Law | Trust

Judge deletes Alaska exception in land-into-trust regulations





A federal judge has made it in official -- the Bureau of Indian Affairs can no longer exclude Alaska Natives from the land-into-trust process.

For decades, the BIA has refused to process land-into-trust applications submitted by Alaska tribes. The agency claimed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 requires Alaska's first inhabitants to be treated differently than tribes in the lower 48.

But in a decision on Monday, Judge Rudolph Contreras deleted the Alaska exception from the BIA's land-into-trust regulations. He rejected requests from the state of Alaska and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to maintain a status quo that has prevented all but one Alaska tribe from acquiring trust lands.

"All parties agree that the land-into-trust regulations 'could function sensibly' without the Alaska exception, the deletion of which would simply mean that the regulations applied to all of Alaska, as they do to the other forty-nine states," Contreras wrote in his decision.

"The court therefore concludes that the Alaska exception is severable from the remainder of the land-into-trust regulations," Contreras continued.

Further appeals are likely due to the controversial nature of tribal issues in Alaska. Action from Congress is also possible -- Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, opposes land-into-trust for Alaska tribes.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Akiachak Native Community v. Jewell.

District Court Decisions:
Akiachak Native Community v. Jewell (September 30, 2013)
Akiachak Native Community v. Salazar (March 31, 2013)

Related Stories:
Sen. Begich supports land-into-trust decision for Alaska tribes (4/23)
APRN: NARF attorney discusses decision in land-into-trust case (04/09)
Decision in Alaska case could reopen land-into-trust regulation (4/5)
NARF calls land-into-trust case 'victory' for all Alaska tribes (4/3)
Judge rules tribes in Alaska can follow land-into-trust process (4/1)
Rep. Young won't support Alaska tribes for land-into-trust fix (03/20)