States Must Do More to Protect Vulnerable Indigenous People

By Jared Miller

Alaska is considering new steps to protect its indigenous populations from violence, abuse, and harassment—and other states should do the same.

A bill pre-filed in the Alaska Legislature this month would “direct the state of Alaska to recognize protection orders issued by tribal governments.”  As it stands, tribal courts in Alaska—and many other states—must register protection orders with State law enforcement before officers will enforce them off of Native land.

The sponsor of the Alaska bill, Representative Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham, on Tuesday told a news reporter that the bill, if adopted, will empower tribal courts to constrain abusers, while also helping the State comply with the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) of 1994.  Congress reauthorized VAWA in 2012 with additional protections for Native American women. 

Under the current system, delays in state registration of protection orders can have serious consequences for Native victims, according to a tribal court clerk in Washington State.  State officials often take “more than a few days” to complete the registration process, the clerk said, and sometimes the State officials simply fail to complete registration unless they get additional prodding from dedicated tribal court staff.

During those delays, abusers may approach or contact their victims anywhere off of tribal land, with minimal threat of police action.  This period can be especially dangerous because abusers may be enraged that a victim took legal action against them.

It’s time for Alaska, Washington, and other states to automatically recognize these important orders, which have been considered and issued in a court of law.

“It would be great if that changes,” the tribal court clerk said.

Jared Miller is an Associate at Galanda Broadman, in Seattle.  His practice focuses on tribal court litigation and representing businesses and tribal governments in public affairs. Jared is licensed in more than a dozen tribal jurisdictions, where he litigates civil matters.