With the goal of improving public safety in rural communities throughout Alaska, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch met with Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) and Alaska tribal leaders June 10 in Anchorage. Chosen as the location for the hour-long meeting was the Fireweed Business Center, CIRI’s corporate headquarters.
In a letter dated June 10, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, welcomed the attorney general and thanked her for her willingness to discuss the difficult issues affecting Alaska’s remote and rural communities – such as heroin and opiate abuse, Alaska Native trust lands, loss of coverage for Native languages under the Voting Rights Act, and criminal justice reform and reinvestment in Alaska.
The issues were set forth by AFN, the largest Alaska Native organization in the state, whose mission is to enhance and promote the cultural, economic and political voice of the entire Alaska Native community. CIRI shareholder and executive Greg Razo sits on AFN’s board of directors and was recently recognized as a White House “Champion of Change” for his efforts to improve Alaska’s civil and criminal justice systems.
During the meeting, Lynch raised with the group two proposals: establishing a working group of federal, state and tribal organizations to address Alaska Native public safety issues; and adding a new position – Senior Counselor for Alaska Native Affairs – to the U.S. attorney’s office in Alaska to work on Native issues.
In a brief press conference, Lynch described the meeting as “thought-provoking and substantive.”
“In the days ahead, we will continue to speak up, to speak out and to stand with Alaska Natives to guarantee that every eligible individual can make his or her voice heard,” she said.
The idea for the Alaska meeting was proposed by Sen. Murkowski during a Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, held May 7, 2015, in Washington, D.C. “The public safety challenges that face Alaska Native villages run the gamut, everything from the absence of full-time law enforcement officers in some villages, inadequate resources devoted toward community-based prevention and restorative justice efforts,” Sen. Murkowski said. “I would like your commitment that you will work with me, you will work with AFN to really be involved to a personal extent and degree with some of these challenges that we are facing as they relate to rural justice in our Native areas, in our rural areas.”
“I would look forward to such a meeting, and I would welcome it,” Lynch said.
Following the June 10 meeting at CIRI’s headquarters, the attorney general visited CIRI-affiliated nonprofit Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC) for a roundtable discussion with nine Alaska Native youth, including CIRI shareholder Dajonee “Nene” Hale, current CITC intern and former CIRI intern, who shared her concerns about homelessness and substance abuse, particularly among teens. The event was co-hosted by First Alaskans Institute.
“While there’s so much wisdom to be gained from our Elders, there’s so much truth to be heard from our young people,” Lynch told the group. Issues raised during the discussion included depression and suicide risk, public safety and domestic abuse.
“The stories that you all have really are the ones that will inform me and my team as we go back and try to make sure the Department of Justice can answer you, can answer your questions, can answer your concerns,” Lynch said.
“While we have much work to do to overcome the many challenges facing rural Alaska, we are encouraged by the attorney general’s visit,” CIRI President and CEO Sophie Minich said. “By addressing the social, economic and educational issues facing Alaska Native people and their communities, we can start working today for a brighter tomorrow.”