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Bureau of Indian Affairs proposes change affecting Alaska tribal recognition

JUNEAU - Alaska tribes seeking federal status will have to demonstrate more than 80 years of history under a new process proposed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The proposed rule would require Alaska Native groups seeking tribal status to prove a common bond back to at least 1936, CoastAlaska reported Wednesday.

The bureau would settle expectations among tribes petitioning the federal government, the state of Alaska, tribes already federally recognized, and local governments, the agency said.

The Department of the Interior currently reviews petitions on a case-by-case basis.

"This proposed rule would not affect the status of tribes that are already federally recognized," the BIA wrote.

An attorney representing two unrecognized tribes that have been trying to gain federal recognition since the 1990s said a new rule could further slow the process.

Michael Willis represents the Qutekcak Native Tribe in Seward and the Knugank tribe near Dillingham in the Bristol Bay region.

"It seems like the Department of Interior is trying to find ways to delay yet again rather than treat the Qutekcak Native Tribe consistently with other Alaska Native entities who have organized under the Alaska IRA," Willis said in reference to the Alaska Indian Reorganization Act, the law that guides tribal recognition.

Several tribes and Alaska Native organizations expressed skepticism that a new rule would be necessary. There was also criticism of the BIA for sending letters to tribal leaders during the peak fishing season in early July.

"The arrival of a 'Dear Leader' letter, much of it written with legalese, during the subsistence season prompted widespread concern and forced tribal leaders to choose between subsistence and consultation," wrote Vivian Korthuis, CEO of the Association of Village Council Presidents in Bethel.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


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