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Some Alaska Native tribes look to establish tribal courts

December 23, 2018

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Some Alaska Native tribes are interested in organizing tribal courts as a way to further exercise their sovereignty.

Tribal representatives from southeast Alaska recently gathered for a conference in Juneau to discuss ideas.

The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska has a tribal court in Juneau.

When it began in 2007, it handled child custody hearings. But the court has expanded over the years, to include divorce, domestic violence and other cases, the Juneau Empire reported.

Marina Rose Anderson, the vice president and administrative assistant for the Organized Village of Kasaan, was among the officials who attended the conference. Issues that happen close to home should be handled close to home, Anderson said, rather than having people outside the community make legal decisions.

Her goal is to make the tribe as independent as possible, Anderson said.

Hoonah Indian Association Tribal Administrator Robert Starbard had similar thoughts.

“I think for us, the primary importance of a tribal court is that it gives additional legitimacy and eligibility to our sovereignty,” he said. “You cannot be sovereign if you cannot exercise control over what happens with your ordinances and laws. Tribal court is a mechanism that allows us to do that.”

CCTHITA Tribal Court Judge Debra O’Gara said the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs can providing funding to help tribes form tribal courts. Establishing tribal courts throughout southeast Alaska is a possibility, she said.

“We don’t have time to wait any longer,” O’Gara said. “We have to do it now.”

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