Danika Watson


Until 2022, all but one of the 229 Alaska tribes were barred from special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction (SDVCJ): Congress's jurisdictional tool for tribal courts to address domestic violence and hold perpetrators of violence against Alaska Native women criminally accountable. The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 2022 brought SDVCJ to Alaska's rural Native communities. This landmark achievement was made possible by decades of advocacy from Alaska's tribal, state, and federal leadership. In the wake of VAWA 2022, Alaska tribes and tribal justice systems face several significant legal, political, and cultural challenges. This Article outlines the legal and practical issues Alaska Native tribes face when implementing SDVCJ. To do so, this Article includes an overview of tribal jurisdiction under VAWA and Alaska Native tribes' inclusion in VAWA 2022. This Article explores the lessons learned from the Lower 48 Tribes Accelerated Pilot Program, which was an accelerated pilot project that permitted specific tribes to begin exercising SDVCJ more than a year before the law was implemented for all tribes, and considerations based on Alaska's ongoing public safety and domestic violence crisis, community needs and standards, and unique tribal law enforcement context. The Article also discusses how Alaskan tribes moving towards implementing SDVCJ in their courts may create Native-led, trauma-informed judicial processes for domestic violence survivors and communities in partnership with existing resources from Alaska Native-led civil organizations while including lessons learned from the Lower 48 Tribes Accelerated Pilot Program.

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