ANCHORAGE — American Indian and Alaska Native children are exposed to violence at rates higher than any other social group in the nation, according to a new report that urges creation of a new Native American affairs office, additional federal funding and other measures to combat the problem.
The report released Tuesday by a U.S. Department of Justice advisory committee reflects information gathered at public hearings across the country in 2013 and 2014.
“We discovered something we’d known when we started — that this is an urgent problem that needs to be addressed,” committee co-chair and former U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota said during a teleconference.
Based on the public input and research, the committee assessed the effects of violence on tribal youth and came up with an action plan.
The report’s goal is to be a catalyst for action by Congress and the Obama administration, said Dorgan, who served as chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee until his retirement in 2010.
“State and federal governments must recognize and respect the primacy of tribal governments,” the report said.
According to the report, exposure to violence results in American Indian and Alaska Native children experiencing post-traumatic stress at three times the rate of the non-Native population. The task force compared the level of stress to that of veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.
The study says 75 percent of deaths among indigenous children between the ages of 12 and 20 are caused by violence, including homicides and suicides.
Alaska Native children were singled out as having the worst conditions systemically for various reasons including Alaska’s vastness, remoteness and steep transportation costs, along with a lack of respect for tribal sovereignty.
Among recommendations specific to the state, the report urges that more sovereignty be granted to Alaska Native tribes. Currently the only reservation in the state is the community of Metlakatla, in southeast Alaska.
A key recommendation in the report is to establish a White House Native American affairs office to coordinate services affecting children, among other things.
The committee also said increased mandatory funding and coordination between tribal, federal and state governments are crucial to reversing the trend. The funding process also should be streamlined and less administratively burdensome, task force members said.
“We all have to come together to make this work,” said committee member Valerie Davidson, with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.
Dorgan said it’s difficult to predict how such recommendations as creating a new office to deal with the problem will be received in the new Republican-led Congress.
“I think the series of recommendations in this report about children exposed to violence and about the help that we need to provide for these children will fall on the ears of Republicans and Democrats,” he said. “They must care about children.”
The recommendations are a step forward in helping Native American children receive opportunities to succeed, said U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat and member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
“Native children dealing with the dire effects of exposure to violence has truly reached pandemic levels — and it requires our immediate attention,” Heitkamp said in a statement.