Law | National | Trust

BIA finalizes rule to add Alaska tribes to land-into-trust process

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

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has finalized a regulation that allows Alaska tribes, for the first time, to follow the land-into-trust process.

For decades, the BIA argued that the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 prevented Alaska tribes from acquiring trust lands. But a federal judge threw out that argument, paving the way for the new rule.

“This marks a major step forward in federal policy in Alaska. Our aim is to make it possible to secure tribal homelands, which in turn advances tribal sovereignty and economic development, promotes the health and welfare of tribal communities, and protects tribal culture and traditional ways of life,” Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, the head of the BIA, said in a press release on Thursday. “Restoring tribal lands to trust status furthers tribal self-governance."

The Native American Rights Fund represented four tribes and one Native individual in the lawsuit that challenged the Alaska exclusion. Attorney Heather Kendall-Miller praised the rule, which is being sent to the Federal Register for publication.

Kendall-Miller called the rule “an extraordinary step forward in the longstanding battle of Alaska Tribes to secure greater tribal self-determination, to protect their lands and way of life in perpetuity, and to enjoy the same basic privileges and immunities enjoyed by all other Native American tribes.”

"[O]nly by enjoying all of the governing tools available to other Native American tribes will Alaska tribes finally have the means to preserve their way of life and to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their communities," Kendall-Miller added.

Despite the announcement of the rule, the BIA cannot actually approve any Alaska land-into-trust applications under orders of Judge Rudolph Contreras. He put a hold on any decisions in order for the state of Alaska to take the case to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Get the Story:
Interior Department will accept land into trust for tribes (The Alaska Dispatch News 12/19)
Court Decision Allows Tribes To Apply For Lands To Be Placed In Trust (APRN 12/18)

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)

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