On October 14th, 2015 at the Egan Center in Anchorage, during a National Congress of American Indians and Alaska Federation of Natives co-hosted meeting of tribal leaders and Governor Walker and his Cabinet members, the governor signed Administrative Order No. 277. AO277 created the Governor’s Tribal Advisory Council, or GTAC, where 11 tribal leaders from around the state will be nominated and selected amongst the sovereign tribal governments to sit for three years and to advise the Governor of Alaska on 11 different but inter-related Alaska Native issues:
5. Public safety and justice
6. Wildlife and fisheries
7. Economic development
Not since Governor Tony Knowles has such high-level acknowledgment been achieved between the State of Alaska and the 266 federally-recognized tribal governments located within the state, and before that not since ANCSA was passed in 1971 has such a high-profile been designated to Alaska Natives by the state. Governor Knowles made a misstep, however, in the year 2000 with the “Millennium Agreement,” where the agreement stipulating a state-tribal relationship required an “opt-in” clause for tribes to sign the agreement. The “opt-in” clause waived sovereign immunity in some respects, automatically creating an unequal partnership between the state and any tribe that signed the agreement. As a result, not more than 50 federally-recognized tribal governments signed the agreement, and the subsequent “state-tribal relationship” spelled out in the agreement halted entirely.
Under the guise of AO277, there is no waiver or any other reservation requested or required by the state for tribal governments to nominate seats; 11 tribal leaders will have direct access to the Governor’s office and to the various departments under his or her charge, with direction to advise on the 11 topics numbered above. For too long has the State of Alaska literally fought tooth and nail politically, policy-wise, and in the courts tribal governments around the state. A few lucky tribal governments have successfully applied for and received “Capital Improvement Project” monies from the legislative Capital budget process, but with the literal drain of funds for FY16 and beyond due to the crash in crude oil prices, options for tribal government participation in the state government apparatus looked minimal. With GTAC in the opening stages, there is much potential for years of wrongs to be righted in terms of state-tribal relations, and therefore improving tribal governance and increasing governmental capacity in the most remote areas and regions of the state.