Native communities worry about new consultation policy for native corporations

Consultation for ANC’s is an addition to the current policy of tribal consultation that was enacted in December.

“This would allow Alaska Native Corporations at the regional, village and urban level to consult with the Department of Interior on any policies or actions that impact their interests,” said Bryan Newland, senior policy adviser the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C.

That means ANCs’s can consult Interior about issues in any agency within the department; from the Fish and Wildlife Service to the Bureau of Land Management to the National Park Service.

The plan is now in effect, and Newland said Interior will implement it as responsibly and flexibly as possible. And, he added, BIA consulted with Alaska Native Corporations and tribes alike when crafting it, taking into consideration the sensitive issue of nation status.

“We know that this is not the government-to-government relationship that the United States shares with Indian tribes, and Alaska Native Villages are included in that category,” Newland said. “This is a different legal relationship. And this policy was drafted with that in mind, in an attempt to be respectful of that government-to-government, nation-to-nation relationship we have with Indian tribes.”

Mike Williams, Chief of the Yupiit Nation, disagreed with the policy.

“Our position is to keep the integrity of the tribal governments. And to not allow any other governmental or nongovernmental organizations to have the same privileges and same status as our sovereign tribal governments,” Williams said.

Consultation for the Alaska Native Corporations, Williams contends, minimizes the voice of Native communities. And that could have an effect on negotiations with the Department of Interior.

Williams said in his village, Akiak, the Native community institutes the Indian Health Service and the Indian Child Welfare Act.  Because of tribal consultation, they can deal directly with the federal government.

“When we consult with the federal government on federal budget issues, we have the capability of telling the government these budgets are inadequate,” he said. “But it has really generated the spirit of self-determination in our community.”

Some Native Corporations welcomed the news with a bit of skepticism. Jaeleen Araujo, vice-president at Sealaska Corporation, helped draft the policy at the request of the Department of Interior.

She said the corporation is encouraged by any sign indicating the federal government is willing to take into consideration Sealaska’s concerns on decisions that may affect its land, resources and shareholders.

“If some agency in Southeast is going to do something that could impact our ANCSA land, then obviously we have more of a priority in expressing our opinion than potentially some other tribes,” she said.

Araujo said the policy grants Sealaska Corporation that priority. Sealaska is not a tribe, though Araujo maintains it’s important tribes and clans also be heard, especially when dealing with issues of historical land.

The implementation could prove cumbersome. Araujo said the tribal relationship with the government is based on federal trust agreements, whereas the ANC relationship is statutory.

“I can understand their rationale for doing it. I just hope that having two administrative processes doesn’t become too much of a burden,” Araujo said Thursday.

The policy is limited to the Department of Interior.

That means Sealaska won’t be able to directly consult with the federal government one of its primary assets – land in the Tongass National Forest.  The U.S. Forest Service is part of the Department of Agriculture.

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