Opinion: Deadline approaches in Alaska land-into-trust dispute

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

Writer questions the inclusion of Alaska tribes in the land-into-trust process as Gov. Bill Walker (I) and his administration determine whether to pursue an appeal in Akiachak Native Community v. Department of the Interior:
The deadline approaches for Gov. Bill Walker and Attorney General Craig Richards to decide whether to appeal a federal court ruling in the Akiachak case. The future of Indian reservations in Alaska depends, in large part, upon their decision.

If the village of Akiachak wins or the lawsuit is dropped, the Interior Department can begin processing applications from any of the 220-plus tribes in Alaska that may request their land be put into federal trust status.

Once the land is in trust, it becomes “Indian country” governed by the tribal group and free of state or municipal taxation and regulation.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough contains 94 Alaska Native-owned, tax-exempt properties varying in size from 640 acres to tiny. Now most of those lands, if developed, would be taxable, as they are not held in federal trust.

But if any one of those properties becomes tribally owned and accepted by the Interior Department for trust status, it would be free from state and municipal taxation. Tribal members and businesses would probably have no state or local taxes on gasoline and tobacco sales.

In addition, tribal members and businesses would be exempt from state or municipal regulations on marijuana, wood smoke, fish and wildlife harvest or anything else that is a regulated activity. The state would also lose any unresolved access corridors such as historic trails still not federally recognized.

Get the Story:
Mary Bishop: What would Indian reservations mean in Alaska? (The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner 4/26)

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)

Federal Register Notice:
Land Acquisitions in the State of Alaska (December 23, 2014)

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
New governor of Alaska seeks delay in land-into-trust litigation (2/5)
Law Article: Major change for Alaska tribes with land-into-trust (12/24)
BIA finalizes rule to add Alaska tribes to land-into-trust process (12/19)
VAWA jurisdiction provision poses special issue for Alaska tribes (12/15)
Congress clears bill to extend VAWA tribal provisions to Alaska (12/12)
Senate backs measure to extend VAWA tribal provisions to Alaska (12/9)
Vice President Biden calls for inclusion of Alaska Natives in VAWA (12/4)
Opinion: Land-into-trust will help tribes in Alaska meet needs (07/17)
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)
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)