Matt Gilbert: Not all Alaska Natives cheer 1971 settlement act

"December 18, 2011, was the 40th anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. There were discussions about the act’s many defining roles in shaping Alaska’s politics. Many celebrations were held in Anchorage.

However, few mentioned the 1998 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Venetie vs. the state of Alaska. The case had the potential to throw land jurisdictions in Alaska into chaos. It represented a major push for tribal government and gave a voice to those who refused to go in the direction of ANCSA.

After ANCSA passed in 1971, Venetie and Arctic Village accepted the option to receive their tribal reservation land via a village corporation. It then transferred that land back to the tribe.

In 1986, the tiny, dusty, remote village of Venetie quietly challenged Neeser Construction Inc., in tribal court to collect $161,000 in taxes for conducting business on tribal lands. Venetie claimed the lands were “Indian country” and wanted to tax Neeser, which had built the new school. The village enacted the business activity tax the same year.

The tribe felt it still had its original governing powers, despite ANCSA. Sarah James, one of the tribal leaders, said in a recent interview that the company was willing to pay the tax — until the state intervened. Neeser then refused to pay the tax. The state of Alaska — coming to Neeser’s aid — took the tribe to U.S. District Court. The case then moved to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where Venetie won."

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Matt Gilbert: No celebration: Not all Alaska Natives cheered ANCSA at 40 (The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner 8/12)

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