A display at the Orca Adventure Lodge in 2016 shows the “Indigenous Peoples and Languages of Alaska” map. Photo by Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson for The Cordova Times

A pilot program launched by the Justice Department under the 2022 Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) will allow Alaska Native Tribes criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian offenders for certain crimes, include sexual and domestic violence. 

U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said that the program was developed in close consultation with Alaska Native Tribes and tribal organizations, and represents a continued commitment to helping tribal communities meet the most urgent public safety challenges they are facing. 

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, in his address to the 2023 convention of the Alaska Federation of Natives in Anchorage on Friday, said that the Justice Department hopes all Tribes will consider participating in the program. 

Reauthorization of VAWA last year included a provision recognizing the inherent authority of Tribes to exercise criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian offenders who commit domestic-violence-related crimes in Indian Country. Tribes in Alaska though were generally unable to exercise special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction because there is so little Indian country in Alaska. With the legislation reauthorized, Congress expanded the criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian offenders to include crimes of sexual violence, sex trafficking, stalking, child violence, obstruction of justice, and assault of tribal justice personnel in Indian country. 

Provisions specific to Tribes in Alaska include the inherent authority of Tribes in Alaska Native villages to exercise criminal and civil jurisdiction over all Native people present in the village. They also include a pilot program to enable Alaska Tribes designated by the attorney general as “participating tribes” to exercise special tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian offenders who commit covered crimes in their villages. Preference is given to Tribes in villages with predominantly Indian populations and that do not have a permanent state law enforcement physical presence. 

The framework allows for any Alaska Tribe to receive federal guidance and technical assistance to develop their criminal justice capacity. 

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Alaska Tribes interested in participating in the pilot program may contact the Justice Department via email at [email protected]

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