Federal court sides with tribes in Alaska Indian Country land rights case

Bureau of Indian Affairs BIA Flag

The flag of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Tribes in Alaska can move forward with petitioning the federal government to take lands into trust. A federal appeals court Friday dismissed the state of Alaska’s challenge in the litigation.

Tribal land held in a Bureau of Indian Affairs trust would give it “Indian Country” status, affording it the same protections as reservation lands in the Lower 48.

In 2007, Alaska tribes sued the Interior Department for the right to take land into trust. Even after a legal opinion from the Interior Department said it was discriminatory to treat tribes in Alaska differently from tribes in the Lower 48, the state continued its challenge in the case.

Attorney Heather Kendall Miller brought the case for the tribes. She said the decision is a big deal.

Kendall Miller said now that the stay against Alaska tribal petitions has been lifted, the BIA will publish notice of those trust land applications within 30 days.

In an email, state Law Department spokesperson Cori Mills said, “We will review the decision as we do all appellate decisions and determine next steps after a thorough evaluation.”

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