Governor Walker, the Next Cup of Coffee Is on Me

Richard Peterson

Earlier this month, I wrote a commentary on whether or not the 2014 “Unity Team” would keep its promise to steer away from litigation against Alaska tribes and instead work towards improving tribal relations. Today’s commentary is a follow-up to express my gratitude to the Walker Administration for not appealing the recent Alaska Supreme Court decision in State of Alaska v. Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. This important court ruling affirms that Alaska tribal courts, some of which already handle custody, adoption, and paternity for tribal children, can also decide child support. 

There are more than 60 tribal IV-D child support programs across the nation that receive federal funding to provide child support services to tribal families. Central Council was one of the first tribes in Alaska to provide child support services for children and families striving toward self-sufficiency. After the State refused to recognize tribal child support orders, Central Council was forced to file a lawsuit. The October 2011 Juneau Superior Court decision recognized the authority of Central Council to issue child support orders for children who are enrolled or eligible for enrollment with the Tribe. The recent Alaska Supreme Court decision affirming the lower court makes it possible for the State and Tribe to move forward in partnership on a sovereign-to-sovereign basis because all child support orders issued by states and tribes are entitled to being fully recognized and enforced. This is critical because there are some instances where only the State can provide garnishment services, such as for the State’s unemployment benefits or the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend. There will no longer be disparate treatment for tribal child support orders, no matter what agency or tribe issues the support order. 

The decision not to appeal this case further illustrates that the “Unity Team” is steering away from treating tribes as adversaries and is truly making an effort to improve tribal relations. This gives the State of Alaska and Alaska tribes an opportunity to work together to ensure all Alaska children receive critical child support services. The State and tribal child support programs do more than collect support for families. They locate parents, establish paternity, and work with families to set child support orders. Whether you’re a mom, dad, or grandparent, State and tribal programs can now work together in a spirit of cooperation to help make child support a reliable source of income for children. It is encouraging to know that the promise to work with Alaska’s tribes was kept. Thank you Governor Walker.

Richard Peterson is the president of the Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

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