Alaska Supreme Court: State must enforce Central Council’s child support orders

The State of Alaska must recognize and enforce the Tlingit-Haida Central Council’s child support orders, according to a state Supreme Court decision issued Friday.

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Gov. Bill Walker, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, and Tlngit Haida Central Council President Richard Peterson at council assembly April 17. Mallott received a lifetime achievement award. (Creative Commons photo courtesy Alaska Governor’s Office)
Gov. Bill Walker, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, and Tlingit Haida Central Council President Richard Peterson at last year’s council assembly. (Creative Commons file photo courtesy Alaska Governor’s Office)

Central Council President Chalyee Éesh Richard Peterson says that while the court decision is an important milestone, there are still more issues the tribe is working on when it comes to how it serves tribal children, namely how it administers Indian Child Welfare Act cases with other tribes.

Earlier this month the Central Council signed an agreement with the state that lets the tribe oversee custody and funding for tribal foster children.

Peterson says there are families in Juneau that encounter issues when it comes to their children and foster care — they may live in town but are still under the jurisdiction of their home tribe. Because local tribes also receive federal dollars to oversee child welfare, Peterson said the Central Council must be careful to not overstep its bounds.

“That’s a hurdle we’re still trying to get across,” Peterson said. “A lot of our folks want us to step in and solve the problem but we’re really going to have to work with some of the tribes to work out jurisdictional issues and come to agreements. We’re always going to uphold the sovereignty of other tribes and we’re not going to push our weight around.”

Peterson says the court decision sets a precedent for other tribes that may want to more actively oversee their own child support programs.

Read the entire decision below:

Correction: A previous version of this story referred to an agreement signed earlier this month by the tribe and state that concerns tribal children in foster care, but mischaracterized it as being related to tribal child support. We regret the error.

Jennifer Canfield is a reporter at KTOO in Juneau.

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