In this April 18, 2019, file photo, Attorney General William Barr speaks about the release of a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report during a news conference at the Department of Justice in Washington. (AP Photo | Patrick Semansky, File)

In this April 18, 2019, file photo, Attorney General William Barr speaks about the release of a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report during a news conference at the Department of Justice in Washington. (AP Photo | Patrick Semansky, File)

Empire Live: Violence against Native women and children is glaring issue with complicated facets

Lawmakers and representatives discuss public safety crisis in Alaska at AFN

4:10 p.m.

The panel closed for the afternoon with a special recognition for Portugal. The Man, a Grammy-award winning Alaskan band who have used their platform to call attention to murdered and missing Alaska Native women and the protection of indigenous land. The conference will resume tomorrow at 8:30 a.m.

3:57 p.m.

“It’s our children fighting!” said Cynthia Ericson. “Where our our fathers? Where are our husbands?”

Ericson said that everyone needed to stand together as family members and parents to protect their children.

“We know who’s bootlegging. We know who’s preying on children,” Ericson said. “Some of them are our leaders. We’re gonna bury a hell of a lot more children if we don’t start walking our talk.”

Ericson said there’s no accountability or sustainability in the programs, and that change needed to happen at the grassroots level if any meaningful change was to happen.

3:52 p.m.

“What’s happening? Why isn’t something being done to find out why my nephew was killed?” asked one commenter to Wilson.

Wilson asked anyone who knows anything about cases to give it the troopers present in their communities, and if they think the trooper isn’t getting the job done, than to appeal to their supervisors and get more information.

“We really want to do the best job we can,” Wilson said. “If we haven’t done the best job we can, we want to know.”

3:49 p.m.

“We can’t be everywhere,” Wilson said. He went on to speak to the difficulties of covering the state of Alaska with 300 troopers and the importance of partnerships and communications with the state troopers to help fill in those gaps.

“We’ve not forgotten. We’ve solved cases this year from 1978 and 1993,” Wilson said. “We try to help, to get out to those communities that need us, and we want to do better.”

Anna Sattler David, a sexual assault survivor, spoke next.

“I think it goes to show that we all have some personal responsibility here,” David said. “Yes, we have some national distinctions that aren’t fun to look at. Suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse. There’s child sexual assault. It’s the rape culture that we all know about.”

David said that Alaskans need to stop electing those who have those behaviors.

“No to sexual abusers. No to domestic violence. No, no, no,” David said. “Even if we make a difference to one human being, we have to do this.”

The panel then opened to questions.

3:35 p.m.

Jeffrey Peterson, special-agent-in-charge of the FBI office in Anchorage, announced the indictment of Brian Smith for the murder of a second native woman. Smith, a South African immigrant, is now charged with the death of Veronica Abouchuk, 53, murdered in 2018.

“We want to be able to focus our efforts and marshall them in the right place,” Peterson said. “We want to focus our efforts on the cases that are most urgent.”

Peterson talked about some recent cases, including a case involving a vehicle accident in Unalaska wherein the FBI brought in specialists from the Lower 48.

Peterson also talked about their support for methodical and strategic support for increasing law enforcement in rural Alaska, including training law enforcement officers proper evidence protocols and efficient handling of sexual assault kits.

Col. Barry Wilson, colonel of the Alaska State Troopers, spoke next.

3:25 p.m.

“One of the federal government’s most fundamental responsibilities is to the public safety of Native people,” said Kitka. But the rates of assault and murder against Alaska Native women and children are some of the highest in the country.

“The fact that it’s complicated and that it’s difficult and that the answers are not so obvious is no reason not to attack it head on,” said Kyle Hopkins, reporter for the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica.

Schroder went on to explain some of the jurisdictional issues regarded law enforcement in Alaska.

3:15 p.m.

“I am a woman and I have experienced violence in my home,” Price said. “I look different and I am different than every prior commissioner for the Department of Public Safety. I do believe in telling the truth and making systematic improvements to our system to support you in your communities.”

Price went on to praise the partnerships and her commitment to improving safety in rural communities.

A panel on violence against Native women and children is next.

2:55 p.m.

When the VPSO program had the budget to maintain effective recruitment and retention, Olson said, there was less of a problem than it is now. But now, Olson said, the program has entered rough waters and it’s bleeding in the water.

“My plan when I went down to Juneau was streamline the process so programs like the VPSOs could more quickly hire and retain,” Olson said. “In the meantime, people are being lost. People are dying.”

Olson encouraged more flexibility in the program management of programs like the VPSOs so they could more easily hire officers and deliver a more effective service.

“In order to be resilient, you have to have the ability to recover and bounce back from crime, from natural disasters, and VPSOs are on the frontline of all of this,” Kopp said.

Schroder talked about the emergency law enforcement declaration.

“It’s usually used in a specific area for a specific problem,” Schroder said. It’s a little unusual for the declaration to be declared for such a broad area, but it makes sense that it’s targeted toward a specific problem.

“What they learned was that many many places in Alaska concerned about the epidemic of drugs,” Schroder said, talking about the DEA. “We’re doing more enforcement. We’re not social workers, but we do a certain amount of outreach. We’ve been doing a lot of travelling in the last month, trying to get out and see places.”

Schroder talked about their vision for Alaska, and how everyone could work towards arriving there.

Delegates then had a chance to ask questions.

2:50 p.m.

Kopp spoke about jurisdictional issues for the VPSOs that need to be sorted out, creating a funding vacuum for tribal courts and law enforcement issues. Kopp said that the issues of funding and jurisdiction need to be sorted by the Alaskan public and legislature if there’s going to be progress.

“Can we look at more of a regional effort in areas of the state which need significantly more help, like western Alaska and northwestern Alaska?” Kopp asked.

Kopp said that they need to address these issues before anything else or else the DPS will not be working towards an effective future.

Olson spoke next.

2:40 p.m.

Gail Shubert acted as moderator for the panel. She opened with a moment of silence for two Alaska Native women murdered in the region.

Alaska Department of Public Safety commissioner Amanda Price, state Senator Donny Olson, state Representative Chuck Kopp, and U.S. attorney Bryan Schroder stood for the panel.

The first question went to Price, asking what her priority for rural safety was.

“I am very encouraged by some of the actions we’ve been able to get accomplished in a short period of time,” Price said. “We obviously have many, many challenges to face.”

Price said that the resources for rural public safety were being prioritized for delivery.

“The rub is that we don’t know how to make that happen, and that’s why it’s important for this partnership to happen,” Price said.

Price outlined the Village Public Safety Officer (VPSO) program, created in the 1970s. The DPS has control over the AST, the Alaska Wildlife Troopers. The question is what an appropriate response to problems that Alaska has struggled with since statehood, Price said.

“I think that the public safety crisis in Alaska has been persistent and prevalent,” Price said. “I believe that we do have a crisis of public safety in our state.”

Kopp was next to speak.

2:30 p.m.

Murkowski was effusive in her praise of Barr’s efforts both in Alaska and at the federal level, and for the grants and cooperation from the Department of Justice.

“We saw that there was an opportunity to present the issues, to talk about the statistics, to tell the story. But for the attorney general to be on the ground,” Murkowski said, “that’s where the connect happened. You have gone that one step further. We look forward to continuing that level of cooperation.”

Murkowski said that while there have been some discouraging statistics, there has been progress. But working hard, there has been progress.

“We do have an opportunity to do with public safety what we’ve done with healthcare,” Murkowski said, citing improvements in rural healthcare in the last several decades.

“Mr. Attorney General, you referenced that women should not feel that they have to move into the cities to be safe. I think we in the state are wrestling with the reality that Native women who come to the cities to be safe are equally threatened,” Murkowski said. “As we address aspects of rural safety, we have to address that we have a larger problem that’s breaking our hearts, for the safety of Native women.”

A panel on rural public safety took the stage next.

2:25 p.m.

Other improvements include new positions for prosecutors dedicated to violent crime in Alaska Native villages and the creation of the anti-violence programs for rural Alaska.

“The challenge is very great,” Barr said. “I understand the problem is very serious but I look forward to working with you and others to enhancing safety in Alaska Native villages.”

U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan was next to speak.

“I think this shows just how serious the federal government is about this,” said Sullivan, who thanked Barr and other Alaskans for their ideas and efforts to help curb rural violence, particularly leaders from Alaska Native communities.

“Here’s my final point. I think we need to aim high,” Sullivan said, talking about having the public safety infrastructure in every community that wanted it. “Every American expects that and we don’t anything close to that.”

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski was next.

2:10 p.m.

AFN President Julie Kitka welcome U.S. Attorney General William Barr as he teleconferenced in from Washington, D.C.

Barr thanked those who hosted him when he visited Alaska after his confirmation.

“I saw the beauty of Alaska and the beauty of your people the determination of the Alaska Native people to surmount their challenges,” Barr said. “I wanted to go where the need is greatest. I recognize the depth of need in Alaska. It faces unique challenges in the public safety arena.”

Barr committed to working on public safety for rural Alaska, particularly the Alaska Native villages. By declaring a law enforcement emergency, Barr said, he was able to cut $6 million dollars for rural Alaska, for use in improving infrastructure and hiring more law enforcement officers.

“Just recently, $42 million dollars were awarded to Alaska Native villages,” Barr said.

The money will go towards a variety of law enforcement programs, Barr said.

1:50 p.m

Juneau Empire reporter Michael S. Lockett will be continuing live coverage of the Alaska Federation of Natives’ annual convention. At 2:10 p.m., U.S Attorney General William Barr and U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, will be streaming live from D.C. to to discuss the federal emergency declaration Barr declared about Alaska’s public safety system.

10:15 a.m.

The Empire will be checking back in with the AFN Convention over the course of the event, but is taking a break for now. Check back in for more coverage of public safety discussions around 2 p.m. Remarks are expected from U.S. Attorney General William Barr, U.S. Senator Liza Murkowski and U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan.

Around 3 p.m., there will be a panel discussion about public safety for Native women and children.

According to the agenda, that will feature Bryan Schroder, U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska; Jeffery Peterson, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Anchorage Field Office; Col. Barry Wilson, Director, Alaska State Troopers; Justin Doll, Anchorage Chief of Police Nancy Reeder, City of Fairbanks Chief of Police; Anna Sattler David, Show Producer for “Anna’s Alaska;” and Kyle Hopkins, reporter for the Anchorage Daily News/ ProPublica.

10:05 a.m.

After those remarks were made, the meeting returned to its agenda, and Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham; Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, D-Bethel; and Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome; are speaking.

Edgmon said Alaska’s state government is in a stage of transition.

“We are transitioning away from having state government being funded almost entirely by oil revenue,” Edgmon said.

He said everyone on stage would support a $3,000 PFD if schools and government programs could remain intact.

“Like our corporations, we have to take the long view,” Edgmon said.

He said he agreed with Mayo and others who said the governor should be treated with respect.

“We’re at a point where oil has declined to a place where our savings are basically spent, we don’t want to over-draw the permanent fund,” Edgmon said. “I think in the few moments that I have, I want to mention that our caucus is going to take a very responsible look at the budget next year.”

He said a strong university, a viable ferry system that serves all of coastal Alaska, a criminal justice system that treats everyone fairly and Pioneer Homes are all necessary.

“We don’t have near the level of state services we should have in our communities,” Edgmon said of Bush Alaska. “As I bring my comments to close, I want to sort of end with a little bit of good news.”

The good news was the establishment of the House Tribal Affairs Special Committee.

“For the first time, there’s a legislative committee fully dedicated to tribal affairs in Alaska,” Edgmon said.

9:57 a.m.

Victor Joseph, Chief/Chairman, Tanana Chiefs Conference and AFN Board Member, and Aaron Schutt, President and CEO, Doyon, Limited are both condemning the protests during the governor’s speech.

“In no case should we ever disrespect our guests, disrespect each other,” Schutt said.

Joseph apologized to the governor and first lady.

“We have the responsibility to treat everybody the way that the Interior would treat people, and that is with respect,” Joseph said. “I would just like to thank Will for the words that he said.”

9:55 a.m.

Rose Dunleavy said Coaching Boys Into Men was chosen to be recognized since it is a program that specifically reaches out to young men in a positive way.

“There is hope in Alaska, and a lot of it will start with these young men and the coaches who are here to mentor them,” she said.

Robert Casperson, Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé basketball coach, joined Friday on stage to accept the Shirley Demientieff Award.

He did not speak.

The governor was presented with a silk eagle tie, the first lady received a silver octopus bracelet.

9:48 a.m.

Simon Friday, a student from University of Alaska Fairbanks is on stage to accept the award.

“There’s a lot of Natives here,” said a visibly and audibly nervous Friday.

He said he participated in the Coaching Boys Into Men about five years ago.

“Y’know, back in my day,” Friday joked.

He said programs like Coaching Boys Into Men help to provide young men with the tools needed to end the epidemic of domestic violence.

“Let the darkness of domestic violence fall with the rise of the next generation of young men,” Friday said.

9:40 a.m.

Audible protests have stopped, but applause has mostly been tepid.

Dunleavy said his administration would introduce a bill that would make tribal compacting for education a reality and also said he would work to protect Power Cost Equalization, which earlier this year seemed to be threatened by a book-keeping quirk known as “the sweep.”

“A legitimate concern was raised about the long-term protection of the PCE endowment,” Dunleavy said.

He said he would work with lawmakers to protect PCE.

He did not mention the protests during his remarks.

Rose Dunleavy, who is from Noorvik, followed the governor.

“As my father was known to say, ‘Hard work has changed somewhat. We had no stove oil, we had no electricity, but we had to work hard to be alive. Things change, but there is still a lot a fellow can do,’” she said. “My father, mother and all our elders who have passed on would be proud to see how far we have come as Alaska Natives.”

She introduced a video highlighting this year’s winner of the Shirley Demientieff Award, which is annually presented by the governor at the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention. The winner has not yet been formally announced, but it’s going to someone or a program from Kake.

A video introducing the award highlighted the coaching Boys Into Men Program at Kake.

9:30 a.m.

During Dunleavy’s remarks, singing and jeers could be heard coming from the audience.

It has been quelled by a AFN co-chair Will Mayo.

“I can’t agree with this, we have different views, we may approach things differently, but we have a man here who is in a seat of authority, and there are ways we can express our differences,” he said.

He said the audience has the right to protest but asked them to exercise it at voting poles or in a way that doesn’t derail the governor’s speech.

“We are not here to attack you,” Mayo said to Dunleavy. “We would like to ask you to continue your address and know that you have the protection of the Alaska Native community in this house. You are our guest.”

9:25 a.m.

Dunleavy is joined by his wife, Rose, who was introduced as the first Alaska Native first lady of Alaska.

Dunleavy noted the police- and economy-focused convention agenda.

“I have to say this is a good thing,” Dunleavy said.

He said all Alaskans should want the same improvements.

“We know things can be better, and we must insist on better outcomes,” Dunleavy said.

He acknowledged the rocky process that eventually led to the state’s operating budget and promised a more collaborative, less combative process moving forward.

“We will listen to your input as we go through this process,” Dunleavy said. “We all know the budget discussions were very difficult and contentious this past year.”

“I will work to ensure the budget process goes much more smoothly this year,” he added.

Dunleavy said all backlogged sexual assault kits are scheduled to be processed.

[Department of Public Safety proposes fix for rape ecidence kit backlog]

9:21 a.m.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz is now up.

He said it’s a little awkward for a municipal leader to welcome people who have been in the state for tens of thousands of years.

“At this point, I think local government is the only form of good government remaining,” Berkowitz said.

He said that’s not just municipalities and boroughs, but also tribes.

While he hasn’t mentioned Dunleavy by name, it’s hard not to interpret some of his words as a comment of Dunleavy’s budget cuts.

“We are not content to be mediocre,” Berkowitz said. “Good government is not about managing, it is about leading. We do massive disservice to our legacy, to our future when we undercut the infrastructure, when we undercut the education that makes all things possible in our future.”

9:17 a.m.

Ward spoke briefly about the convention’s theme “Good Government, Alaskan Driven.”

“Good government by Alaskans, for Alaskans is a legacy we much leave for our children,” Ward said.

So did Welch.

“This is Alaskan driven, y’all should stand up and clap for yourselves,” Welch said. “That’s what drives those of us who are here to serve you.”

He asked those in attendance to share their stories, so elected officials could do to best serve residents.

“Some of us that are elected, we do listen, believe it our not,” Welch said.

9:10 a.m.

Ward is holding his 2-year-old son while welcoming visitors.

“I am on dad patrol today, so he’s going to be joining me,” Ward said. “He did well for the first hour, but now he’s starting to get a little squirrely.”

The audience clapped at the mention of dad patrol.

9:05 a.m.

Welcoming remarks are running past the scheduled time. Right now, City of Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly, Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Bryce Ward and City of North Pole Mayor Michael Welch are speaking.

8:55 a.m.

Gov. Michael Dunleavy is scheduled to give a 15-minute speech this morning at the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention in Fairbanks.

There’s widespread curiosity about the governor will say during the “state of Alaska” speech scheduled for 9:05 a.m. in light of ongoing recall efforts as well as polarizing efforts to amend the Roadless Rule.

[Read more about what’s on an agenda that’s meant to appeal to every Alaskan]

• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.

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