Law | Opinion | Trust

Mike Williams: Trust lands are vital to tribal self-determination






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

Mike Williams Sr. of the Akiak Native Community provided this testimony to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in support of including Alaska tribes in the land-into-trust process:
As you are well aware, trust lands have long been a keystone of federal Indian policy. They enhance tribal self-determination generally by helping Tribes solidify a land base; protecting homelands from alienation and allowing for a more comprehensive exercise of governmental authority over internal affairs and tribal lands. Tribes, as the most immediate and accessible form of local government, are far better positioned to know how best to allocate resources for the community’s needs, or how to deal with offenders in effective and culturally relevant ways.

Presently, Alaska Native Tribes and individuals own well more than one million acres of fee land. Some of these lands were transferred to Tribes under Section 14(c) of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 (ANCSA), some of these lands were otherwise transferred by ANCSA village corporations to Tribes, and others were acquired by gift or purchase. In addition to these fee lands, Alaska Native Tribes and individuals also received lands conveyed through the Alaska Native Town Site Act and the Alaska Native Allotment Act. These lands are held in restricted fee status and cannot be alienated with the consent of the Secretary of the Interior. However, because they lack of formal trust status, the State of Alaska refuses to recognize town sites and allotments as Indian Country.

The fee lands currently in Alaska Native ownership lack even the basic protections afforded to undeveloped fee lands held by ANCSA village and regional corporations. While undeveloped corporate land is protected via federal statute, Alaska Native fee lands can be taxed, foreclosed upon, adversely possessed, and subjected to eminent domain proceedings. Alaska Tribes, like all federally recognized Tribes, have a paramount interest in securing a land base and having such a land base protected through trust status. The Secretary’s proposed rule would assist Alaska Natives by providing them the land base necessary to promote village-level economic development, including the development of housing projects and public works projects of tribal governments, as well as provide desperately needed public safety services to America’s most remote communities.

Get the Story:
Mike Williams Sr.: Trust Lands are vital to Native Self-Determination (The Delta Discovery 6/25)

Also Today:
Judge Stays Holding of Alaska Land in Trust (Courthouse News Service 7/2)

Federal Register Notices:
Land Acquisitions in the State of Alaska (July 1, 2014)
Land Acquisitions in the State of Alaska (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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