Law | National | Trust

BIA proposes rule to include Alaska in land-into-trust process






A view of the Akiachak Native Community, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that prompted the Obama administration to include Alaska tribes in the land-into-trust process. Photo from Calista Corporation

The Obama administration has unveiled a regulation to include Alaska tribes in the land-into-trust process.

Citing the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has refused to process land-into-trust applications for Alaska tribes. That will be changing under a rule that's being published in the Federal Register tomorrow.

"The acquisition of land in trust is one of the most significant functions that this [Interior] Department undertakes on behalf of Indian tribes," the forthcoming rule states. "Placing land into trust secures tribal homelands, which in turn advances economic development, promotes the health and welfare of tribal communities, and helps to protect tribal culture and traditional ways of life. These benefits of taking land into trust are equally as important to federally recognized Alaska Natives as well, and elimination of the Alaska Exception is thus important and warranted."

In a decision last September, Judge Rudolph Contreras of the federal district court in Washington, D.C., told the BIA to delete the exception. He said tribes in Alaska should not be treated any differently than tribes in the Lower 48.

“Acquiring land in trust is one of the most important functions that the Department of the Interior undertakes on behalf of tribes,” Assistant Secretary Washburn, the head of the BIA, said in a press release today. “Restoring tribal lands to trust status is essential to ensure cultural preservation, self-determination and self-governance and to advance the social and economic development of tribal communities. Yet for 228 federally recognized tribes in Alaska, the opportunity to request that land be taken into trust under the Department’s regulations is not available. We look forward to tribal consultations and public comments on this proposed rule.”

A consultation session will be held during the mid-year conference of the National Congress of American Indians in Anchorage, Alaska, in June, Washburn said in a Dear Tribal Leader letter that was sent out today. Public comments on the new rule will be accepted for 60 days after the publication of the notice tomorrow.

Forthcoming Federal Register Notice:
Land Acquisitions in the State of Alaska (To Be Published May 1, 2014)

Relevant Documents:
Dear Tribal Leader Letter from Kevin Washburn (April 30, 2014)

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

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Judge deletes Alaska exception in land-into-trust regulations (10/02)
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)