The interlocutor for the “con” side of the reporter’s story on the latest land into trust development, stemming from the DC Court of Appeals decision handed down last week in Akiachak v. Salazar, is a non-Native individual who is strongly interested in halting or stalling “federal overreach” on public lands in Alaska through the state instrumentality Citizens’ Advisory Commission on Federal Areas (CACFA). The individual as reported took it upon herself to proscribe “what is best” for Alaska Natives who have proudly resided both within the state and in some cases across international boundaries for millennia.
For the “pro” side of the argument, the reporter sought the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) non-profit advocacy organization Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN). While AFN is technically made up of individually enrolled tribal members who also happen to be shareholders of ANCSA regional and village corporations, the primary concern of AFN is to promote the interests of the for-profit ANCSA regional corporations based in the state. Can the President of AFN speak for the specific interests of each tribal government in Alaska? Much less can the press secretary of AFN speak for the specific interests each tribal government in Alaska? Rightly, no, which is why no statement was forthcoming from AFN officials for the purposes of the reporter’s story.
The tribes themselves can only speak to their own interests, and the three tribal government appellees of Akiachak v. Salazar know their reasons for fighting the federal and state governments for over two decades to apply for small parcels of land to be held in federal trust. Since each tribal government is named in the court reporter summary attached to the case, why did the reporter not attempt to contact their offices, and if the reporter could not reach any tribal officials for comment, why was it not mentioned in the story reaching a state-wide audience?
Already members of the Alaska Outdoor Council and former AFN General Counsel Donald Craig Mitchell have been providing landslide logic and doomsday scenarios knocking on our very doors, ranging from between the “Balkanization” of natural resources and lands management within state boundaries, or that “Indian casinos” are going to pop up in quick order from Barrow to Atka and Ketchikan and everywhere in between, now that tribes in the state at last have a low-impact channel to become land-owners and managers of land, in small parcels that cannot be under threat of willing or hostile sale due to the federal trust status. The Secretary of Interior and the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs will certainly not accept land into trust applications willy nilly regardless of any larger consequences beyond the applicant tribes, per the BIA Land Into Trust handbook, recently pointed out by op-ed contributor and Canadian Métis UAF adjunct professor of federal Indian and ANCSA law Jenny Bell Jones.
There have been instances of ANCSA village corporations transferring all or some of their lands to tribal governments – communities made up of corresponding shareholders and tribal members – which required a super-majority board of directors’ vote and super-majority shareholders’ vote following broad consensus amongst their communities. This should make it clear not every ANCSA regional and village corporation are going to transfer large swaths of their lands to their corresponding tribal governments as part of a land into trust application, which would be two very different and unrelated processes to begin with.
I hope the next land into trust story from the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer will feature due diligence from one or more of their reporters, and not feature a one-sided argument from a non-Native individual on the negative aspects of diverse Alaska Native tribal government applications for land into trust.