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‘Choose Respect’ Fails To Protect Native Women – Diane E Benson

(Diane Benson is a writer and professor of Native studies at the University of Alaska, and is a recent recipient of the national Bonnie Heavy-Runner Advocacy Award in recognition of outstanding service to victims of crime in Indian country.)

Choose Respect Gov Parnell

It’s a method, marches. Historically marches are held to protest (civil rights), to get from one point to another (relocation) and to parade power (military). Generally, the word indicates walking lock-step whether literally or metaphorically. Choose Respect marches for change.

But what are we trying to change, a social behavior? The march says Alaska is a violent place and we need to change it. How, and by what entity? Individual Alaskans are asked to make this change by choosing respect when engaging with one another. The march, at best, “brings awareness” one day a year (and would with or without the governor). But the goal is to change violence in a society, which is nebulous in comparison to say, pushing for a civil rights bill or to stop a state action.

The Choose Respect anti-violence programs are great things for schools, but government needs to take tangible actions rather than just mirror sentiments to actually curb violence against women.

There is one area where Alaska could make substantive change, but the governor would have to start by changing his attitude in regard to violence against Native women.

The State of Alaska has certain obligations to provide for the protections of its citizens. The state chose to be in charge of that obligation over tribes when it opted to follow a federal mandate affecting six states — Public Law-280. This means, in simple terms, that the state accepted an unfunded federal mandate to handle crimes occurring within tribes.

Statehood didn’t change the history of law and agreements that developed between the federal government and the tribes, no matter the state’s attitude. The State of Alaska chose to exercise jurisdiction through PL-280 — with or without tribal consent. Tribes are still tribes, and a long legislative history recognizes tribes, and even PL-280 intended for states to work with tribes. Sadly, state leadership appears continually gun-shy to acknowledge tribes and their inherent powers to self-govern and this inhibits the ability for tribes to help protect their own tribal members.

So what does this mean in protecting the most abused population in the nation – Alaska Native women? It means the state would rather ignore them than acknowledge tribal self-government and reliance on tribal courts (which would be more efficient and cost effective) to help enforce protective orders. It means the state prefers paternalism over an effective state-tribal relationship as in some other states. The catch is the state government wants control and responsibility over tribal safety — they just don’t want to pay for it.

View the State of Alaska’s Choose Respect website and you may find lists of options for federal, private and faith-based resources and programs. Interestingly, there is no mention of tribes or of working with tribes. The governor is relying on outside resources to help address Alaskan violence problems (and not even specifically rape). His sexual assault solutions include more Village Public Safety Officers and funding certain faith-based women programs and shelters. Some other shelters, known to help the most destitute, have had to close their doors for lack of funding.

Furthermore, the Governor’s Office apparently met with Sen. Lisa Murkowski before the Violence against Women Act (VAWA) vote. Sen. Murkowski thereafter was compelled to reinforce Metlakatla’s (a reservation) tribal authority under VAWA to investigate cases, but not for other Alaskan tribes. This should have extended to all the tribes. It’s proven that abuses against Native women occur by both Native and non-Native men, making this extension of authority all the more important, especially since many Native women are married to non-Native men. Now the powers that be have once again failed Native women.

The governor demonstrates a condescending paternalism and apparent unwillingness to at least encourage concurrent jurisdiction and improve state-tribal relations. The state has failed to protect Native women. Tribes can help with solutions if the state actually works with them.

Quite frankly it is disingenuous, and dangerous for women, to deny real remedies while parading around in lock-step for show and political capital.

(This article originally appeared as a Compass Opinion Piece in the Anchorage Daily News. It is used with permission from the author.)



7 Responses to “‘Choose Respect’ Fails To Protect Native Women – Diane E Benson”
  1. mike from iowa says:

    Near the bottom of this article,Young tells Alaskans that they should drink alone to prevent the possibility of violence when they drink together. It is all so simple. Makes one wonder why they aren’t more rwnj philosophers on duty now. Choose to be a loner/alcoholic and your troubles are over.

  2. Jag24 says:

    The governor is a sociosham who makes the right flavor of BS for his followers.

    In the Choose Lip Service photo going viral amongst Alaskans, Lindsey Holmes looks like a chunky monkey. Who photo-mega-enhanced her? That was just cruel– she counts for three people!

  3. Alaska Pi says:

    Thank you for running Ms Benson’s piece here.
    There are lots and lots of things necessary to solving the problems of domestic violence here. Choosing respect must include tools for communities to deal with the realities of the problems here, which to my mind ,include a serious attempt to work out tribal authority and jurisdiction here- something well beyond the clap-hands-over-ears-and-chant-lalalala-there’s-no-such-thing routine the state has done for 40 years.

  4. Parnell likes to Choose Oil not Respect says:

    There is a story that broke that a man in Hooper Bay killed his girlfriend in a drunken rage, and doesn’t remember anything until he woke up and found her dead, with the children crying beside her on the floor…
    Seems to me Parnell is more interested in lining the pockets of oil industries then “choosing respect” and that lack of funding to help this “program” Parnell is simply allowing the “failure to protect” the “vulnerable adults” to get murdered and neglected with hopes that “incompetents cannot afford attorney’s” and the funds attained that sit in a bank account are more important than human life…
    I think that NANA and CIRI should step up and sue the State…start from the beginning to restore justice…
    Let the Big Boy Natives come up and give Sean and the rest of his “gangs” a legal taste of their own medicine and teach them some manners…Tlingit style I hear is feared most…lol…Alaskans will send Sean and Company an ointment to rub on the whole that hurts the most…ouch those politics hurt…history repeats itself! And the oldest tribes in humanity will face wipe and ask “do they understand yet” answer to be seen…
    My guess…probably not…and the way it looks they never will…greed has consumed them to the bone…

    • Alaska Pi says:

      CIRI is my Regional Corporation. It is a for -profit corporation. So is NANA.
      Why would either sue the State as relates to tribal jurisdiction? They are not tribes, they are not tribal governments.

    • lol... says:

      yeah they are right along side of the Parasites of Alaska…well then I guess the Kid will sue the State and in the trials…in Alaska, Washington DC and Geneva the “tribal rights” will get brought up…after all it’s the same thing…the State of Alaska took something that didn’t belong to them, violating “birthright” laws and funds that sit in the State of Alaska Treasury…guess they only know where they have been…let the white men put you there too…fight back…naw drink yourself drunk…that’s defense…head shake…

      • Alaska Pi says:

        What in the world are you talking about?
        Does any of it have to do with inherent sovereignty, tribal jurisdiction, or anything germane to the conversation here?
        And no, the RNCs are not parasites nor alongside parasites or any of that. whatever you are saying They are for-profit corporations which should never be confused with tribal governmental bodies. A couple of sneaky amendments by Senator Stevens allows the RNCs to get into the nation-to-nation relationship with the Fed but they are NOT governments- anymore than Pepsico, Walmart, or the like are governments…