Sen. Begich Presses VAWA Protections for Alaska Natives
Having just chaired a portion of a recent hearing of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Sen. Mark Begich spoke to Indian Country Today Media Network for an interview focused on his pending Safe Families and Villages legislation, as well as the recently introduced clean Carcieri legislative fix.
Thank you for doing another interview, senator. The last time we talked, you mentioned the need for a hearing focused on strengthening the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to include jurisdictional provisions for Alaska Native tribes. That hearing, which you co-chaired April 2, highlighted yours and Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) Safe Families and Villages legislation, and your desire to repeal Section 910 of VAWA, which excludes Alaska Natives from the VAWA jurisdiction provisions granted by Congress last year to tribes in the lower 48 states. Please explain your desire to repeal Section 910.
What 910 really does is prevent the Alaska Native community from having full criminal prosecution regarding any crimes that may occur within what we consider tribal land. It also does not allow us to have equal type of law enforcement that reservation tribes do. When someone comes onto reservation land [in the lower 48 states], and they commit a crime on that land as a Native or non-Native, they can still go through a prosecution process. With us, that can’t happen. It really is a problem. We have tribal courts that exist with cooperation and agreement from the state, but they have very limited capacity.
The VAWA with the increased jurisdiction provisions for tribes in the lower 48 just passed Congress just last year with 910 in there. Why was 910 included in that legislation at all?
We attempted to try to get it out, but we did not have agreement, honestly, within our [federal] delegation on this. I’m a very strong supporter of tribal rights and tribal responsibility and self-determination. I’ve always been that way—it’s not a newfound belief since coming to the Senate. I think in a lot of ways I couldn’t get agreement. I knew if it was put in there the way it was written, Section 910, that we would see a backlash from within our Alaska Native communities. And that is what is happening. I wish we could have taken it out, but we also had the state of Alaska being totally against taking that section out of there. They wanted that section. I know they lobbied members of the [Senate Committee on Indian Affairs] when the bill was being reviewed, and they were able to prevail on the idea that 910 was needed so as not to interfere with states’ rights. I wasn’t on the committee at that time. If I was on the committee at that time, I would have done everything I could to prevent that section from being added in there.
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