Murkowski Calls for “Action Plan” from Bureau of Indian Affairs to Fund Tribal Courts

Senator Combines BIA, Alaska Testimony in Seeking to Improve Rural Justice

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Lisa Murkowski today strenuously advocated that the Bureau of Indian Affairs properly fund tribal courts in Alaska to support their development and advancement – seeking firm estimates and information from tribes and BIA officials to determine what funding levels should be requested.

She reminded the BIA that tribal courts exist in Alaska and they are operating, but not every village in Alaska operates tribal courts and the BIA needs to formally invest in training and development. Conversations about this was initiated at the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs considering the Safe Families and Village Act of 2013 co-sponsored by Senators Murkowski and Mark Begich (D-AK).

Given Murkowski’s Ranking Republican position on the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee – with jurisdiction over setting funding levels for BIA – she sought data from Tanana Chief Conference General Council Natasha Singh about what funding levels necessary for  TCC to carry out justice through its tribal courts, asking “what would you figure is the average cost to run a successful tribal court in one of your villages?”  Murkowski said she wanted these numbers in order to take the information to the White House as concrete, reliable estimates of what resources will be needed.
 BIA Hearing 1

(Click on the picture above for Senator Murkowski asking Ms. Singh about
funding for Tribal Courts in Alaska.)

Senator Murkowski asked Singh to do a hard analysis of what funding levels tribal courts need. “This is something we need to be able to establish to the administration,” explained Murkowski.  “It’s not just for operations, it’s for training and conferences, and rather than pull numbers out of the air – let’s set a baseline estimate.”

Later in the hearing she spoke with Bureau of Indian Affairs Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn about the importance of finding funding for tribal courts saying that “I’m going to be looking within the Interior Subcommittee, but I urge you to put together an action plan to find funding for our tribal courts on an annual basis,” Murkowski.

Washburn’s responded by saying “one thing you could do is ask us for a study, and provide us a little money to fund that study – you’ve got 229 tribes in Alaska and they work great together.  Could that be a model for us?  We don’t know, but one way to find out is to fund a study.”  Washburn stressed that until there is data he can point to when explaining a funding request for tribal courts, he will be unable to make the case from within the BIA.

BIA hearing 2

(Click on photo to hear exchange between Senator Murkowski and Secretary

Murkowski closed up her exchange by telling Washburn “I appreciate that, and I asked Natasha to provide some information as well.  We’ve got some work to do, but I would like to continue to pursue this with you.”