Can ‘Indian country’ powers combat violence in rural Alaska? Sullivan says he’ll discuss it with AG Barr.

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan addressing AFN at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center on Oct. 20, 2018. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)(Photo

U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr is coming to Alaska this week. Sen. Dan Sullivan said he will focus on rural law enforcement, particularly for the more than 70 Alaska villages that have no police officers.

On Alaska Public Media’s “Talk of Alaska” show Tuesday, host Lori Townsend asked Sullivan how he feels about Indian Country jurisdiction. That is, letting Alaska tribes enforce tribal law to fight crime.

“Do you favor allowing them to have the kind of police powers in their villages that Lower 48 tribes have in reservation communities?” Townsend asked.

“Well, it’s an issue that we’re looking at,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan did not take a stand on an Indian Country pilot program in the House version of the Violence Against Women reauthorization bill. The program, beefed up by Congressman Don Young, would let up to five Alaska Native tribes enforce tribal law to tackle domestic violence. Townsend asked if he would support keeping the program in the Senate version of the bill.

“I think, you know, we’re going to have a discussion about that. I think you have to look at the different issues with regard to, you know, jurisdictional authority over non-Natives,” Sullivan said. “Those communities are not all Alaska Native communities.”

The broader problem of domestic violence is one of Sullivan’s signature concerns. The senator said he’s working on a series of bills based on the “Choose Respect” campaign he pursued when he was state attorney general.

One of those bills became law last year. The Power Act requires the chief federal judge of each judicial district to conduct public events promoting free legal services for crime victims. 

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

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