Alaska Tribal Leaders Summit Wraps Up in Anchorage

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The Alaska Tribal Leaders Summit wrapped up in Anchorage over the weekend. The theme of the gathering was Securing a Future for our Children.

The conference dealt primarily with concerns over the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act or ANCSA, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act or ANILCA and the current status of Alaska Native hunting and fishing rights.

The keynote address was given by Ada Deer, a Menominee Nation tribal member and former Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs under Bruce Babbit. Deer was instrumental in helping to solidify the federal recognition of Alaska’s 229 tribes. She spoke to a packed room about the similarities of the Menominee’s fight to regain their federal tribal status after the termination of their rights as a sovereign entity in the 1950s. The Menominee eventually prevailed and regained their federal status and she says Alaska Natives can also get certain provisions of ANCSA repealed.

Deer said, although it’s more complicated to get numerous tribes to unify on a consistent message rather than just one, as in the Menominee’s case, it will be easier with current mass communications methods.

She says the prospect of less control over tribal lands in the future and what she calls the disenfranchisement of Native youth from the corporate roles is something that will make the lives of young Alaska Natives more difficult in the future. She says this inequity offers all Alaskans a way to get involved.

Deer says Alaska Native people will need bipartisan support at all levels to get this done. Mike Williams Sr. of Akiak is a long time advocate for change to ANCSA. He helped organize the conference. Williams says now that the conference has wrapped up, the next step will be for tribal leaders and advocates to strategize about how to repeal the 1971 extinguishment of Alaska Native hunting and fishing rights, dealing with the Venetie decision where the US Supreme court ruled ANCSA lands are private property, not Indian Country – and the afterborn issue.

Williams says jurisdiction over tribal lands also needs to be addressed. He says ANCSA complicates what Native village residents can do with the lands they selected for hunting and fishing.

Williams says he is in favor of tribes in Alaska being able to take land into trust to protect it from sale and taxation in the future.

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