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UAA Forum Brings Awareness to Tribal Courts

March 27, 2013|By Blake Essig | Channel 2 News

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — It's a delicate and sometimes controversial balance: tribal courts versus the State of Alaska's judicial system.

On Wednesday night, nearly 100 people attended the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center’s forum called “Tribal Courts in Alaska: Past, Present, and Future.”

Panelists from across Alaska addressed such issues as sovereignty, jurisdiction, training and the functions tribal courts perform, with the hopes of giving people a better idea of how tribal courts operate and their significance in the state.

"They're people in the villages,” said Lisa Jaeger, a tribal government specialist with Tanana Chiefs Conference.  “They're usually not lawyers; they're just lay people that are trying to take care of their children.  They're trying to protect women and children and do it in the most fair way they can."


Jaeger says there are currently over 100 tribes across Alaska that have organized tribal courts and are hearing cases, although not every tribe wants or has a tribal court.

"Tribal courts, especially in small, rural communities are really the first level of justice that are available to local communities,” said Jaeger.

Typically these courts will handle things like child protective cases, adoption and welfare issues. They also deal with protection orders in domestic violence cases, as well as alcohol related issues.

While there are some experts that believe tribal courts are more than capable of standing on their own, there is still strong resistance by the state concerning criminal cases.    

“Ultimately, what I would like to see the state cooperate with tribal courts to the level someday that they can become a part of the criminal justice system,” said Walt Monegan, Alaska Native Justice Center CEO.

Wednesday’s Tribal Courts in Alaska forum was part of National Criminal Justice Month, which was established by the U.S. Congress in 2009, with the purpose of promoting societal awareness.

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