Tribes in Alaska celebrate long-awaited victory in trust land case
Monday, July 4, 2016
More on: alaska, alaska native, ancsa, bia, dc circuit, heather kendall-miller, land-into-trust, narf, supreme court
Sunrise in the
Akiachak Native Community in Alaska, as seen from the Akiachak School. Photo
Huskies / Facebook
A federal appeals court on Friday cleared the way for Alaska tribes to participate in the land-into-trust process for the first time in history.
For decades, the Bureau of Indian Affairs refused to process land-into-trust applications submitted by tribes and individuals in the state. The agency long believed that the Alaska
Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 precluded the acquisition of Indian lands there.
The landscape changed when a federal judge sided with four tribes and one Native individual and ruled that the exclusion was not supported by law.
The BIA subsequently issued a new rule that opened the land-into-trust process to the 49th state.
But the state of Alaska, whose officials intervened in an earlier stage of the litigation, wouldn't accept the result. That led to a round of arguments before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in March, during which a panel of judges wondered whether they had anything to resolve.
By a 2-1 vote, the judge concluded there indeed was no controversy.
Since the BIA officially deleted the Alaska exception, the state can't challenge a non-existent regulation.
"In sum, once the Department of Interior rescinded the Alaska exception, this case became moot," Judge David S. Tatel wrote for the majority.
Indianz.Com SoundCloud: D.C.
Circuit Court of Appeals Oral Arguments in Akiachak Native Community v.
The court's decision won praise from the Native American Rights Fund. The non-profit has been representing the Alaska Native plaintiffs since 2006.
“Today’s decision is an important victory for all Alaska tribes," staff attorney Heather Kendall-Miller said in a press release. "Nearly a year ago the state of Alaska decided to appeal this case and continue its fight to treat Alaska tribes differently than tribes in the rest of the country. We sincerely hope that fight ends today.”
But the court pointed out that the controversy isn't entirely over. The state can challenge the new rule or file a lawsuit in the event the BIA approves a land-into-trust application in Alaska.
The Obama administration has been eager to take action in light of the BIA's goal to have 500,000 acres placed in trust before President
Barack Obama leaves office in January 2017 -- the agency is about 84,000 acres away from reaching the milestone. A stay had been imposed by the federal judge handling the case but the D.C. Circuit's decision removes that hurdle.
The state could ask the D.C. Circuit to rehear the case before a larger panel of judges. An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is also possible and it would represent the first major land-into-trust challenge since the disastrous Carcieri v. Salazar decision that undermined the BIA's ability to acquire lands for newly recognized tribes.
The administration of new Gov. Bill Walker (I) has sought to improve the state's relationship with the first Alaskans. Further appeals could complicate those efforts.
Alaska is home to 229 tribes, the most of any state. Prior to the 2014
regulation, only the Metlakatla
Indian Community was allowed to follow the land-into-trust process because
the tribe was not covered by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Akiachak Native Community v. Department of the Interior (July 1, 2016)
Federal Register Notices:
Acquisitions in the State of Alaska (December 23, 2014)
Acquisitions in the State of Alaska (July 1, 2014)
Acquisitions in the State of Alaska (May 1, 2014)
Tribal Leader Letter from Kevin Washburn (April 30, 2014)
District Court Decisions:
Native Community v. Jewell (September 30, 2013)
Native Community v. Salazar (March 31, 2013)
court poses tough questions in Alaska land-into-trust case (03/07)
Patrick Sullivan: Court to
rule on land-into-trust for Alaska tribes (1/5)
Vice President Joe Biden
reflects on triumphs of Obama's Indian policies (10/28)
Jenny Bell-Jones: Opposition
to tribes in Alaska defies justice (09/17)
Mark Trahant: Telling the
story about tribal sovereignty in Alaska (09/04)
Opinion: Alaska will lose
appeal in BIA land-into-trust lawsuit (09/02)
President Obama meets Native
leaders after landing in Alaska (09/01)
Transcript: Obama remarks
following Native leaders roundtable (09/01)
Alaska governor pursues appeal in landmark
land-into-trust case (8/25)
Obama to visit Native villages on historic trip to Alaska (8/25)
Alaska Natives to welcome President Obama at end of
Mary Bishop: Beware of
bringing land-into-trust process to Alaska (8/25)
Jenny Bell-Jones: Embrace land-into-trust for
Alaska tribes (8/18)
Land-into-trust brings hope for Alaska tribes (8/17)
Richard Peterson: Alaska GOP ignores facts on
faces deadline in major land-into-trust case (8/11)
Sarah Deer: Ending the cold war over
land-into-trust in Alaska (8/3)
Liz Medicine Crow:
Land-into-trust a safety issue in Alaska (07/24)
Opinion: Take a modern
approach to land-into-trust in Alaska (5/4)
Opinion: Deadline approaches
in Alaska land-into-trust dispute (04/27)
New governor of Alaska seeks
delay in land-into-trust litigation (2/5)
Law Article: Major change for
Alaska tribes with land-into-trust (12/24)
BIA finalizes rule to add Alaska tribes to
land-into-trust process (12/19)
VAWA jurisdiction provision
poses special issue for Alaska tribes (12/15)
Congress clears bill to extend VAWA tribal
provisions to Alaska (12/12)
backs measure to extend VAWA tribal provisions to Alaska (12/9)
Vice President Biden calls for inclusion of Alaska
Natives in VAWA (12/4)
Opinion: Land-into-trust will
help tribes in Alaska meet needs (07/17)
Mike Williams: Trust lands
are vital to tribal self-determination (07/02)
BIA extends public comments on land-into-trust rule
for Alaska (7/1)
land-into-trust decisions in Alaska pending appeal (6/27)
Opinion: Unanswered questions about land-into-trust
in Alaska (6/26)
Land-into-trust rule makes life safer in Alaska (05/20)
Tribal leaders laud inclusion
of Alaska in land-into-trust process (05/09)
NCAI praises inclusion of Alaska tribes in
land-into-trust process (5/2)
accepts public comments on land-into-trust rule for Alaska (5/1)
BIA proposes rule to include Alaska in
land-into-trust process (4/30)
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)
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)
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