration’s arguments are narrow, legal, and unrealistic for rural Alaska. The reality on the ground is simple: We need more local control, more tribal sovereignty to fight crime.

The Governor has made “Choose Respect” a central part of his re-election campaign. Now that the Indian Law and Order Commission has issued its report, he has a chance to turn words into action. The Governor should abandon his past opposition to tribal sovereignty and embrace the Indian Law and Order Commission’s recommendations. With the highest rates of sexual assault and domestic violence in America, we should not have to wait any longer.