“A Resource Most Vital”: Legal Interventions in Native Child Welfare


  • Caroline Brown


Northern indigenous communities have experienced a history of increasing nation-state legal intervention. Formal, imposed institutions and procedures now regulate matters formerly handled locally and with reference to local social and cultural patterns. While the trend towards formalization and legalization has intensified, however, so have efforts to retain or reinstitute local control, including the establishment or institutionalization of tribal courts. Yet, the extent of tribal court jurisdictional powers remains vague, confusing an already complicated legal relationship between Alaska Native villages and the State of Alaska. The struggle over child welfare in Native Alaska pertains to political authority, relations of governance, and prevailing normative values. Thus, child welfare decisions have important implications for the recognition or denial of other forms of local control in
relation to state and federal levels of governance. This paper outlines significant legislation and recent changes in state
and federal law related to the resolution of child welfare proceedings. As we consider this legal context, we will analyze the ways in which tribes negotiate their relationship with the state of Alaska, with specific attention to issues of increasing legal intervention and its impact on center-periphery relations of governance.






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