Governor Meets with Tribes in Advance of Land Trust Deadline

Governor Walker visited five rural Alaska communities, including Akiachak. 2014 Photo by Ben Matheson/KYUK.
Governor Walker visited five rural Alaska communities, including Akiachak. 2014 Photo by Ben Matheson/KYUK.

Governor Bill Walker faces an August deadline for determining the future of the state’s appeal against a court case that could clear a path for Alaska tribes to put land into trust.

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He’s facing pressure from tribes to drop the lawsuit. Trust status would reshape tribal sovereignty on certain lands. Walker said Monday that the purpose of his recent five-village trip was to listen and build relationships with tribes.

“I wasn’t trying to sell a deal or make a deal, or get anyone to do anything different. I just wanted to understand and hear from them about some of their issues in their village and tribal associations,” said Walker.

Walker inherited a 2013 lawsuit fighting an earlier decision about land into trust, from the Parnell administration. He’s delayed action for seven months. A brief is due on the 24th indicating the state’s plans. His tour last week brought him to five place: Akiachak, Tuluksak, Chalkyitsik in the interior, Barrow, and finally to Haines.

He brought boxes of vegetables and strawberries from Palmer-area farms to far corners of the state, as he spoke with plaintiffs who originally sued the federal government in 2006 for the ability to put lands in trust. Walker says a common thread was that tribes wanted to make sure land is available for future generations.

“The theme I would take from across the state is they were looking at it more from a preservation standpoint. They’re trying to hold on to what they had, recognizing that they had a whole lot more previously,” said Walker.

Trust status, however, has major implications for jurisdiction and could give tribes wider control over laws and management of lands, while restricting the power of the state. It also has tax implications. Walker says land status is one of an array of issues related to tribal sovereignty that his administration is considering.

“We’re looking at some of those already, as far as for how we can transfer jurisdiction for certain matters over to tribes. I think I would look, our vision is much broader than land into trust,” said Walker.

His administration is also wrestling with how to implement tribal courts. Walker is not detailing his plans for the lawsuit yet. He says he and his legal team are still reviewing information.