No matter where Sen. Lisa Murkowski travels, Sophie Sergie and Ashley Johnson-Barr seem to go with her.

The memories of these murdered Alaska Native girls come wrapped around her wrist in a multicolored beaded bracelet she received during a summertime visit to Bethel.

She says the bracelet now carries additional weight: the memories of Kathleen Henry and Veronica Abouchuk, the two women authorities believe were killed by recently charged Brian Steven Smith.

“It’s good to be reminded on a daily basis,” the Republican senator said after delivering her annual address at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Fairbanks’ Carlson Center on Saturday.

Murkowski and fellow Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan headlined the third and final day of the convention, each senator placing a premium on addressing the rise of sexual assaults and rural public safety statewide.

Murkowski went first.

 

Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks at AFN 2019. (Steven Quinn / KTVA)

She spoke extensively on rural public safety and missing and murdered indigenous women. Murkowski referenced her bracelet while discussing Alaska Tribal Public Safety Empowerment Act, legislation she introduced on Wednesday.

“It’s devastating when you think about what the lack of public safety in far too many of our places in rural Alaska delivers,” she said. “As I reminded the attorney general on Thursday, it’s not the vulnerability of Native women in the village, it is in our cities as well.”

The bill empowers designated Alaska tribes to have special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction and is built on the Violence Against Women Act of 2013.

“Wouldn’t the desired outcome be we had a trooper everywhere,” Murkowski said. “Well we don’t, and we’re probably not going to be in that position for a long time.

“The confines of jurisdiction have just said sorry you’ve got nothing. Until you have 100%, you’ve got nothing. The people in these communities need more than nothing.”

On Wednesday, Attorney General William Barr announced the Justice Department would be awarding a $42 million grant to improve public safety in rural Alaska.

Specifically, the funding is designed to address the lack of law enforcement resources in rural statewide.

Sullivan picked up where Murkowski left off.

Sen. Dan Sullivan speaks at AFN 2019. (Steven Quinn / KTVA)

He noted how recent state and federal crime reports showed statewide rapes rising 11%.

“This is intolerable,” he said. “These are our sisters and our mothers and our spouses and our aunties and our daughters. These our neighbors and our friends.

“This is an issue that affects all of us. All races. All incomes. All ages. People in every corner of Alaska. And it saps our creativity and our energy, and it leaves deep, permanent scars across generations.”

Sullivan served as the Alaska attorney general under Gov. Sean Parnell, who launched a Choose Respect campaign that raised awareness. He has since begun similar projects in Washington by Choose Respect bills.

He also assured those at AFN that justice for Henry and Abouchuk will happen. Sometimes justice is delayed he said, citing the 2000 murder of Della Brown. In 2014, Joshua Wade admitted to killing Brown as part of another conviction.

“We have such tremendous potential as a state, but we simply cannot realize it if we don’t stop this,” he said. “If the men of Alaska don’t stop this.”

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