‘Tribes for Tribes’ Gather in Anchorage

Tribal representatives from across the state are gathered in Anchorage today, intently working on language for an accord, or treaty, between Alaska tribes to compel Congress to enact an Alaska Native Restoration Act. Edward Alexander is the 2nd chief of the Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in Tribal Government of Fort Yukon representing 1,400 tribal members. Alexander lists off the accord’s three main principles:

“Making sure that all the people born after 1971  are automatically enrolled to their village and regional corporations, making sure tribes have land so they can have jurisdiction and they can also have some say in how those lands are managed and so forth and of course something that’s very important to all of rural Alaska, our hunting and fishing rights.”

The working group is called Tribes for Tribes, but Alexander says it’s informal and is not trying to compete or replace Alaska Intertribal Council or AITC or the Alaska Federation of Natives-AFN. Alexander says lower 48 tribes such as the Menomonee, Cherokee and Choctaw were successful government and business entities until the Dawes Act broke up their reservations and land became allotments that got so fractionated it became impossible to develop. He says Alaska tribes don’t have that particular problem.

“We have a different problem. Our lands was put intothese state chartered corporations and some of those corporations are selling those lands, some of those corporations are basically defunct and the lands are either gone or at risk and then when people try to find out how much land has been sold, they can’t get a straight answer from anybody.”

Alexander says concern over ensuring the land would be there for future generations prompted a transfer of corporation land so the Fort Yukon tribal people own the land. He says they’re unique in that regard and they allow the corporation to have economic development rights and they work together, but other Native corporations don’t work as well with tribes and the corporations’ hold title to the land.

He says there is concern in the villages that some of the Native corporations are claiming to be tribal governments and demanding government to government consultation with the federal government.

“That should concern all all Alaskans, that corporations can meet and have sort of back door negotiations with the federal government by claiming this tribal status that they don’t legitimately have. It’s kind of Orwellian in a way when you have a corporation involving themselves in the governance of people.”

Alexander says although critics say amending the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act to enshrine the desired changes would be difficult, but he says changes to ANCSA have happened frequently.

“Out of all of those past 40 years of amendments to the ANCSA, probably all 40 of those years have been corporations changing ANCSA for their benefit but now the tribes are looking at it and saying, you know, we need to work on a few things here too.”

The Tribes for Tribes group will agree on final language for the accord later today and then set about the task of getting as many of the 229 tribes in Alaska as they can to sign it.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for Alaska Public Media. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for nearly 30 years. Radio brought her to Alaska, where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting before accepting a reporting/host position with APRN in 2003. APRN merged with Alaska Public Media a year later. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters.