Today I was approached by a gentleman near the door to the Fairbanks Safeway. He asked if I would sign the initiative making a state law to assure Alaska tribes would be recognized as sovereigns by the state.
I simply replied, “They already are,” and walked away. I encourage readers to do the same. I could have continued, “Read the 1999 Alaska Supreme Court decision John v. Baker — or the October 2017 attorney general’s opinion by Jahna Lindemuth.”
So I went home and found The Alaska Tribal Recognition Act on the internet. As a non-attorney student of Native American law, I concluded that the effort to get this language into state law is either 1. a public relations thing without meaning, or 2. an effort to put something in statute that is not clear to the reader.
The state Supreme Court makes it clear: Alaska’s 200-plus tribes are sovereigns. As such they have certain authorities over their membership. The tribes have sovereign immunity from suit in their business endeavors unless they choose to waive it.
But Alaska tribes, with few exceptions, do not have lands held in trust for them by the feds — which equates to Indian Country, or reservations where state and municipal tax and regulatory authorities are lost. A pretty big deal!
I don’t know if this initiative impacts ongoing efforts to establish Indian country in Alaska. In my humble opinion, don’t sign it.
— Mary Bishop
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