After a long fought battle, the First Nations of Alaska now rightfully have control over child support cases for eligible families in their jurisdiction. 

Alaska must now recognize child support orders from tribal courts thanks to the State’s Supreme Court ruling in March. Additionally, the court ruled that tribal court jurisdiction now extends to non-member parents of children eligible for membership.

This decision is a victory for Alaska’s First Nations. It secures family rights for Native people, where previously there were limited ways for tribal members to ensure the guaranteed safety and well-being of their children.

Previously, the administration of Governor Sean Parnell did not recognize child support orders issued directly by Tribal courts. They would first have to send orders through the state of Washington before their home state of Alaska would see them. The extra time and money to have documents first be diluted through the state of Washington was detrimental to Native family life in Alaska.

In 2010, the Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska sued the State, saying that tribal courts “have inherent jurisdiction in child support cases when the child is a tribal member or is eligible for membership.” In the latest ruling, Justice Dana Fabe declared “ensuring that parents financially care for their children is a pillar of domestic relations and is directly related to the well-being of the next generation. Setting, modifying, and enforcing such obligations is one way that tribal courts play a vital role in tribal self-government”.

Two days following the court ruling, Central Council President Richard Peterson said that the Tribe and State’s Child Support Services Divisions have developed successful working relationships to ensure that all children will receive the help and support they need.

The history of splitting the family dynamic of Native peoples has proven to be damaging for the preservation of Native culture. Not too long ago, between the mid 19th century and late 20th century, Native children were forcefully removed from their families and placed in boarding schools, with the primary goal of mainstreaming these children into American Culture while destroying all remnants of Native life, including their spoken languages.

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission must take place so that a formal process of healing can begin. The Lakota People’s Law Project is calling for such a commission to focus on three tasks. First, to document the stories of boarding school survivors so that they are forever in our national records. Second, to investigate the impacts and ongoing effects of the boarding school policy. And lastly, to come up with recommendations on how to address the inter-generational trauma, and establish a way in which Tribal governments can set-up their own foster care systems.

The arduous process to produce a success story for First Nations is something that should not further continue in our country, an official healing process is long overdue.