Commission supports hearings on violence against Alaska Natives

Posted: Sunday, May 06, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is unanimously behind a series of public hearings that would investigate racially motivated violence against Alaska Natives.

The hearings could begin this summer in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Bethel, said Alaska Federation of Natives president Julie Kitka, who attended Friday's commission meeting in Washington, D.C.

But because of budgetary limits, it's doubtful that the meetings in Alaska would be conducted by the full commission and its Washington staff, said Tom Pilla, a civil rights analyst and commission staffer in Los Angeles. Pilla said it's more likely that the hearings would be conducted by the Alaska Advisory Committee with help from the L.A. regional office, although some commissioners might attend, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

A dozen Alaskans are on the local advisory panel, which conducts commission business and reports to it. In late April, panelists voted to urge the full commission and its staff to run the Alaska hearings, but said they would do it if the commission could not.

The civil rights commission was invited by the AFN in February to investigate whether racist attitudes underlay crimes apparently targeting minorities. The crimes included a series of rapes and homicides of minorities, and a paint ball attack by three Eagle River youths against Natives on downtown Anchorage streets.

Arrests have been made in the paint ball incident and five rapes. Police have also arrested someone for one of the six homicides. Five slayings remain unsolved.

Friday's vote came just days after Gov. Tony Knowles named 14 ethnic, religious and government leaders to a new state anti-racism panel. Formation of that panel was motivated by the same crimes. The group has about the same goal: to learn to what extent Alaskans feel they have been victimized because of race.

The Governor's Commission on Tolerance is to suggest ways to fight any racism it finds. Its hearings also will occur over the summer and fall, in up to a dozen locations across the state.

Having two sets of hearings into the same matter at roughly the same time is not overkill, Kitka said.

''I think this is a good first step, and the issues we have raised are very serious issues and warrant scrutiny and more fact finding, and most of all an opportunity for Alaskans to come to forums and hearings to talk about what they've experienced,'' Kitka said.

''It's important for all segments of Alaskans to participate, so it's not just minority people talking to minority people,'' she said.

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens wrote last month to commission chairwoman Mary Frances Berry and also met with her recently to urge the panel to support the AFN request, Kitka said.

The commission makes recommendations to Congress and the president. The state advisory panels pass along findings and recommendations to the national commission, which then can forward them to Congress and the president.

The Alaska issue was not on the agenda of Friday's meeting, Kitka said, but was brought up by Berry as one of three special issues. All eight commissioners backed the Alaska advisory panel's recommendations that the main body come to Alaska, Kitka said.

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