Anchorage poised to gamble on gov-to-gov relations with Eklutna Tribe, allow casinos


The Anchorage Assembly is getting ready to establish government-to-government relations with the Village of Eklutna, which is within the Municipality of Anchorage near Chugiak. The Tribal Council of Eklutna estimates the population of the tribe to be about 70, with members scattered across Alaska.

That’s about the size of a large family, with aunts, uncles and cousins in the mix.

A resolution to be voted on Tuesday recognizes the tribe as a sovereign entity, but does not describe what sovereignty means in this context.

In general terms, tribal sovereignty means there is an inherent authority of indigenous tribes to govern themselves within the borders of the United States. However, most tribes are deeply dependent on federal, state and local governments, and are unable to actually function as sovereign entities. Tribes are sometimes called “domestic dependent nations” inside the U.S., as wards of the government that operate a limited amount of their own affairs.

The Anchorage resolution “recognizes there are inherent rights, opportunities, protections, and obligations that come with self-governance,” yet fails to describe those inherent rights, opportunities, protections, and obligations. Are they Second Amendment rights? What inherent rights do some Americans have that others don’t?

The resolution is silent on the definitions.

The matter of tribal gaming looms large in this discussion. In October, the tribe sued the Department of Interior for blocking the tribe’s attempt to open a gaming operation along the Glenn Highway near the Birchwood Airport in Chugiak. Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has come out in support of tribal gambling enterprise, which he has described as modest. The initial plan is for electronic bingo games.

Last year, the Interior Department ruled that the tribe does not have governmental authority over the specific land earmarked for the gaming facility. The land does not constitute “tribal land” under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, according to DOI.

Currently, there is just one tribal gambling operation in Alaska at the sole sovereign Indian Reservation in the state. Metlakatla opted out of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, and chose to retain rights to its land, which is in federal trust status. The tribe runs an electronic bingo hall in the village.

The government-to-government compact would help the municipality have a seat at the table to further the gambling plans, which the tribe has been working on for two decades.

While many Alaskans are concerned that this new interpretation of sovereignty could open the floodgates to the development of casinos, others see economic opportunity and jobs.

The Eklutna members are arguing that the plot of land in question is part of their ancestral homeland, and that the tribe is active in land management and protection. The lawsuit says that the Department of Interior has ruled in favor of tribes in other states that want to operate “Class II” gambling facilities on non-reservation allotments.

Eklutna as a tribal government was organized in 1961, long after Anchorage was a growing metropolis. At the time, its membership was about 50. It is a federally recognized tribe, and among the smallest.

Its mission is “to empower Idlughet Qayeht’ana (Eklutna Village Dena’ina) by promoting the history, culture and identity of our sovereign nation, and to assist in the education and well-being of our Tribe.”

The resolution is sponsored by Assembly members Chris Constant, Kameron Perez-Verdia, and Forrest Dunbar, who is a declared candidate for mayor.


  1. So, let me get this straight… Speaking in general terms , “they” want the “economic opportunity and jobs” offered by a casino, but “they” don’t want “economic opportunity and jobs” offered by mining or oil? Right…? Asking for a friend.

    • Not that you are interested here Lee but one is a non-renewable resource that needs to pay its own way, while the other is nothing of the kind. Oil clearly pays its own way but mining does not and further risks our clean environment.

      • Interesting point, Bill. I could add commercial fishing to your list of industries that doesn’t pay its own way and risks our clean environment. Cheers –

        • The big difference between mining and fishing is that one industry is non-renewable. The issue with a renewable industry is that it can be changed (tax-wise) as long as it’s renewable part is kept renewable. In the case of commercial fishing, another issue is that some of that fishery is utilized by ordinary fishermen and the management of commercials must provide for that and escapement. That in a nutshell is why management of fishing is nothing like management of mining. The real risk to our environment was EXXON-Valdez and commercial fishing is relatively clean.

    • Correct. Stupidity. Add in also the cost to society for all the addiction and addiction related crime surrounding the gambling industry.

  2. Uhhhh…..maybe it is too early in the morning for me, but I’m not tracking this nebulous piece of garbage of a resolution. What exactly does it say? “A resolution to initiate a conversation?” And, after that lofty title, it is recognized that Anchorage was built on the traditional lands of the Dena’ina Athabascan people and, but…wait for it…., the Assembly recognizes historical patterns of governmental and institutionalized abuse and marginalization!!
    Anything sponsored by Chris Constant, Kameron Perez-Verdia, and Forrest Dunbar spells PROBLEM. And anything connected to Berkowitz spells TAX.
    I for one will not be jumping in my car to drive to Eklutna and play video bingo to pay more taxes to fund Berkowitz’s social programs.

  3. There is danger in giving the American Native Tribes sovereignty. What happens when a Muslim group of people demands sovereignty in order to establish Sharia law. We are one country with one Constitution and abdicating our one rule of law is a dangerous precedent to make.

    • All federally recognized tribes are already sovereign. They have certain authorities over their membership. The state and its municipalities cannot tax or regulate tribal businesses. Only the feds can do that. There is a special federal commission that regulates Indian gaming. The commission sometimes works with the state so the tribe pays a fee…but never a tax.

  4. With the attitude of wanting to have us dependent on the state, feds and other entities is not what the we as indigenous people want. We are resilient in many ways, we need the chance to prove our power is in existence as other portray it not. So, for DOI to deny the status recognition, we must very cautious of the reason, which is the need to control them no matter what they pursue in life as a nation.

    • All well and good but I have serious issue with gambling as a vehicle to ‘prove’’ anything. Gambling is highly addictive and creates all kinds of problems for society to have to deal with. Are you prepared for the cost? The heightened drug and alcohol use, smoking, domestic abuse, to mention a few. Sure, gambling makes money snd my guess is that is far more the goal than ‘proving’ anything.

  5. Being originally from NY I have seen first hand the damage done by the casinos.
    I am sure that Little Ethan is drooling at the mouth over the tax dollars he can waste.

  6. I feel like we have millions of dollars leaving the State gambling on weekly mega jackpots. If it’s right or wrong, thousands do it, so could it be a new revenue source? Only if it’s well managed, not a further taking from the people. Greed will be there, and already is. We can’t have much worse crime situation than we already have. I’m for it.

    • Jodi, Jodi, Jodi… “Well managed” and “not a further taking from the people” all in one sentence! Not a chance. Just like the libs are doing with our PFD? You’ve got to be kidding me! Once the Anchorage Assembly or the State gets their hands on any revenue stream you can kiss that money goodbye on some whack job tax and or social program – never to be reversed again.

  7. Pretty obvious to me. The Anchorage assembly is promoting the separate gov’t of the Eklutna “tribe” for very blatant reasons. More money for the assembly to squander on their leftist agenda. The “tax” revenue for Anchorage, from an indian casino inside the municipality, would be very lucrative. You can bet, the ‘sovereign rights’ of indigenous people are secondary or non-existent to the assembly. A means to a financial end for ever more $$ is what it is.
    I think I can scrape up about the same number of indigenous people (born in Alaska) in my extended family, as in the Eklutna “tribe”. Can I call them a tribe and open a casino? Oh, that’s right. I am, and most of my family are white. We wouldn’t qualify.

    • That is exactly what is happening here, Ben. It is pathetically obvious. There were more people at my last dysfunctional family reunion than in the Eklutna Tribe, but hey, if there is a way for Berkowitz to tax a buck out of someone, he’s going to do it.

  8. Hilarious…
    Of course, the Anchorage People’s Assembly is ready and willing to seize all the money they can out of “gov-to-gov” relations with the Eklutna Tribe.
    The show-stopping problem… the big falling-down funny problem is that the Anchorage Peoples Assembly can’t treat the “Eklutna 70” with the same dismissive contempt reserved for say, 70 South Anchorage property owners.
    And trust us, both sides know it.

  9. Suzanne, the number you cite of 70 members is way low and I assume may be based on those living in Eklutna but I know for a fact it is closer to 300 since many members I grew up with live throughout the municipality and I asked them what the real number is.

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