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3/17/15 - State requests time to review issues in Native adoption case

Tununak v state of Alaska is "potentially explosive"

Yesterday, the state Department of Law asked the Alaska Supreme Court for more time in a case tribes say will show whether Governor Bill Walker is serious about campaign pledges to work cooperatively with tribes, and determine how the Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA, will be implemented in Alaska.

Under ICWA, Alaska Native family and tribal members have preference in adopting Native children. But a September Alaska Supreme Court ruling allowed a non-Native couple to adopt a Yup’ik child over the Native grandmother’s request to adopt.

Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration had successfully argued a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling set a standard that the grandmother failed to meet because she hadn’t filed a petition to adopt, a requirement tribes say would create a costly barrier between Native children and Native families. And, attorneys for the grandmother and the village of Tununak contend the grandmother’s repeated statements to officials, and court testimony, that she wanted to adopt her grand-daughter, met all such requirements.

They petitioned for a rehearing. The U.S. Department of Justice joined them with an advisory, or amicus, brief. Jacqueline Schaffer is an assistant attorney general in the Alaska Department of Law:

"The state has requested an additional 30-day extension because the administration needs additional time to determine its response to the issues raised in the petition and the amicus brief," said Schafer. 

Shaffer says the state is working to make it easier for tribal members to adopt Native children and to improve children’s services to Alaska Native communities.

Lloyd Miller, who specializes in Native American law, is representing the grandmother. He says Tununak v the state of Alaska is a landmark case and the Walker administration is right to take the time to look at the larger implications.

"This case is a potentially explosive case and could well define the administration's position in Alaska Native affairs and in particular the relationship the administration is going to have with tribes in Alaska," said Miller.

The state’s request for an extension comes after the Alaska Federation of Natives and all the Native nonprofit organizations in Alaska asked the state to change its position.

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So far this year Anchorage has seen eight homicides and several shootings. Anchorage Police Deputy Chief Myron Fanning says a task force of federal, state, and local agencies set up in February has made 26 arrests, and solved all but one of the recent homicide cases. They've seized drugs like heroin and methamphetamine, 40 illegal guns, and $35,000 in cash, and they’re continuing to investigate a January double homicide in East Anchorage. But Fanning says in his 23 years on the force he's seen unexplained waves of violent crime before. And the reasons for this spike are not clear.

"They're all high-risk type lifestyles that they're involved in--they all are either associated with drugs or alcohol," said Fanning. "But I don't know why last January we had 2, and this January we had 4, I don't know, it just happens sometimes like that."

Mayor Dan Sullivan says this is a spike, not an overall increase, noting Anchorage’s five-year average for major crimes continues to fall.

"There's fewer crimes reported now than there were 30 years ago when we were 120,000 people fewer in this city," said Sullivan. [In] 2014, for example, we saw the lowest number of murders in 20 years in Anchorage. And we always caution folks when they see a spike in one activity or another that it doesn't really mean Anchorage has somehow become more dangerous. We look at trends, and the trends are very good."

Under Sullivan, funding cuts have led to a smaller police force. But he and Fanning say there are other ways to increase effectiveness - with changed work hours, flex time, and local partnerships. Still, it’s not clear whether the resources are there to put police in Anchorage's neighborhoods before violence occurs. Concerns over public safety are emerging as the biggest political issue in this year's mayor's race.

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Iditarod Sled-dog Race mushers nearing finish in Nome

Top mushers in the Iditarod Sled-dog Race are just over a hundred miles from Nome. The top ten are:

1.      Dallas Seavey who left Elim (123 miles from Nome) a little before midnight last night

2.      Mitch Seavey left Elim at 6:10 a.m. today

3.      Followed 15 minutes later by Aaron Burmeister

4.      Jessie Royer checked into the Elim checkpoint at 5:39 this morning

5.      Followed by Ally Zirkle who checked in to Elim at 6:10

6.      In 6th place, Joar Leifseth Ulsom left Koyuk around 2:26 this morning

7.      followed three hours later by Jeff King in 7th place

8.      then Wade Marrs

9.      Pete Kaiser

10.  Ken Anderson

    

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