December 18, 2001

Update on the Alaska Equal Protection Lawsuit


AUTHOR: Native American Rights Fund (NARF) Press Release

Lare Aschenbrenner, the directing attorney of the Alaska office of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), is taking the lead for the plaintiffs in the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council v. Alaska lawsuit.

Currently, NARF is representing ten villages, the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council and the Alaska Native Justice Center in a case against the State of Alaska, which challenges the State’s inadequate provision of law enforcement to off-road Native Villages on the grounds of racial discrimination.

There are 165 off-road rural communities of which 73 have no local police at all!

The complaint alleges that the actions of the State are unlawfully prohibiting Native villages from keeping the peace in the traditional ways, which rendered them defenseless to lawbreakers, while failing to provide them even minimally adequate police protection under the State law enforcement system.

The complaint further alleges the State violated the Villages’ rights to due process of law and basic law enforcement protection guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I of the Alaska Constitution.

The complaint also alleges that the State’s discriminatory treatment of Native villages in the provision of police protection is based on race and therefore violates the Villages’ right to equal protection of the law under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I of the Alaska Constitution.

The Present Scenario

There are 165 off-road rural communities of which 73 have no local police at all. The lack of local police means:

  • There is no police presence to deter crime in the first instance.

  • Crime rates increase.

  • There is an open invitation to the illegal importation of alcohol and drugs, which are the primary factors in most crimes in the villages.

  • There is no one local to make arrests and no one to hold offenders in custody pending a court appearance.

  • There is no one to assist in incidents of domestic violence as they are occurring.

  • There is no one to make mandatory arrests, serve warrants, serve domestic violence restraining orders, and no one to enforce these orders if they are served.
The Impact of the Case

There is a critical need for police protection in rural Alaska. The role that police officers play as peace-makers and enforcers of tribal, state and federal laws is important to maintaining the safety and security of all Alaska’s citizens.

Some positive results for the State and especially rural Alaskans includes:

  • Adequate police protection to a significant minority population of the State.

  • Police protection to 36 predominantly non-Native communities in Alaska.

  • Awareness, education, intervention and the prevention of incidences of maltreatment toward children.

  • Awareness, education, intervention and the prevention of domestic abuse.

  • Improved law enforcement system to deal with felony and misdemeanor crimes in rural Alaska in collaboration with state and tribal governments.

  • Focus on the improvement of the State’s discriminatory policies in other areas.

  • Adequately staffed, efficient and well-trained police forces.

  • Healthier and safer communities.

On October 25, 2001, Alaska Native leaders convened with the Alaska Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission to voice the
immediate problems facing their communities. At the forefront of the many issues plaguing Alaska Native communities is equal police protection.

The Legal Forecast

Oral argument on the State’s motion for Summary Judgment seeking dismissal of all claims was held on December 7, 2001. Assuming this motion is denied, which we expect, trial on the merits is scheduled to commence on February 4, 2002, and is expected to last nine days.

We expect a decision on the merits next Spring or Summer. Regardless of who prevails, this case will no doubt be appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court with a decision likely in early 2003.


The Native American Rights Fund is a non-profit organization that provides legal advice and representation to Indian tribes,
individuals and organizations nationwide in the areas of the preservation of tribal existence; the protection of tribal natural resources; the promotion of human rights; the accountability of
governments to Native Americans; and the development of Indian law.

NARF is headquartered in Boulder, Colorado with offices in Washington, DC and Anchorage, Alaska.

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