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Rural Alaska

Alaska tribal officials blame state for stalled talks on child welfare agreement

FAIRBANKS — Alaska Native officials have criticized the state for backing out of negotiations over the Alaska Tribal Child Welfare Compact.

Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Valerie Davidson, center, and Gov. Bill Walker sign the historic Alaska Tribal Child Welfare Compact on the first day of AFN at the Dena'ina Center in Anchorage on Oct. 19, 2017. (Bill Roth / ADN)

The Alaska Federation of Natives and state tribal officials blamed Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy and his administration in a May 17 statement for the breakdown of negotiations over funding, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Thursday.

The compact signed by former independent Gov. Bill Walker in 2017 said Alaska Natives make up about 20% of the state's children but more than half are in foster care. The agreement enables tribes to manage services for those children.

“The historic Compact has a dual purpose of advancing stronger protections for the most vulnerable in our state — our children,” AFN President Julie Kitka said in a prepared statement, adding that the federation wants Dunleavy to give the compact his direct attention.

The state entered negotiations expecting all tribal funding for fiscal year 2020 would go toward "direct services and deliverables" and that tribes would come up with their own insurance to cover risks related to work done by the state in the process, said Matt Shuckerow, a spokesman for Dunleavy.

"Unfortunately, both of these matters were not resolved and negotiations ended for this round," Shuckerow wrote in an email to the newspaper.

The state "imposed unreasonable requirements and refused to transfer funding agreed upon in January, according to a written statement by the Association of Village Council Presidents, a statewide nonprofit group serving 56 tribes.

“For two years, tribes have spent hundreds of hours with the State developing a path forward to solve the statewide child welfare crisis,” Tribal Co-Lead Negotiator Francine Eddy Jones said in a written statement. “The tribes were at the table in good faith, and fear that Alaska’s children will be worse off than when we started.”

AFN President Julie Kitka talks about Obama's presidential visit during the opening day of the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention on Oct. 15, 2015, at the Dena'ina Center in Anchorage. (ADN archive)