Opinion: Land-into-trust will help tribes in Alaska meet needs

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

Professor Jenny Bell-Jones says including Alaska tribes in the land-into-trust process will help them address economic and social needs in their communities:
ANCSA was signed into law to settle valid claims of unextinguished aboriginal title that blanketed almost all of Alaska. ANCSA was not a negotiated settlement. It was an Act of Congress. The document that exists today is the result of work by Congressional members and actual contents were not public information until after the final document was signed. While Alaska Natives may have voted in favor of moving forward with an agreement, this should never be construed as a vote in favor of the wording of the law itself. The public does not get to “vote” on the contents of laws created by Congress.

ANCSA is long and complicated. Its social-engineering provisions extend beyond the land claims it was intended to settle. Some of these provisions worked well; others have not, and ANCSA has undergone numerous amendments since its inception. No one knew ahead of time what would work, and one must hope that no one would recommend failing provisions be continued. One failure is actually an omission; ANCSA provided no land base for tribal governments.

It is this omission that Alaska tribes hope to address by removing the discriminatory language from the CFR. Governments need a land base if they are to be successful. Very few governments in the world succeed without a proper land base; examples include Monaco and Vatican City, and even these have clearly defined territory.

ANCSA was intended to be “accomplished rapidly, with certainty, in conformity with the real economic and social needs of Natives” (43 U.S.C. § 1601(b)). Forty-three years later this goal is yet to be accomplished. The Indian Law and Order Commission report makes it very clear that an unacceptable situation exists in rural Alaska. Many tribal communities lack even the most basic services, resident law enforcement, and suffer extreme levels of violence and the highest unemployment in the state. Clearly economic and social needs have not been met.

Get the Story:
Jenny Bell-Jones: Taking Native lands into federal trust wouldn't 'unravel' ANCSA (Alaska Dispatch News 7/16)

Federal Register Notices:
Land Acquisitions in the State of Alaska (July 1, 2014)
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)

Related Stories:
Mike Williams: Trust lands are vital to tribal self-determination (07/02)
BIA extends public comments on land-into-trust rule for Alaska (7/1)
Judge blocks land-into-trust decisions in Alaska pending appeal (6/27)
Opinion: Unanswered questions about land-into-trust in Alaska (6/26)
Geoff Strommer: Land-into-trust rule makes life safer in Alaska (05/20)
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NARF calls land-into-trust case 'victory' for all Alaska tribes (4/3)
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