Alaskans rally against domestic violence, exclusion from VAWA

More than two hundred people gathered for the annual Choose Respect Rally today on the capitol steps.

Juneau’s was just one of 143 such rallies happening across Alaska. Governor Parnell was in Palmer, and Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan led the capital city event.

It’s the Parnell’s administration goal to reduce sexual assault and domestic violence, support victims of abuse and to get as many people involved as possible in the choose Respect campaign.

“Three years later, how are we doing? Well, we certainly have not ended the epidemic of sexual assault and violence in the state of Alaska. But we knew this was going to be generational undertaking. So we’re making progress but it will take years. As for the second goal, giving voice and hope to those that have been abused. We think we’re getting pretty close. There is power and healing in doing this for our citizens.”

The Reverend Phil Campbell of Northern Lights United Church participated in the march.  The church works in in partnership with AWARE to reduce sexual violence.

“It is both to state the obvious and to name something too often unsaid– It is males that commit most the acts of sexual violence and abuse. As men we need to face this, to change what it means to be male, to disentangle it from some distorted notion of macho dominance and to declare our intention to part of the solution, rather than remaining part of the problem even if it is by our silence rather than active engagement.”

Congressmen Don Young also spoke to the crowd, highlighting the connection between alcohol and violence.

Juneau’s Choose Respect march ended at the future site of the downtown Walter Sobeloff Center, where the lack of respect for Native women in the Violence Against Women Act became the topic.

Congress recently reauthorized the federal law, called VAWA for short.  While it grants tribal courts jurisdiction over non-Natives in domestic violence crimes in Indian Country, in Alaska, that applies only to Metlakatla, the only Indian reservation in the state.  Many Native groups do not believe the act sufficiently protects Alaska Native women.

In an open letter to Governor Sean Parnell, a group of concerned citizens urge Parnell to work with Alaska’s congressional delegation to fix the law.

Jessie Reinhardt and Ishmael Hope were representing the group.

“We just wanted to make a direct, but still respectful and courteous statement, about just how Alaska Native women, Alaska Native Tribes should be included in the Violence Against Women Act.”

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski worked to insert language in the legislation to make sure Metlakatla would be treated like Lower 48 reservations.  Reinhardt says that doesn’t help other Alaska Native women.

“When VAWA was reauthorized, it excluded Alaska Native tribes from issuing Civil Protection Orders. And that’s really important in southeast as well as other villages throughout Alaska…Murkowski, unfortunately, went in and put language in the VAWA act that has the words “Indian Country.” So whenever you use those words you’re excluding Alaska tribes, except for Metlakatla. So most of Alaska tribes do not have Indian country.”

The letter says the new Violence Against Women Act “singles out Alaska Natives for discriminatory treatment” because of what the group calls the “Murkowski Fix.”

The group requests the state of Alaska work with Alaska tribes and the delegation for civil protections of Alaska Native women.

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