A decision this week from the U.S. District court for the District of Columbia has big implications for Alaska tribes. In the case of Akiachak Native Community v. Salazar, the court affirmed the ability of the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust for Alaska tribes. The ruling also states that Alaska tribes have the right to be treated the same as all other federally recognized tribes.
The suit was brought in 2006 by four tribes, the Akiachak Native Community, Chalkyitsik Village, the Tukuksak Native Community, the Chilkoot Indian Association and one Native person, Alice Kavairlook. They challenged the Interior Secretary’s decision to leave a regulation in place that treats Alaska Natives differently than other Native peoples.
David Barry is the tribal administrator for the Chilkoot Indian Association of Haines. The community of 500 members is located about 90 miles north of Juneau. He says the decision gives tribes the ability to engage in economic development on their lands.
“Most tribes don’t have a land base and what land they do have is fee simple, so this would protect our property by putting it in trust.” Barry said.
Barry says this isn’t a move toward reservations but allows them to protect their land and the office and housing buildings on it, from taxation and seizure. He says there is still a lot that needs to be understood about how the decision will impact tribes, but he says the tribal council is happy.
“We’ve been fighting since 94 to have this petition heard and finally reach a decision, so we were actually shocked when we won,” Barry said.
Barry says he is waiting on clarification from Native American Rights Fund Attorney Heather Kendall Miller about the details. Kendall Miller was not available to discuss the decision today. The Attorney General’s office in Alaska did not return calls seeking reaction to the decision. In a release NARF states the decision allows Alaska Tribes to petition the secretary to take non-ANCSA lands into trust and gives those tribes the ability to regulate alcohol, respond to domestic violence and generally protect the health and safety of tribal members.