Participants at the Reclaiming our Native Communities Roundtable in Nome, Alaska. Photo courtesy of the Department of the Interior.
Published August 24, 2019
Series of roundtables conducted in Alaska to address violent crimes, missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives, illegal narcotics and infrastructure challenges
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Officials from the White House and the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) held a Reclaiming our Native Communities Roundtable in Nome, Alaska and a Public Safety Listening Session in Bethel, Alaska this week to discuss ways to address public safety challenges in the region.
In Nome, the Reclaiming our Native Communities Roundtable focused on the social ills that challenge Native communities including the use of illegal narcotics, prevalence of domestic violence, and cold cases involving missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives. According to the DOJ Bureau of Justice Statistics, American Indians and Alaska Natives are two and a half times more likely to experience violent crimes and at least two times more likely to experience rape or sexual assault crimes in comparison to all other ethnicities.
“Alaska Native people face some of the highest levels of violence. These roundtables and listening sessions are critical to tailoring solutions to address this wave of violent crime and victimization in these communities,” said Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney. “I look forward to working hand in hand with local, state and national leaders on crafting solutions to create a healthier environment for our families and communities.”
“All men, women, and children in our region deserve to be safe in our communities. Unfortunately, in our region and in other rural Alaska communities, the statistics show that women and children in our rural communities are victimized at much higher rates than the rest of our state and nation,” said Kawerak President Melanie Bahnke. “Our communities deserve adequate public safety; today’s dialogue is a step in the right direction, and Kawerak, Inc. is especially grateful for Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney’s leadership in pursuing justice for Alaska Native and American Indian communities.”
Of the 56 federally recognized tribes that are a part of the Association of Village Council Presidents, more than 40 participated in the public safety listening session in Bethel, Alaska. The tribal representatives who spoke highlighted the unique geographical and jurisdictional challenges that face their Native communities.
In June, Kate MacGregor, the Deputy Chief of Staff at DOI who is currently exercising the authority of the Deputy Secretary, and Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney held the first meeting in a series of roundtable discussions on the Gila River Indian Reservation to hear from Alaska Natives, Indian Country, tribal leadership and other advocates on ways to effectively end the escalating cycle of violence in these communities.
“Since 2016 public safety has been the top priority for AVCP, but public safety has been lacking or missing in our villages for decades,” said Chief Executive Officer for the Association of Village Council Presidents. “This listening session brought to the forefront an opportunity to work together as tribes and tribal organizations with the federal government to find solutions to the public safety crisis our tribes are facing. Thank you Assistant Secretary Sweeney, Alaska Congressional Delegation, and the White House, for prioritizing public safety. I look forward to the changes I know will come by working together.”
“Tackling the issue of public safety, including the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women, has long-been among my top priorities in the Senate. However, to truly address this issue, it will take coordination at the federal, state, and local level. It must be an all-hands-on-deck effort,” said U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). “These roundtable discussions led by the Department of Interior are an example of words being turned into action. I am committed to continuing my efforts, alongside the administration, to combat the unacceptably high rates of domestic violence and public safety challenges we’re seeing across our state. Together, we can and will ensure safer, more secure communities in Alaska.”
Representatives from the White House and DOI, who met with these community leaders, included:
- Douglas Hoelscher, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of White House Intergovernmental Affairs
- Jennie Lichter, the Deputy Director, WH Domestic Policy Council
- Gary Lawkowski, Senior Policy Advisor, Domestic Policy Council
- Kate MacGregor, Deputy Chief of Staff exercising the authority of Deputy Secretary for DOI
- Tara Sweeney, Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs
- Mirtha Beadle, Director of the Office of Tribal Affairs and Policy
- Charles Addington, Director for the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services