Natives in Aniak claim racial profiling

Juneau, Alaska (AP) 2-08

Tribal leaders in Aniak say Alaska Natives are being unfairly targeted by law enforcement officers in the western Alaska village, a claim that Alaska State Troopers deny.

Members of the tribal council are asking for the removal of three state troopers currently serving in the predominantly Native community about 320 miles west of Anchorage, council chief Wayne Morgan told the Anchorage Daily News.

They are alleging that Natives are being harassed by checkpoints, unlawful searches, unwanted questions and needless arrests.

They detailed their concerns in a letter to troopers in mid February.

Troopers “strongly oppose” allegations that their actions unfairly targeted Natives, and they won’t be leaving the village, Alaska State Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters said.

“We do not have the option to not serve a group of people,” she said. “We can’t just up and leave. That’s just not an option.”

Troopers sent a ranking representative to meet with the village council and the general public.

At the meetings, troopers went through the list of complaints point-by-point to explain how individuals broke the law and why the arrests weren’t racially motivated, Peters said.

Morgan said the meetings addressed some of the concerns but left other issues unresolved. While he understands the law needs to be followed, he said it seems it’s not fairly applied in Aniak.

“We feel it’s still an issue and it’s hurting our Native people,” Morgan said. “Now we need to know where to go from here when we’re told the law’s the law.”

Troopers have taken the allegations seriously, said Peters.

She said the meetings have been largely positive and most people understood why troopers need to be in Aniak.

But Morgan says troopers mostly pointed the blame at villagers, saying it was their own actions – like drinking and drug use – that are to blame, not their race.

“We’re bringing up people that are not doing stuff like that, people that are getting stopped and searched when they’re riding around legally,” said Morgan.

Peters said the claims are still being looked into and a written response will be sent to the council following completion of the investigation. A trooper representative, based out of Bethel, was invited back to keep problems in check before they boil over in the future, Peters said.

There are three troopers in the village, including a fish and wildlife enforcement officer. An additional position is currently unfilled.