To Fix Rural Alaska Public Safety Problem, AVCP Advocates For Modeling System Off Health Care

Oct 16, 2020

AVCP President and CEO Vivian Korthius at the AVCP Annual Convention in Bethel, Alaska on Oct. 6, 2016.
Credit Dean Swope / KYUK

As some activists in the lower  48 advocate for defunding law enforcement, rural Alaska tribes are doing the opposite. They’re working to get more funding for law enforcement for communities that have few, or no, public safety officers. A panel addressed this issue on the first day at the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention.

At the forefront of this work is the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta tribal non-profit, the Association of Village Council Presidents. President and CEO Vivian Korthuis calls the situation a crisis, one that the pandemic has exacerbated.

"A double emergency, one layered on top of the other,” she described.

Both emergencies require first responders. In rural villages, that’s usually a health aide and a public safety officer. But many villages only have the first.

“We have, it seems like," Korthuis said, "one hand tied behind our back because of the lack of public safety that exists in many of our villages.”

To untie that other hand, Korthuis wants Alaska tribes to build a public safety system based on its health care model. Just as there are health aides located in clinics in villages, Korthuis wants to place public safety officers in public safety buildings in rural communities. The keys to the model already exist for tribal health corporations. She identified these keys as direct federal funding, recognized tribal authority, and partnerships across the federal, state, and tribal levels.

“My advice is to listen to the tribes and the tribal organizations," Korthuis said. "We know what works in our villages.”

Following Korthuis, the nation’s top legal officer addressed the AFN Convention in a pre-recorded video. U.S. Attorney General William Barr wore a blue kuspuk given to him by Korthuis during his trip to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta last year to witness the lack of public safety in rural Alaska.

Following his trip, rural communities have received an infusion of federal resources for public safety. Some of the highlights from Attorney General Barr were President Trump creating a task force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives; nearly $50 million in federal grants to Alaska Native communities this year; funding for 38 additional rural police officers across 25 communities; and more involvement by federal attorneys in crimes in Native communities, including the criminal indictment against former Bethel elementary school principal Chris Carmichael.