US Gov casts doubt on Indigenous Alaskans’ right to seek land-in-trust

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The new acting solicitor of the U.S. Interior Department is casting doubt on Alaska tribes’ right to gain land in trust. In this picture, a view of the area surrounding Newtok, Alaska in July 2015. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
A new legal opinion from the solicitor of the U.S. Department of the Interior throws doubt on whether Alaska tribes can gain “Indian Country”-type jurisdiction by putting land in trust with the federal government.

The land-in-trust issue has a long, complicated history. Basically, if the Interior Department agrees to acquire a tribe’s land in trust, the tribe can exercise sovereignty over that territory. Trust land is similar to an Indian reservation, and it’s exempt from some local laws, typically zoning and taxation.

Going back and forth

For decades, the Interior department has gone back and forth over whether Alaska tribes can put land in trust, or whether that’s precluded by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

The Obama administration did not see ANCSA as a barrier, and just before President Obama left office, his Interior Secretary accepted 1.08 acre in the center of Craig into trust for the Craig Tribal Association. Other Alaska tribes have also applied to put land into trust.

But the new acting solicitor, the top lawyer for the Interior Department, issued an opinion in late June that says the Obama administration’s legal reasoning was incomplete, and he’s ordered a new period of  consultation and review. He says that’ll take at least a year.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canada wants to up collaboration with First Nations, Inuit, Métis on national parks, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Sámi school preserves reindeer herders’ heritage with help of internet, Cryopolitics Blog

Norway: Norway and Sweden in quarrel over cross-border reindeer grazing, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russia plans fenced parks to confine reindeer herding in Arctic, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: Tara Sweeney becomes first Indigenous Alaskan to head U.S. Indian Affairs, Alaska Public Media

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Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media

Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media

For more news from Alaska visit Alaska Public Media.

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