Alaska Governor Signs Bill Officially Recognizing Federally Recognized Native American Tribes – Ballotpedia News


On July 28, 2022, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy (right) signed into law Bill 123 (HB 123), which would officially recognize 229 federally recognized Native American tribes in Alaska. The bill was approved by the state legislature on May 17, 2022, before being introduced in the governor’s office.

“House Bill 123 codifies into law what Alaskans have long recognized: the important role that Native tribes play in our past, present and future,” Governor Dunleavy said in a statement.

Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky (D-38), who sponsored the bill, called the long-standing action. “While the inherent sovereignty of the Alaskan tribes has been consistently affirmed in federal policy, in Supreme Court decisions, and by executive order in 2018, the signing of House Bill 123 provides formal recognition in the law for the first time in our state’s history,” she said.

HB 123 adds a section to Alaska state law that recognizes federally recognized tribes. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, a federally recognized tribe is “a Native American or Alaska Native tribal entity that is recognized to have a government-to-government relationship with the United States, with the responsibilities, powers , the limitations and obligations attached to this designation, and is eligible for funding and services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Initially, the state’s decision to recognize Native American tribes in Alaska came from a ballot initiative that was to be placed on the 2022 ballot. The initiative was filed by Wáahlaal Gíidaak Barbara Blake, Chaa yaa eesh Richard Peterson and La quen náay Liz on August 11, 2021. The Alaskans for Better Government PAC was registered in support of the measure.

“With a respectful partnership, we will have more ways to improve the lives of Alaskans by streamlining services; build partnerships to amplify federal and state funding for deep, lasting, and long-term impact; and tap into the more than 10,000 years of Indigenous brilliance, diversity and knowledge of our homelands that so many now call home,” said the Alaskans for Better Government campaign, “The foundation of every good relationship is respect, and too often when sovereign governments cannot work together, our tribal peoples disproportionately bear the price of injustice, diminished fairness, liberty and freedoms for all.

In Alaska, the initiative process for state laws is indirect. This means that rather than a campaign submitting signatures to put the initiative directly on the ballot, the initiative goes to the state legislature first. The state legislature then has the option to approve or reject the measure. If the state legislature rejects the measure, the measure goes to a ballot for voters to decide. If the state legislature approves the measure, it is forwarded to the governor’s office for approval.

The Alaskans for Better Government Campaign submitted 56,200 signatures on January 13, 2022. Of that total, 47,199 signatures were found to be valid on March 3, 2022. The number of signatures required to send the initiative to the state legislature was of 36,140.

In 2021, several lawmakers introduced House Bill 123, which Alaskans for Better Government described as “functionally identical and … drafted for the same purpose” as the ballot initiative. Instead of considering the initiative, the state legislature approved HB 123 in May.

Since the measure was passed by the state legislature, it will not appear on the ballot but will take effect immediately.

Federation of Alaska Native President Julie Kitka called the official recognition a “historic milestone.”

“The cultural survival of our Indigenous peoples depends on our ability to maintain our values, practice our traditions and maintain the freedom to live our lives well with dignity and respect for one another,” she said. “We have strengthened our tribal governments and launched multiple efforts to continue our path to self-determination and self-government. The formal recognition by this legislation is a historic step for us to have a fruitful relationship with the State.

Further reading:

2022 Alaska Ballot Measures


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