Full interview: Native Peoples Action director urges funding for VPSO program
On Tuesday, Native Peoples Action urged Gov. Mike Dunleavy to fund the Village Public Safety Officers program. They also called for an investigation into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. Native Peoples Action executive director Kendra Kloster joined KTVA's Megan Mazurek to talk about the issues and the state of public safety in Alaska.
Below is a full transcript of the interview.
Megan Mazurek: A call for action to fund an investigation into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and fund village public safety officers. Today, Native Peoples Action sent two letters to the governor asking for his leadership on these issues. Joining us tonight is Kendra Kloster the executive director for Native Peoples Action. Thank you so much for your time this evening.
Kendra Kloster: Yeah, thanks so much for having me.
Megan: You're welcome. So these two letters to the governor what did they outline and what did they ask for?
Kendra: So a couple of things that we're looking for is funding for our VPSO program, our village public safety officers. This is important for us is to ensure that people are protected no matter where in Alaska that they live. Right now, you know, we've heard numerous times, only one in three villages actually have any public safety officers. And when we're talking with our community members, and we're getting feedback from people that's one of the number one things that we hear is just health and safety issues.
And so we are advocates, and that's why I wrote the letter to the governor asking for funding to ensure that we continue to fund VPSO program. Last year, you know, we saw how millions of dollars in cuts and we don't want to see that happen. We want to see investment to be happening, understanding that we have deficits right now but we do not need to be cutting our public safety funds. This is a time to really invest in our people and all across Alaska.
The other letter that we sent was about missing and murdered indigenous women. Some of the things that are important in this area, again, is public safety. Alaska's ranking again in the top 10, we're number four for the highest number of cases of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, and this is just unacceptable. We cannot continue this path and we're asking the governor to continue with that. We need to have funding in the budget specifically for this to protect our indigenous women and girls, but also for the cold case unit so we can bring closure to families all across Alaska.
Megan: And this issue, also being highlighted by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, she's proposing her own legislation, you know, on the Senate floor for investigating missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. And how important is it to get this funding for that investigation and VPSOs, as you were saying? This upcoming operating budget is when you're asking for it?
Kendra: Yes, and we were actually asking for it to go further as well not just this year, because we're going to need funding and multiple years in order to do this. You know, we need to make sure all Alaskans are feeling safe in their home and their communities. And so if we've truly been talking about having public safety, we need to have it for all Alaska and that includes rural and urban areas. So we're asking him to really take a deep look at that, and to look at the funding but also to look at the barriers that are happening. There are some barriers that need to be addressed in our statutes to ensure that the VPSOs are supported.
Megan: How do you think this administration has done to advocate for public safety thus far?
Kendra: Right now for the rural public safety, they definitely need some improvements. Like I said, they cut millions of dollars and the VPSO Program. And there has been discussions with VPSOs in the program right now saying the state needs to do better. They have not been working with the program. There's been just a lot of improvements that need to be made. And so I hope with right now the working group that the state legislature has been working on, they're going to come out with some proposals. And so I really hope that this administration, the Department of Public Safety will take some of those recommendations, listen to our VPSOs and give them the tools that they need. And so, they really need to step it up.
Megan: Kendra Kloster, the executive director of Native Peoples Group. Thank you for your time tonight.
Kendra: Thank you.
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