Law | Politics

Alaska Supreme Court won't intervene in tribal leadership fight

The Alaska Supreme Court won't be getting involved in a leadership dispute within the Mendas Cha-Ag Tribe of Healy Lake.

Two factions have been battling for control of the tribe since competing elections were held in 2012. The dispute spilled into state court, with one group seeking authority over the tribe's bank account.

The state Supreme Court, however, said it lacked jurisdiction to resolve the matter. Determining who can access the bank account means determining who leads the tribe, the decision stated.

"Because the state has no interest in determining the outcome of this internal tribal dispute, the tribal election and membership dispute in this case remains within the 'tribe’s retained inherent sovereign powers,''" the court said in a unanimous decision on Friday. "We therefore conclude that the state court lacks subject matter jurisdiction in this case because the state lacks an interest, and the exercise of jurisdiction would require the state court to apply tribal law to determine the outcome of a tribal election dispute and issues of tribal membership."

The account is held by Mount McKinley Bank, which is owned by the tribe. JoAnn Polston is the leader with signing authority but Robert Fifer claims he is in charge.

Get the Story:
Healy Lake decision upheld: Tribe must handle dispute (The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner 4/14)

Alaska Supreme Court Decision:
Healy Lake Village v. Mt. McKinley Bank (April 11, 2014)

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