Indigenous Ketchikan Tribes Call on Home Office to Maintain Land Trust Program


The consultation held at the Ketchikan Public Library on August 3, 2018 (Photo by Liam Niemeyer, KRBD – Ketchikan)

In 2014, the Alaskan tribes won a lawsuit against the Department of the Interior (DOI) for the right to trust land, expelling the “Alaska exception”.

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Land in trust is a process in which tribal organizations can request that specific lands be exempt from tax and local zoning laws, and protected from proceedings such as eminent domain or foreclosure. It essentially maintains the land in tribal ownership on a permanent basis.

DOI officials are speaking with tribes across the state in a series of consultations this summer to reconsider land trust rules in Alaska. Matthew Newman, a Native American Rights Fund lawyer representing the village of Saxman, was one of many who attended the last consultation Friday afternoon at the Ketchikan Public Library.

Newman said the DOI has not been clear on the purpose of these consultations.

“They haven’t given us any real indication of what they’re doing. And what I mean by that is that there was no incentive, impetus or comment period, ”Newman said. “We just received letters on July 2 that just arrived saying that we are reconsidering the program,” Newman said. “The damning message delivered to the Home Office by the tribal leaders was a message of frustration. “

Newman said many tribal leaders during the consultation perceive the meetings as an attack on their recently won rights.

Only the Craig Tribal Association has been able to put land in trust since the 2014 ruling. The association put about an acre containing the town hall and city offices in trust in early 2017.

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

“We knew there would be obstacles to overcome. We have overcome that hurdle, we are very, very proud of this achievement and look forward to seeing more tribes in Alaska put land in trust, ”Cook said.

Jacqueline Pata from the Tlingit and Haida Indian tribes of Alaska also attended the Ketchikan consultation. She says that like many tribes in the Lower 48 who have been able to entrust land to the trust for decades, the tribes of Alaska and Southeast just want to protect their lands for the future.

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

Pata said she hoped the DOI would heed those comments and maintain the land trust program throughout Alaska. Until that decision, she says it’s a game of waiting to see what DOI does with those comments.

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

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