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Home » Press » Senator French criticizes state challenge of Minto Tribal Court ruling

Senator French criticizes state challenge of Minto Tribal Court ruling

Seal of the State of Alaska

Alaska State Legislature
Senator Hollis French

August 27, 2013

Michael Geraghty, Attorney General
Department of Law
P.O. Box 110300 
Juneau, AK 99811-0300

Dear Attorney General Geraghty,

I write to express my concern with the Department of Law’s decision to challenge a Minto tribal court order to terminate the parental rights of a convicted domestic violence offender.  As you know, Mr. Parks was convicted in 2012 of the kidnapping and near-fatal assault of his former long-time partner, Bessie Stearman.  By joining Mr. Parks in his challenge of this tribal court order before the Alaska Supreme Court, the administration has chosen to use a known perpetrator of domestic violence as a vehicle for opposing Alaska Native communities’ rights of self-determination in matters of family law.

The ability of Alaska Native tribes to protect their members from the threat of violence is an essential feature of any credible framework for reducing the tragically high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska.  Tribal courts are a valuable resource for underserved communities to oversee important matters of health, safety and well-being of tribal members.  Undercutting the authority of tribal courts reduces personal accountability and local control in these essential matters.

From a legal standpoint, the department’s backing of Mr. Parks in this case disregards the tribal court authority explicitly established by the Indian Child Welfare Act and case law precedent. The Department’s intervention echoes the state’s expensive and misguided challenge to inherent tribal jurisdiction in Kaltag v. State of Alaska, in which the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals explicitly ruled that tribes have inherent authority in matters of adoption of their own members. When the state appealed that to the US Supreme Court, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case. As the child in question in Mr. Parks’ case is a member of the Minto tribe, the Kaltag case precedent strongly suggests your challenge is both ill-founded and at odds with the letter and spirit of a law to intended to empower Native Alaskans.

Furthermore, the Alaska Supreme Court indicated in John v. Baker II that “it should be presumed that tribal courts’ decisions are sound and deserving of comity unless the challenging party can show otherwise.”  However, the Department has chosen to challenge the tribal court’s decision not on its merits, but by denying the ability of the tribal court to make binding judgments about Mr. Parks’ fitness to have custody of one of its members.  As noted above, this approach ignores precedent, and if applied in practice would vastly curtail the ability of sovereign Alaska Native tribes to govern the health and safety of their members. 

Mr. Parks’ violent and brutal crimes demonstrate he was a fundamental threat to his family, and the fact that his daughter was in protective custody while he committed his crimes indicates the tribal court exercised good judgment and discretion in terminating his parental rights.  At a time when Alaskans are eager to see empowering solutions to domestic violence and sexual assault, this challenge of well-established law in defense of the parental rights of a domestic violence perpetrator is out of line with the values and respect for the rule of law Alaskans hold.

Since the state’s status as an Intervenor-Respondent in this case is optional, I strongly urge you to drop the administration’s intervention in this case and acknowledge the tribal court’s decision was well within its authority under The Indian Child Welfare Act and applicable legal precedent.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

[signed] Hollis French

Senator Hollis French

716 West 4th Avenue • Anchorage, AK 99501 • (907) 269-0234 • Sen.Hollis.French@akleg.gov
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