Liz Medicine Crow: Land-into-trust a safety issue 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

Liz Medicine Crow and Troy Eid explain why Gov. Bill Walker (I) should drop a land-into-trust case that will affect all tribes in Alaska:
The continuation of the State of Alaska’s response to the public safety vacuum in rural and remote Alaska is literally a matter of life and death, and contradictory to an equitable society endangering the lives of Alaska Native and rural people at a significant moral and financial cost, at a time when the state can ill afford it. State officials say they want to reduce violence, suicide, alcohol/ drug abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska, including in our rural and remote communities, yet they do not provide adequate services or use the tools, potential partnerships and knowledge of the tribes to help address these issues through any and all means available.

Instead, we see state officials doing everything in their power at the top level of the state to actually fight the one thing that would position tribes to do something about these issues, by holding up the land-into-trust process in Alaska. Worse, as a result of this contradiction, state officials seem to expect: 1) Tribal communities to live without the same basic protections other Alaskans have, perpetuating political and racial inequality, 2) Tribes to provide certain governmental services on their own with little funding and no tax base, something the state cannot even do, or 3) The state prevents and actively works against tribes from helping themselves and assumes the responsibility for doing so with inadequate resources and a colonial mentality of ruling from afar. The fact is, the people in the villages and tribes are the ones with the most at stake in these communities, and are often doing more than humanly possible with little to no support to triage ineffective systems of public safety. That just won’t do anymore.

Alaska’s 229 tribes are sovereign, recognized as such under federal law -- but there is not a single village shelter for children, and only one for women in all of rural Alaska, where domestic violence victims can be protected until Alaska Troopers arrive. Perpetrators walk the village streets and boardwalks where victims live and often do so with immunity. At least 75 Alaska Native villages have no law enforcement coverage of any kind, according to a 2013 report by the Indian Law and Order Commission (ILOC), an independent Congressional advisory board that declared Alaska’s public safety crisis to be a national problem.

The ILOC report concluded that in Lower 48 states, when tribal governments are permitted to exercise their jurisdiction to govern and protect people and property within their tribal lands, public safety improves for Indians and non-Indians alike. The Secretary of the Interior’s ability to take lands into federal trust for the benefit of tribes in the Lower 48 has been a key factor in building their capacity for effective self-government. When states and tribal governments work together in this way they not only help one another, they build governmental capacity. Through inter-governmental agreements they utilize the strength of the people to govern themselves and the continuity of tribal homelands while creating the ability for both sovereigns to be more accountable to each other and their respective citizens.

Get the Story:
Liz Medicine Crow and Troy A. Eid: Gov. Walker can help protect rural Alaskans by dropping land-into-trust suit (Alaska Dispatch News 7/24)

Another Opinion:
Wayne Heimer: Silent struggle for Alaska's soul (The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner 7/23)

Also Today:
State gets 30-day extension in Native land case (The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner 7/23)

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)

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