Vice Chairman Murkowski Takes Action To Address Violence Occurring in Alaska Native Communities

SCIA Leaders Release Discussion Draft of Tribal Title for VAWA

This week, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA) held an oversight hearing focused on “Restoring Justice: Addressing Violence in Native Communities through VAWA Title IX Special Jurisdiction.” Concurrent with the hearing, Vice Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Chairman Brian Schatz (D-HI) released a discussion draft of the tribal title for the upcoming Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization for public comment.

During her opening remarks at this week’s hearing, Murkowski spoke about the importance of the tribal title in the 2013 VAWA and the jurisdictional challenges that Indian Tribes continue to experience in Alaska and across Indian Country. Federal and tribal witnesses, including Michelle Demmert of the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center, testified on the need for more resources and protections to reduce the incidence of violence, particularly against Native women.


Pictured: Senator Lisa Murkowski at SCIA Oversight Hearing on December 8, 2021

“While issues of tribal jurisdiction are confusing and esoteric, I want to emphasize that the impacts on the ground in Native communities, particularly in places like rural Alaska, are very real and very tragic. In 2019, we had the Attorney General come to a small Native village. He looked around, he talked to the people, he left and declared a law enforcement emergency. It was based on the fact that Alaska has the highest per capita crime rate in the country and we face a unique jurisdictional landscape. Jurisdictional complexity should not deny safety or justice, and that is what we are seeing,” said Vice Chairman Murkowski on the unique tribal jurisdiction in Alaska.

“I believe we have a moral imperative here in Congress that we take action to further restore and improve the implementation of this special tribal criminal law jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit violent crimes in our Native communities. I firmly believe that by empowering tribal courts in this way we can help combat this major public safety issue affecting Native people and children,” said Vice Chairman Murkowski on improving and empowering tribal courts.

“Most Native communities in rural Alaska have no local law enforcement physically present. One out of three Native communities in Alaska have no local law enforcement that is physically there,” said Vice Chairman Murkowski on the lack of law enforcement presence in rural Alaska and how a solution has been raised. “I am happy to report that we have an Alaska solution to this complex jurisdictional situation in our state. We are calling it the Alaska Public Safety Empowerment pilot project. We are rolling it out as part of the discussion draft text title for all to see. Give us your feedback on it. It builds on previous legislation that you have seen from me and the product of years of work with tribal advocates and smart lawyers. The pilot project will empower a limited number of Alaska Tribes to exercise special criminal jurisdiction over certain crimes that occur in villages in Alaska.”

Click here to watch Vice Chairman Murkowski’s full opening statement.

Senator Murkowski invited Michelle Demmert of the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center to testify at the hearing. During the question-and-answer period, Murkowski asked Ms. Demmert about the jurisdictional landscape in Alaska and how a state-specific pilot project will bring much needed support and protections for Alaska Natives.



Pictured: Michelle Demmert virtually testifying before SCIA on December 8, 2021


Click here to watch Vice Chairman Murkowski’s exchange with Michelle Demmert.

Click here to watch the SCIA oversight hearing and find witness testimony.

Click here to view the tribal discussion draft.

Public comments on the discussion draft of the VAWA tribal title are due by December 22, 2021. Please send comments to: draft_title_comments@indian.senate.gov. Any comments will be shared with all members of the SCIA.