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Obama signs measure to extend VAWA tribal provision to Alaska

President Barack Obama signed S.47, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, at the Sidney R. Yates Auditorium at the U.S. Department of Interior in Washington, D.C., on March 7, 2013. A section that excluded Alaska from the tribal jurisdiction provisions of the law has been repealed with Obama's signature on S.1474, the Alaska Safe Families and Villages Act. Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

President Barack Obama signed S.1474, the Alaska Safe Families and Villages Act, into law on Thursday.

The bill repeals Section 910 of Section 910 of S.47, the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. That means Alaska tribes, like those in the lower 48, will be able to exercise jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit domestic violence offenses in Indian Country.

The jurisdiction provisions won't kick in until March 2015. But Alaska tribes face unique challenges going forward because Indian Country isn't clearly defined in the state and because their court systems aren't as mature as those in the lower 48.

The Indian Country issue gained some clarity on Thursday when the Bureau of Indian Affairs announced a final rule for land-into-trust in Alaska. But the state continues to fight the change in federal court.

Regarding court systems, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) have said they will work to secure funding and training. That should help Alaska tribes show that their justice systems can protect the constitutional rights of all offenders as required by VAWA.

Alaska Native women suffer from the highest rates of domestic violence in the state.

Indian Law and Order Commission Report:
A Roadmap For Making Native America Safer (November 2013)

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