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KNBA News - New Y-K tribal courts; Statoil pulls out of Chukchi; Mayor plans housing for homeless

Nov. 18, 2015

Association of Village Council Presidents announces plan to create dozens of tribal courts in Y-K region

By Anna Rose McArthur, KYUK-Bethel

An Alaska non-profit wants to do something new—set up courts for about a quarter of Alaska’s tribes. The Bethel-based Association of Village Council Presidents, or AVCP, is a nonprofit representing 56 villages across the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. It wants each village to develop its own tribal court. Before they can do that, AVCP has to develop a model for something that has never existed.

Tribal courts exist in the lower-48 but are rare in Alaska. There are 10 courts in the YK region.

Monique Vondall-Rieke is working to change that.

“It’s a really big order to fill, but it’s part of history,” said Vondall-Rieke.

AVCP has tasked its Tribal Justice Center with developing a court in each of its 56 villages. Right now, Vondall-Rieke is the director and sole member of the department. She comes from North Dakota where she served as a tribal court justice for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.

“Through development of tribal courts, you’re saying, we are empowering ourselves to be able to deal with our own issues,” said Vondall-Rieke. “And it increases your exercise of sovereign immunity.

Tribal courts often deal with civil issues like disputes between tribal members, between businesses and members, and between tribes and agencies. They handle child custody cases, adoptions, and juvenile cases. They also try and prosecute misdemeanors committed within the tribe’s jurisdiction.

Because this process operates without law enforcement, it protects tribal members from racking up criminal records and it saves the state money.

The current hitch is that in Alaska lands cannot be taken into trust, which makes it difficult to define a tribe’s jurisdiction and impossible to secure federal funding to run the courts.

But AVCP is moving forward anyway with the hope that Gov. Walker’s administration will drop the lawsuit fighting trust status.

AVCP received a multi-million dollar federal grant that allows the Bureau of Indian Affairs to fund the court assessments without taking land into trust. Last month, Vondall-Rieke and a group of consultants from the lower-48 travelled to two YK villages—Emmonak and Kongiganak—to begin creating the model, which they will roll out at the annual BIA Providers Conference in Anchorage this December.

“The plan is that once we have this assessment model tool designed, then the BIA can take that to the other nonprofit organizations that represent tribes in Alaska, and do the same thing there. So their turn will be coming,” said Vondall-Rieke.

What makes the assessment model unique is that it is being solicited by a tribal organization rather than a tribe, as what usually happens in the lower-48.

After the conference, people can begin applying to conduct the assessments.

The lower-48 consultants are looking for specific credentials— Yup’ik speaking, local, Alaska Natives with law degrees.

“That’s kind of a tall order for our area. We’re very limited in the law degrees that are held by tribal members in our area, especially Yup’ik speaking tribal members,” said Vondall-Rieke.

Even if the assessors don’t carry law degrees, they’ll need specialized education.

“Certainly you have to have some knowledge of tribal courts or law. You have to probably have to have at least a Phd, be a good researcher. It’s a lot of data gathering and it’s a lot of footwork, but it’ll leave a legacy behind.”

Vondall-Rieke hopes the assessments will begin in January.

“I’m looking for updated tribal constitutions, updated tribal codes, the case load of each court that’s in existence already,” said Vondall-Rieke.

She also wants to begin trainings for court judges, clerks, and staff as well as law enforcement and tribal council members at that time.

Vondall-Rieke hopes the 56 assessments will be completed by late 2018.

Statoil pulls out of Chukchi Sea oil exploration
By Associated Press
Another major oil company is abandoning its plans to drill in the Arctic Ocean off the northwest coast of Alaska. Statoil IS giving up 16 of its company-operated leases in the Chukchi Sea. The Norwegian company is also abandoning its stake in 50 Chukchi leases run by ConocoPhillips. The move follows SHell Oil's recent decision to drop its search for oil in waters off Alaska.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz announces plan to develop housing for homeless

Excerpts of a story by Anne Hillman, APRN

Anchorage's mayor yesterday [Tues. Nov. 17] announced the city's new homelessness action plan. It will focus on providing 300 permanent housing units in the next three years for adults who are living on the street and in camps. Mayor Ethan Berkowitz says the first step is coordinating with resource providers, landlords, and people who need housing to find and fill available units across the city and eventually to build more.

Berkowitz emphasized that housing people saves money because they are no longer using resources like emergency services. Two elements of the plan are already in play. RurAL CAP has 56 new housing first units near Merrill Field, and the Downtown Soup Kitchen will open at night as an emergency shelter for women starting at the end of the month.