Craig is first tribe applying for federal trust status

Craig, Alaska, from


The Bureau of Indian Affairs has received its first request from an Alaska tribe to bring its land into “trust” status with the Federal government.

The State of Alaska was notified earlier this month and has until Nov. 9 to comment on the application of the Craig Tribal Association, which is requesting that a one-acre lot in the City of Craig be placed under federal management.

The land in question is the location of the tribe’s administrative building, tribal hall, a Head Start program, and commercial space. It also includes parking. The City of Craig currently exempts the property from the tax rolls, so there will be little impact to the city’s budget.

[Related: Indian Country just days away]

But moving the land into trust would allow the tribe to start a gambling casino in Craig, a town of 1,200 people, although no such plans have been announced.

The tribe has, however, spoken openly about starting a marijuana business on the property.

Prior to this summer, the State of Alaska had stood in opposition to allowing tribes to put their lands into federal control, effectively as reservations.

That was until Gov. Bill Walker stepped away from the legal challenge this summer, allowing tribes to request of the BIA the special status that had been denied them under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

Some municipal leaders are concerned. One told us: “The State is starving the municipalities because the State budget problem, and now taking lands right in the heart of downtowns and taking them off the tax rolls — this is going to hurt some communities.”

The Alaska Municipal League meeting in Anchorage on Nov. 14-16 will delve into the lands-into-trust issues with a workshop, and the Alaska Conference of Mayors, headed by Craig Mayor Dennis Watson, will also take up the issue and how it affects communities when it meets on Nov. 17 in Anchorage.

The State of Alaska is gathering information about the application and any jurisdictional problems or land-use conflicts that may present themselves.

The period for submitting comments to the State of Alaska has passed, but comments can be sent to the BIA’s Alaska Regional Office at 3601 C Street, Suite 1100, Anchorage, AK 99503.

Craig’s city council has sent a letter to the BIA asking a wide range of questions and requesting that the agency send fact-finding staff to the Prince of Wales Island community to fully vet the proposal and help residents understand the implications of lands-into-trust. The city council has also asked for an extension of time for the comment period.

For another take on the transition Alaska is making to Indian Country, read what Don Mitchell had to say earlier this year. Mitchell is a former general counsel for the Alaska Federation of Natives and the author of Wampum: How Indian Tribes, the Mafia, and an Inattentive Congress Invented Indian Gaming and Created a $28 Billion Gambling Empire.