Tribal leaders and representatives met in Anchorage last week to denounce the exclusion of Alaska Native tribes from the Violence Against Women Act reauthoritization and other problems facing Alaska’s tribal people.
Harold Napolean is the tribal administrator for the Native village of Paimuit near Hooper Bay. Looking around the room at the sparse attendance, Napolean said many of the tribes could not send representatives because they’re broke. He said they are dealing with third world conditions because tribal governments have no land.
“They have no land on which to exercise their jurisdiction,” Napolean said. “So, the tribes are sovereign, but they’re sovereign over air.”
Napolean said the Venetie court decision that stated tribes had no land rights and therefore could not tax was a great defeat for tribal governments.
During a presentation, Napolean ticked off statistics about Native people in the state. He pointed out that Anchorage is the area with the largest percentage of Native people and the majority of them are young women with children. He likened them to refugees.
“They’re escaping conditions in the villages,” Napolean said. “The poverty, the violence, so this is very significant number.”
“They go from one place of having a hard time to another place of having a hard time.”
He said 25 percent of Alaska Native children live in poverty. The VAWA reauthorization angered Ambler resident Virginia Commack. She says women are the core of the family and violence against them must stop.
The upper Kobuk River community resident says she often reads policy and helps interpret it for the tribal council. She says VAWA is an act of discrimination against Alaska Natives.
“We’ve been able to do things in the village to try and minimize that kind of violence in our village,” Commack said. “Violence against children, violence against women, violence against each other, we don’t get the dollars that other people, other organizations get on our behalf, but we do it voluntarily anyway, because that’s our culture.”
One-hundred-sixty tribes in the state currently support three changes to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act to put forward to Congress. Restoring tribal ownership to lands selected under ANCSA, restoring hunting, fishing and gathering rights extinguished under ANCSA and mandating enrollment of all Alaska Native children born after December 18, 1971.