Opinion | Trust

Geoff Strommer: Land-into-trust rule makes life safer in Alaska

A view of the Akiachak Native Community, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that prompted the Obama administration to include Alaska tribes in the land-into-trust process. Photo from Calista Corporation

Attorney Geoff Strommer says inclusion of Alaska in land-into-trust process will improve public safety:
In Alaska, the prospect of Tribal communities gaining jurisdiction over lands in their communities brings particular hope to a problem that has vexed policy makers for decades: how to bring law and order to rural and remote tribal communities.

Congress recently made a substantial, multiyear, bipartisan investment in the Indian Law and Order Commission, which issued a ground-breaking Report in November 2013. The Commission was charged with the responsibility to examine criminal justice systems in Indian Country, and its report, A Roadmap For Making Native America Safer: Report to the President and Congress of the United States, contained an entire chapter devoted to Alaska. The Commission stated that “a number of strong arguments can be made that [Alaska fee] land may be taken into trust and treated as Indian country” and “[n]othing in ANCSA expressly barred the treatment of these former [Alaska] reservation and other Tribal fee lands as Indian country.” The Commission specifically focused on the question of placement of lands into trust by Alaska tribes and strongly recommended allowing lands to be placed in trust for Alaska Natives as a means of creating the jurisdictional underpinnings for a better functioning criminal justice system.

As the Department itself notes in the Proposed Rule, when examining the Commission’s Report: “The basic thrust of the Indian Law and Order Commission’s recommendation is that the state of public safety for Alaska Natives, especially for Native women who suffer high rates of domestic abuse, sexual violence and other offenses, is unacceptable; providing trust lands in Alaska in appropriate circumstances would provide additional authority for Native governments to be better partners with the State of Alaska to address these problems. In sum, the Commission concludes that trust land in Alaska could help improve the lives of Indian people by creating safer communities.”

Get the Story:
Geoff Strommer: Placing Land Into Trust Will Make Alaska Safer for Rural Tribes (Indian Country Today 5/20)

Federal Register Notice:
Land Acquisitions in the State of Alaska (May 1, 2014)

Relevant Documents:
Dear Tribal Leader Letter from Kevin Washburn (April 30, 2014)

District Court Decisions:
Akiachak Native Community v. Jewell (September 30, 2013)
Akiachak Native Community v. Salazar (March 31, 2013)

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Tribal leaders laud inclusion of Alaska in land-into-trust process (05/09)
NCAI praises inclusion of Alaska tribes in land-into-trust process (5/2)
BIA accepts public comments on land-into-trust rule for Alaska (5/1)
BIA proposes rule to include Alaska in land-into-trust process (4/30)
Judge deletes Alaska exception in land-into-trust regulations (10/02)
Sen. Begich supports land-into-trust decision for Alaska tribes (4/23)
APRN: NARF attorney discusses decision in land-into-trust case (04/09)
Decision in Alaska case could reopen land-into-trust regulation (4/5)
NARF calls land-into-trust case 'victory' for all Alaska tribes (4/3)
Judge rules tribes in Alaska can follow land-into-trust process (4/1)
Rep. Young won't support Alaska tribes for land-into-trust fix (03/20)

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