|The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.
Betty Jo Moore
Protecting Indian women’s civil rights
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor
SITKA, AK. — Former Sitka Tribal Associate Judge Betty Jo Moore vows she will pursue her claims of job discrimination, bullying and harassment against the Sitka Tribe, after federal administrators turned down her plea for due process.
Moore’s claims are about her former supervisor’s alleged ethnic slurs against a client she defended in court in 2011, and about inappropriate language she found in her personnel file in 2012.
An enrolled member of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska (STA), Moore says she’s fronting the case in an effort to help guarantee equal rights and justice for herself and other native women who are deprived of employment opportunities when tribal governments fail to respect civil liberties established by federal law.
“I want to see a process set in place that insures that laws have to be upheld, and when tribal council members don’t obey them, they have to be dismissed,” Moore told the Native Sun News.
“The root of the problem is that they don’t have to be accountable because they’re sovereign and there’s tribal self-government,” Moore said in a telephone interview.
“The line of the good-old-boys system has to be done away with,” she added. “That has no place in the native culture.”
In March, U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission Field Office Director Michael Baldonado informed Moore that “the agency determined that the EEOC did not have jurisdiction to investigate” her discrimination charges “because the respondent is considered an Indian tribe.”
Congress excludes "an Indian tribe" from the employers covered by the laws EEOC enforces, Baldonado explained, adding, “For that reason EEOC does not have jurisdiction over the respondent.”
Moore said the determination was tantamount to sending her “back to the perps” in search of satisfaction. “I served up a case to the EEOC on a silver platter and because it says ‘tribal government’, they say, ‘We don’t handle it.”
Initially, Moore sought redress within the Sitka tribal system. But she said, “STA has refused to take proper action to ensure any kind of justice and equal protection of my civil rights since March 2011 when I filed my first written complaint.”
She then turned to the U.S. Labor Department Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), where she was admonished for showing “no good cause for the untimely filing.” Deputy Director Marika Likas told Moore in a letter, “Therefore, I must deny your appeal, which concludes the processing of your complaint filed in OFCCP.”
Moore sought support from the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. There, in 2012 and 2013, the Office of Self-Governance (OSG) instructed her to direct her complaints to the Inspector General.
“To date I have received no reply from the Inspector General,” she said in a letter to OSG Director Sharee Freeman this March 23, after receiving the news from Baldonado that the EEOC could not make a determination.
Throughout more than three years of advocacy for her cause, Moore has maintained correspondence with the Office of the President of the United States, federal Cabinet level officials and members of the Alaska Congressional delegation.
In Congressional realm, she concluded, “There’s no consequences when you blow the whistle. The legislature has not identified an agency to do the enforcement.”
Seemingly having exhausted administrative remedies at the state, tribal, Labor, and Interior department levels, Moore said she may take her case to court.
“Like my attorney said, ‘I am the enforcement.’ I said, ‘Yes, if I have $40,000’.”
Moore is a Tlingit & Haida Central Council delegate. She is an advocate for justice in the schools, she says, and a participant in Alaskans for a Healthy Workplace.
Formerly having worked as a paralegal, she became an associate tribal judge in 2009. She resigned in 2012, due to “retaliation” for filing the 2011 complaint over the perceived racial slur, she said, adding, “I knew it was best, rather than continue to get bullied, harassed and sabotaged.”
Today she works at the state Division of Motor Vehicles office in Sitka. At the most recent elections of the Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS), a statewide non-profit, volunteer membership and civic group, she was voted in as president of her Camp No. 4.
During the ANS meeting, she also wrote resolutions about school and workplace bullying, which passed.
“I’ve seen and heard so many women bullied and harassed in the workplace and lost jobs,” she said. “There are no laws in the United States that will protect an Indian woman's civil rights. How wrong is that?” she challenged Freeman.
The Sitka Tribal Constitution states that the tribe will uphold the federal laws. “STA does not discriminate on the basis of marital status, gender, sexual orientation, age, color, religion, disability, or pregnancy,” states the Employee Handbook, updated in 2013.
However, Moore said, only council members make the decisions. “Who holds them accountable? The largest families have control in most communities. There is a trickle-down effect of corruption, to the point where it’s become extremely uncomfortable and very frightening to be in Indian Country,” she said.
In her case, the situation has led to medical and financial problems, she said. The repercussion is that, “basically, tribal citizens have lost confidence in our tribal system and refuse to vote,” she added.
During March 20 elections for the Tlingit and Haida delegates in Sitka, only 59 out of a total 4,480 tribal citizens voted.
Sitka’s federally-recognized tribal government, established by the Indian Reorganization Act, has been operating under a Self-Governance Contract with the federal government since the mid-1990s.
(Contact Talli Nauman NSN Health and Environment Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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