The state's intervention in the parental rights case of Edward Parks, convicted in the brutal beating of his girlfriend and mother of his children, is both a tactical and practical mistake.
The state is challenging the jurisdiction of the Minto Tribal Court, which stripped Parks of his parental rights and placed his daughter in the care of her mother's relatives. The state argues that Parks was denied due process rights as a citizen of Alaska, and that the Minto Tribal Court exceeded its limited jurisdiction over tribal matters.
Here's the state's problem in this case. The Minto Tribal Court made the right decision. With a long history of abuse and a conviction in the beating of Bessie Stearman that left her with broken ribs and a collapsed lung, Edward Parks has no business being a parent. Justice was done with regard to both him and his daughter, now protected in a safer home.
In fairness, the same state that is fighting for what it believes are Parks' denied due process rights vigorously prosecuted him in the separate beating case.
But by taking up for Parks before the Alaska Supreme Court, the state has chosen a course that reflects its opposition to tribal court authority more than the facts of the case -- and the clear-cut need to protect a child and strip the parental rights of a father who has shown himself unfit beyond not just a reasonable doubt, but beyond the shadow of a doubt.
Issues of balancing tribal sovereignty with state and federal law are real and complicated. The federal government recognizes tribes in Alaska -- mostly based on villages. The daughter and mother in this case are members of the Minto tribe -- Parks is a member of the Stevens Village tribe.
He's also obviously not a popular cause. But that's not why the state should have let this one go. The Minto Tribal Court wisely acted to protect one of its own too young to protect herself. The state should have chosen to respect the Minto court's decision. That would have sent a powerful message about its resolve in standing with all Alaskans against domestic violence, on all fronts.
Parks has his own representation to carry his water before the Alaska Supreme Court. The state should pursue questions of authority and process in another venue.
BOTTOM LINE: State chooses wrong case to wrestle with tribal courts and due process.