Halley Petersen


Since 2015, at least a dozen tribal court banishments have been reported in Alaska, mainly involving alleged bootleggers and drug dealers in rural communities. Rural Alaska communities, which are predominantly Alaska Native, face high rates of alcoholism, drug abuse, and related crime. Faced with these drug and alcohol issues and insufficient access to law enforcement, it is not surprising that some communities have decided to banish offenders. However, banishment is not currently legal, at least when imposed upon non-Native citizens. Tribal courts lack sufficient jurisdiction over non-Natives to banish them for bootlegging or dealing drugs. Tribal governments are sovereigns with inherent powers, but they are subject to certain restrictions under the federal government. Land-based jurisdiction is insufficient to claim jurisdiction in these cases because Alaska lacks significant Indian country and the Montana factors fail to provide definitive support. Tribal jurisdiction, however, should be expanded to allow tribal courts to banish non-Natives for violations of drug and alcohol laws to improve access to justice, decrease the burden on state law enforcement, and improve welfare in rural Alaskan communities.

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