Court Decision Allows Tribes To Apply For Lands To Be Placed In Trust

Tribes in Alaska are celebrating a decision that allows them to apply for lands to be placed into trust status with the federal government.

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The Interior Department published the final regulation in a long running dispute between tribes, Interior and the state over an interpretation of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act or ANCSA in 1971 that held tribes in Alaska had lost that right under the settlement act.

Native American Rights Fund Attorney Heather Kendall Miller sued on behalf of four tribes and one Alaska Native individual in 2006.

“This is a huge, wonderful day to see Alaska tribes be able to fully exercise the right to have their petitions considered,” Miller said.

The district court for DC rejected the state of Alaska’s position that ANCSA required different treatment of tribes in Alaska. The state is appealing that decision.

Kendall Miller says one of the plaintiffs is the Chilkoot Indian Association that had land donated to it by a church. The 106 acres are in Haines and applying for trust status means local municipalities, boroughs or the state would not be allowed to tax any economic development initiatives the tribe may develop there.

Kendall Miller says the state could decide to drop the appeal now that Interior has adopted the court’s position that sided with tribes on all counts. Kendall Miller says numerous tribes beyond the plaintiffs have been preparing applications for requesting trust status. She says this land status could be considered Indian Country.

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Lori Townsend is the news director and senior host for Alaska Public Media. You can send her program ideas for Talk of Alaska and Alaska Insight at ltownsend@alaskapublic.org or call 907-350-2058.

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