Alaska News

Land-in-trust applications by Alaska tribes under review

JUNEAU — The Trump administration is re-examining whether Alaska tribes can create sovereign areas.

Before President Donald Trump was inaugurated, tribes in Alaska had made progress in the decades-long debate, KTOO-FM reported.

Tribes outside of Alaska are allowed to put land into trust with the federal government. The move exempts the properties from most state and local laws, including taxes.

However, the Department of Interior has maintained for decades that Alaska tribes aren't able to do the same under the Alaska Native Settlement Act of 1971, despite the fact that most of the tribal organizations in Alaska weren't part of the deal.

"We did not receive land from the federal government so we're kind of at a loss to our aboriginal land claims," said Ivan Encelewski, executive director of Ninilchik Traditional Council.

Alaska tribes have continued to push back against the department.

But in 2014, the Bureau of Indian Affairs began accepting lands-into-trust applications from Alaska tribes.


[Interior Department will accept land into trust for tribes]

Last year, the Craig Tribal Association on Prince of Wales Island became the first Alaska tribe to have an application successfully go through.

After Trump entered office, new appointees took over the department.

Last month, the tribes were told that the rule allowing their applications to go through was being withdrawn pending further review.

Anchorage Attorney Lloyd Miller, who had a hand in opening up a path for land-in-trust applications from Alaska tribes, is disappointed by the decision.

"The White House has made it clear that anything associated with President Obama is to be questioned and presumptively reversed," Miller said. "The White House has taken that to heart, the agencies have taken it to heart and this is certainly part of that directive."

The Bureau of Indian Affairs told Alaska tribes in a July 2 letter that it will hold consultations with them and take public comments on the issue.