U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, met on Tuesday with Alaska Native officials from the Interior at the offices of the Louden Tribal Council in Galena. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Attorney’s office for the District of Alaska.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland told Alaska Native leaders in Anchorage on Tuesday that he was visiting to reaffirm the commitment of the Justice Department to work with them on resolving domestic violence issues involving Alaska Native people.

In opening remarks to a roundtable discussion at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC), Garland said that the Justice Department recognizes the high levels of violence involving Alaska Native families and was allocating millions of dollars that would benefit 67 tribal communities in the state to deal with these issues.

He credited Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who accompanied him earlier in the day on a trip to Galena to meet with Alaska Native leaders there, as well as local and state law enforcement partners.

Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, also joined the roundtable discussion in Anchorage.

The Justice Department announced Tuesday a $69.9 million national award through the agency’s Tribal Victim Services Set-Aside (TVSSA) program. The program provides support to American Indian and Alaska Native communities to enhance services for victims of crime, consistent with requirements of the Victims of Crime Act.

Earlier in the day the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women granted $774,790 in Sexual Assault Services Formula Grant Program funds for Alaska Native communities. The Justice Department has granted hundreds of awards since the Tribal Victim Services Set-Aside program was launched five years ago.

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Garland credited Murkowski with helping to pass the reauthorized Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was signed by President Biden on March 15, 2022. That legislation gave expanded recognition to tribal sovereignty. Congress passed the first VAWA legislation in 1994, then subsequently expanded and improved VAWA in reauthorizing the legislation, beginning in 2005.

Drafting and passing the initial bill took four years because of strenuous opposition to the act’s most controversial provision, a private civil rights remedy modeled on late 19th century laws intended to protect African Americans that allowed victims of gender-based violence to sue their attackers.

That opposition was led by then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Rehnquist. He and several judicial organizations argued that this private civil rights remedy would encourage large numbers of family disputes into the federal courts and overwhelm the state with matters that did not belong there. The National Association of Women Judges was the only judicial organization to support the civil rights remedy.

By the time the bill was approved, VAWA 1994 had the bipartisan support of 226 sponsors in the House and 68 in the Senate.

S. Lane Tucker, U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska, said Garland’s visit “demonstrates his commitment to helping tackle public safety challenges that Alaska Native villages face, as highlighted by the announcement of almost $22 million in U.S. Department of Justice funds for Alaska Native victims of crime.”

“We will continue to work with Alaska Native communities and organizations to develop Alaska-based solutions to make our state safer,” Tucker said.

News media were invited to hear opening remarks from the Anchorage roundtable at the ANTHC conference room, but the actual roundtable discussion was closed to the public.

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