Alaska tribes enter new era as state drops land-into-trust battle
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
More on: alaska, alaska native, ancsa, barack obama, bia, bill walker, byron mallott, dc circuit, jahna lindemuth, land-into-trust, narf, supreme court
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I), standing left, and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott (D), standing right, at Celebration, an Alaska Native cultural festival hosted by Sealaska Heritage Institute in June 2016. Photo from Office of Governor Bill Walker
It's official -- tribes in Alaska will finally be able to follow the land-into-trust process just like their brothers and sisters in the Lower 48.
A new era emerged as state officials made two significant announcements on Monday. First, Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said she would stop fighting a court case that paved the way for tribes to submit land-into-trust applications to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
"I don't see any need to use our limited resources in pursuing dead-end litigation," Lindemuth, who became the state's top legal official earlier this month, said in a press release. "While litigation remains an option, it seems more productive to come back to the table and see if the state's concerns can be addressed outside of litigation."
To that end, Gov. Bill Walker (I) said the state will convene a series of meetings to discuss the land-into-trust process. Tribes, Native organizations and other stakeholders are being invited to come together and share concerns that are likely to be unique to the state.
“I support Attorney General Lindemuth’s conclusion that it doesn’t make sense to use the state’s limited resources pursuing this litigation that has already dragged on for ten years,” Walker said in a press release. “Instead, we will work collaboratively with all parties to shape solutions that improve public safety, empower local communities, and protect our resources.”
Indianz.Com SoundCloud: D.C.
Circuit Court of Appeals Oral Arguments in Akiachak Native Community v.
The announcements came only a few weeks after the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals handed a victory to tribes in the long-running dispute. But it was unclear at the time whether more litigation in the works, especially since the decision came down to a 2-1 vote.
The state could have asked for a rehearing or it could have taken the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. But rather than wait for the clock to run out on those options, Walker's administration acted quickly to end the controversy, something that hasn't happened in prior legal scuffles.
"Governor William Walker’s decision to work with tribes rather than against them ushers in a new era where tribal and state officials can cooperatively work together to protect the health, safety, and welfare of Alaska’s tribal member citizens," the Native American Rights Fund, which represented the Native plaintiffs in the case, said in a statement.
For now, tribes have not rushed to the BIA with land-into-trust requests. The agency itself promised not to approve any applications while the appeal was pending at the D.C. but that hurdle was removed with the court's July 1 decision.
Alaska, though, represents a huge opportunity for the Obama administration to meet its goal of placing 500,000 acres in trust before President Barack Obama leaves office in January 2017.
An aerial 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
"Since 2009, we have restored 416,000 acres to tribal ownership and we anticipate reaching the administration’s goal of restoring half a million acres," Larry Roberts, the acting Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, said in June.
For decades, the BIA had believed the Alaska
Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 precluded the acquisition of Indian
lands in the 49th state. The NARF lawsuit resulted in the removal of the so-called Alaska exception from existing land-into-trust regulations.
The regulations do not include any Alaska-specific provisions but officials say their upcoming meetings could lead to potential changes that address the state's unique jurisdictional, cultural, infrastructure, transportation and natural resource concerns.
“We have an opportunity to establish a new set of rules that works for our particular circumstances," Lt. Governor Byron Mallott (D), who is Native, said on Monday.
The state's decision to drop the case, though, does not mean that legal challenges are off the table. The state will still be able to file administrative appeals or take the BIA to court in the event it opposes a particular land-into-trust application, Attorney General Lindemuth noted.
Lindemuth just came to her post after being nominated by Walker in late June.
As an attorney in private practice, she has represented Cook Inlet Region Inc., an Alaska Native regional corporation, and was part of the team that won the freedom of the Fairbanks Four, the four Native men who spent 18 years in prison for a crime they insist they did not commit.
Alaska is home to 229 tribes, the most of any state. Prior to the victory in the NARF case, 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:
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)
Indian Association plans to follow land-into-trust process (07/15)
tribe weighs next move after victory on land-into-trust (7/11)
Bell-Jones: Clearing up misconceptions about Alaska tribes (7/5)
in Alaska celebrate long-awaited victory in trust land case (7/4)
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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