indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+ indianz.com on soundcloud
phone: 202 630 8439
Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLP
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines

printer friendly version
Alaska Natives confront debates over legal status
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

As thousands of Alaska Natives meet in Anchorage this week for an annual conference, one topic on their mind is a push by a powerful senator to change the way they receive federal funds.

Last October, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) told the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) of his desire to consolidate funding, perhaps into regional organizations, for Alaska's 227 federally recognized tribes. Among the factors driving his proposal was a tight budget and the need to be more accountable.

The message was well heard by the delegates. In response, Native leaders set up a group to study the issues Stevens raised, and earlier this year, they presented his staff with a report that they hoped would spell an and to the idea.

But consolidation is back on the table as Natives from across the state return to the AFN convention. Many are upset to learn that Stevens has already inserted language in a bill to divert funding for village courts and law enforcement to the state, and that he is considering another provision to consolidate housing funds.

Comments he recently made to members of the press are also drawing alarm. On October 2, he said it was unrealistic for each village to expect to receive federal funds for court systems that threaten state sovereignty.

"The road they're on now is the road to destruction of statehood because the Native population is increasing at a much, much greater rate than the non-Native population," he said.

To some in the Native community, the remarks were racist and divisive. "We became the other N-word just by him saying that alone," said a caller on the radio program Native America Calling yesterday.

To others, the remarks represent something even deeper. Heather Kendall-Miller, a Native American Rights Fund (NARF) attorney who works in Alaska, said in an interview that Stevens was attacking the sovereignty of the state's indigenous population.

"We want him to pull back these riders and acknowledge the existence of tribes in Alaska, stop undermining them, start listening to them and start consulting with them and hear why tribal governments are important to their communities and what they are doing for their membership," she said. "We want him to stop his assault on tribalism."

Kendall-Miller appeared on Native America Calling yesterday with Don Mitchell, an attorney in private practice. Though he once served as a vice-president for AFN, Mitchell has challenged the sovereign status of Alaska's tribes over the years, authoring a brief in the Venetie U.S. Supreme Court case that found there was no Indian Country in the state and participating in other litigation involving Native rights.

The latest is a suit that questions whether hundreds of Alaska Native villages were properly recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In October 1993, former assistant secretary Ada Deer put the villages on the list of federally recognized entities.

"Is there a statue that authorized Ada Deer to do that?" Mitchell said on the radio program. "Many of us do not think so. If in fact we need to establish that in court, that is not terminating [Alaska tribes] that is merely saying that Ada Deer acted unlawfully in 1993."

According to Mitchell, who wrote the Venetie brief in 1997 on behalf of Stevens, the debate over funding should be kept separate.

"Alaska Natives who live in more than 200 communities around Alaska are entitled to the same federal services and programs that other Native Americans receive because of their status of Native Americans," he said. "How best to deliver those services is a very difficult problem given the logistical challenges of rural Alaska."

As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Stevens has used his position to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to Alaska. Native villages, regional corporations and other groups have benefited handsomely over the years thanks to Stevens. Some on the radio program, while critical of his remarks, still said they support attempts to make the system more accountable and fair, perhaps by establishing a minimum on the number of members a tribe must have for federal status.

Early on, the Bush administration was asked to reconsider the status of Alaska's tribes. Former assistant secretary Neal McCaleb, who retired last December, told Indianz.Com in February 2002 that revoking their status was not on option.

But Kendall-Miller said it was unclear whether Secretary of Interior Gale Norton, who is recused on Alaska Native subsistence issues because she helped Republicans in the state fight the landmark Katie John subsistence rights case, would live up to that pledge. Her lawyers are set to respond to the suit Mitchell is involved in later this week.

"The Interior Department is also bound by law," she said in an interview. "To the extent they can ignore it, that's the big question."

On the radio program, more the one caller said it may be necessary to revise the list to eliminate villages that no longer exist. One said "ghost" villages are receiving federal dollars even though they are no longer located in their historical area.

"If that ever blew up, in the The Washington Post or something," Mitchell warned, "Sen. Stevens would have a very difficult time continuing to get funding for Alaska Natives."

At the same time, callers said tribes should have the right to decide whether consolidation is right for them. "We're going to look at a 20-year setback, I think," said one, "if [we] became regionalized again."

The main AFN conference takes place October 25-25. Youth and elders are meeting earlier in the week.

Relevant Links:
Sen. Ted Stevens - http://stevens.senate.gov
Native American Rights Fund - http://www.narf.org
Alaska Federation of Natives - http://www.nativefederation.org/flash.html

Related Stories:
Alaska Natives meeting for annual conference (10/20)
Editorial: Stevens should apologize for remarks (10/13)
Murkowski won't offer opinion on Native riders (10/13)
Stevens blames sovereignty push on lower 48 group (10/9)
Stevens remarks on Alaska Natives draw fire (10/7)
Alaska Natives oppose limits to tribal court funding (09/23)
Alaska court hears suit on village law enforcement (09/18)
Bill cuts funds to Alaska tribal justice systems (09/10)
Alaska Natives debunk federal funding myths (05/07)
Stevens files Alaska Native gaming rider (01/24)
Alaska Natives press unity on sovereignty (10/25)
Stevens: Too many Alaska Native tribes (10/24)
AFN events kick off today in Anchorage (10/21)
GOP request has Alaska Natives fuming (1/28)
Stevens: 'Problem' with Alaska Natives (01/29)

Copyright 2000-2003 Indianz.Com
More headlines...
Stay Connected:
On Facebook

On Twitter

On Google+

On SoundCloud
Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
Judge won't allow suit over death of young member of Ute Tribe (8/3)
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe finally starts work on movie theater (8/3)
Morongo Band awards $40K in scholarships to Native students (8/3)
Native Sun News: Indian lawmakers achieve goals in Montana (8/3)
Lakota Country Times: Skate competition grows at Pine Ridge (8/3)
Mark Trahant: Appoint tribal delegates to serve in US Congress (8/3)
Delphine Red Shirt: Restore Black Hills peak to its rightful name (8/3)
Dana Lone Elk: Lakota grandmothers hold our society together (8/3)
Steve Russell: The Great White Lion Hunter kills only for thrills (8/3)
Terese Marie Mailhot: Native people endure delays for justice (8/3)
Sarah Deer: Ending the cold war over land-into-trust in Alaska (8/3)
Steven Newcomb: High court still relying on Christian doctrine (8/3)
Navajo Nation couple weighs court challenge to marriage law (8/3)
Isleta Pueblo celebrates milestone in tribal education system (8/3)
Chemehuevi Tribe accuses law enforcement of racial profiling (8/3)
Alaska Natives deal with toxic legacy in poisoned food supply (8/3)
Mille Lacs Band halts walleye harvest amid declining numbers (8/3)
Choctaw Nation police officer helps arrest suspects in murder (8/3)
Florida court dissolves injunction in Indian online lender case (8/3)
Arizona cites immunity in Tohono O'odham Nation casino case (8/3)
Fond du Lac Band wants to resolve long-running gaming fight (8/3)
Snoqualmie Tribe hires new chief operating officer for casino (8/3)
Editorial: Seminole Tribe is a good gaming partner for Florida (8/3)
Editorial: Something's gotta give in New England casino race (8/3)
Muscogee Nation activist dangled from bridge to stop oil ship (7/31)
Native Sun News: Rapid City mayor denies claim of retaliation (7/31)
Ernestine Chasing Hawk: Rapid City mayor's year of retaliation (7/31)
Brandon Ecoffey: Rapid City continues with tradition of racism (7/31)
Clara Caufield: Northern Cheyenne Tribe leaves people in dark (7/31)
Lakota Country Times: Group seeks to boost Pine Ridge tourism (7/31)
Federal murder charges laid for shooting on Crow Reservation (7/31)
Alex White Plume asks court for permission to plant hemp crop (7/31)
Isleta Pueblo welcomes Secretary Sally Jewell for school event (7/31)
Tribes caught off-guard with mandate from Affordable Care Act (7/31)
Commerce Blog: Secretary Pritzker meets with tribes and youth (7/31)
Tribes in Pacific Northwest 'very worried' about future of salmon (7/31)
Alaska to recognize tribal domestic violence protection orders (7/31)
Moapa Band enters $4.3M settlement for power plant pollution (7/31)
Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Indian Affairs holds first meeting (7/31)
Donald Trump not shy with invoking race when it comes to tribes (7/31)
Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe sees big future with Class II casino (7/31)
Catawba Nation still waiting for answer on casino land-into-trust (7/31)
Last defendant sentenced in theft case at Yakama Nation casino (7/31)
Senate committee examines costs of substance abuse on tribes (7/30)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee delays vote on land-into-trust (7/30)
BIA allows two more New Mexico gaming deals to go into effect (7/30)
Former workers at Choctaw Nation casino plead guilty to theft (7/30)
Inmate charged with murdering Mississippi Choctaw man in jail (7/30)
Native Sun News: Keystone XL Pipeline protest draws big crowd (7/30)
James Giago Davies: Don't judge anyone's depth of Lakotaness (7/30)
more headlines...

Home | Arts & Entertainment | Business | Canada | Cobell Lawsuit | Education | Environment | Federal Recognition | Federal Register | Forum | Health | Humor | Indian Gaming | Indian Trust | Jack Abramoff Scandal | Jobs & Notices | Law | National | News | Opinion | Politics | Sports | Technology | World

Indianz.Com Terms of Service | Indianz.Com Privacy Policy
About Indianz.Com | Advertise on Indianz.Com

Indianz.Com is a product of Noble Savage Media, LLC and Ho-Chunk, Inc.