• The State of Alaska makes up approximately 17.5 percent of the United States.
  • There are 229 federally recognized Tribes in the State of Alaska. Alaska Native villages are those federally recognized tribes.
  • The Annette Islands Reserve is the only reservation in the State of Alaska.
  • A reservation is land held in trust by the Unites States for the benefit of federally recognized tribe.
  • A tribe with trust land can govern those lands.
  • The ability to govern ones land and people is the definition of sovereignty.

Key Fact

So why do these facts matter?

Here’s the deal. Since the discovery of oil on the North Slope, the state and federal government have struggled with how to eliminate the inherent right of the Native people of Alaska to govern their traditional homelands, so that the oil could flow from the Slope to Valdez. Money talks, and…well you know the rest of the saying.

One way to do that was to restrict the ability of the Secretary of Interior to acquire land into trust on behalf of Tribes. That restriction was in place until the Native American Rights Fund www.narf.org litigated and won Akichak Native Cmty. V. Salazar. That case is still winding its way through the court BUT the positive opinion has motivated the BIA to draft a proposed rule that would eliminate the “Alaska exception” from 25 C.F.R. 151.

The “Alaska exception” to the rule has meant that while land can be placed into trust for the benefit of all federally recognized tribes in the lower 48 states, land could not be placed into trust on behalf of the tribes in Alaska (except for the Metlakatla Indian Community which is located on the Annette Island Reserve in Alaska).

The proposed rule, if made final, will give Alaska Native tribes another tool in their toolbox towards exercising self-determination.

There is the very valid point to be made that trust land and the resulting federal oversight over that land, and the inability to use it as collateral, has limited the ability of the Lower 48 tribes to truly exercise self-governance without the United States stamp of approval. The trick will be to learn from what has happened elsewhere and find an outcome that suits that particular community.

I do have a recommendation, however. I’ve worked on these land-into-trust applications in the Lower 48. The current rule distinguishes between “on-reservation” applications and “off-reservation” applications. The current interpretation of the rule would mean that applications submitted by Alaska tribes would be treated as “off-reservation” applications. This means additional hoops AND additional opportunity for the State to weigh in on the application.

My recommendation?

Any comments submitted in support of this proposed rule (and there should be comments submitted in support of the proposed rule) MUST include a recommendation that so long as the application includes land located within the exterior boundaries of the ANSCA (Alaska Native Settlement Claims Act ) regional lands to which that tribe belongs, that application should be treated as an “on-reservation” application.

Will it happen?  I don’t know. BUT I do know that while I was at the federal government, I worked on almost 20 proposed rules. And that while serving under this Obama Administration, I was required to respond to each comment that was submitted in response to the proposed rule. The more comments in support of a reasonable recommendation, the more difficult it was to disregard those reasonable recommendations.

This Administration is working diligently on our behalf. This proposed rule is a solid representation of their dedication to the ideal that the United States Government is our trustee and that the trust responsibility is a real responsibility. The comment period is our opportunity to ensure that the implementation of the rule truly addresses the need of our communities.

Comments are due June 30, 2014.

Lael is a proud member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma and granddaughter of Katie John of the Headwater people of Mentasta Lake Village, Alaska. http://www.chenafresh.com/storage/alaska_grown_noFresh.GIF?__SQUARESPACE_CACHEVERSION=1274902076177

  • Indianpete

    Let the Natives control their own lives as they did for thousands of years. I rest my case//////////////////////////////////////// Indian Pete