Native tribes in Ketchikan tell Interior Department to keep land-trust program

The consultation held in the Ketchikan Public Library on August, 3, 2018. (Photo by Liam Niemeyer/KRBD)

The consultation held in the Ketchikan Public Library on Aug, 3, 2018. (Photo by Liam Niemeyer/KRBD)

Department of the Interior officials have traveled across the state to talk with tribes in a series of consultations this summer to reconsider land-trust rules in Alaska.

Several people attended a consultation Friday afternoon at the Ketchikan Public Library.

Alaska tribes won a lawsuit in 2014 against the Department of the Interior for the right to put land into trusts, expelling the “Alaska exception.”

Land-into-trust allows tribal organizations to request specific land be exempted from taxation and local zoning laws, and protected from proceedings such as eminent domain or foreclosure, essentially keeping the land in tribal ownership permanently.

Native American Rights Fund attorney Matthew Newman, who represents the Village of Saxman, said DOI has not been clear with the purpose of these consultations.

“They’ve given us no real indication of what they’re doing,” Newman said. “We just received letters on July 2nd that just showed up that said we’re reconsidering the program. The overwhelming message delivered to the Department of the Interior by tribal leaders was one of frustration.”

Many tribal leaders at the consultation perceive these meetings as an attack on their rights that they won just recently, Newman said.

Only the Craig Tribal Association has been able to put land into trust since the 2014 decision.

The association put about 1 acre containing the city’s town hall and offices into trust in early 2017.

Craig Tribal Association President Clinton Cook Sr. said one of the reasons land-trust rules should remain in place is their association has proven it can work in Alaska.

“We knew there was going to be hurdles to come across. We overcame that hurdle,” Cook said. “We’re very, very proud of that accomplishment and we look forward to see other tribes in Alaska to put lands into trusts.”

Jacqueline Pata from Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska also attended the Ketchikan consultation.

She said like many tribes in the Lower 48 who have been able to put land into trust for decades, tribes in Alaska and Southeast simply want to protect their land for the future.

“These are our lands, we don’t want to lose them from alienation in any form,” Pata said. “We want them to be identified as tribal lands. And as we move forward in the future, they’ll be protected for future generations,”

Pata hopes the Interior will take this feedback and maintain the land-trust program throughout Alaska.

Until that decision, she said it is a waiting game to see what DOI does with this feedback.

The next DOI consultation on the land-trust program in Alaska will be held in Anchorage in mid-October.

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