A parking lot just a stone’s throw from the Governor’s Mansion is the most recent site of land that will likely be designated a reservation under the new “Indian Country” rules that apply to Alaska.
Three parcels that are subject to the change are owned by Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, and are said to total one-fifth of an acre. The area is used for parking and as vacant land.
The council applied to the Department of Interior to accept the land “into trust”, which establishes it as Indian reservation land, subject largely to tribal authority over municipal authority.
According to a notice received by the State of Alaska and the City and Borough of Juneau, the three parcels are surrounded by other property either owned by the tribe or owned by members of the tribe. Two of the parcels are joined and the third is a vacant lot.
The council has announced no plans regarding the uses of the property, which is located in a part of town known as the Juneau Indian Village, directly across from the Driftwood Lodge, where many legislators live during the legislative session. Other parcels nearby are believed to be in application process, according to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The State of Alaska has 30 days to provide comment to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which has set a May 5 deadline. The City and Borough of Juneau was notified just a week ago and have been in contact with the tribe to see if they can reach an agreement to get an extension on the comment period. Tlingit Haida Central Council has made no notice on its web site of the pending request for its land.
The City and Borough of Juneau may need more time to talk with the council about who will provide police, fire, and emergency protection, as well as other services.
The BIA is requesting comments on “the impact of the removal of the subject property from the tax rolls, and…. jurisdictional problems and potential conflicts of land use which may arise.”
Craig, Alaska was the first location of land being placed in federal trust status after the Walker Administration dropped its challenge of the Akiachak case last year. That relinquishing of State authority ushered in the ability of tribes to apply to the federal government for reservation status.
Citizens with opinions on the Juneau land-into-trust question may send them to [email protected]. The State’s deadline for public comment is April 21. Comments can also be sent to the BIA, Alaska Region at 3601 C Street, Suite 1100, Anchorage, Alaska 99503.
One opinion comes from Mary Bishop of Fairbanks, who is a subject expert on Alaska land access and Indian Country. She holds the view that Indian Country was extinguished in Alaska, and that the entire state is better off for it.
“The issue of importance is the future — think seven generations ahead. If these lands are placed into trust, adjacent lands can more easily be placed into trust. Assuming the land is accepted for trust, the tribe is a sovereign nation with trust land under tribal governance as Indian country.The BIA and the courts will provide them as much “self-determination” as Indian law can possibly allow. The tribe can ignore state and municipal zoning and regulations, put in a marijuana business or other business that unfairly competes with non-tribal, taxable and regulated businesses,” she said.
Agencies of the federal government have determined that Indian Country was extinguished by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act:
According to the EPA, “Generally speaking, land located in Alaska would not qualify as Indian country based solely on its association with, or ownership by, an Alaska Native Village. Much of the current Native landholding in Alaska has been established through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which extinguished the prior reservation status of most Native lands. Because Alaska Native Village lands also do not qualify as dependent Indian communities, they are generally not Indian country.”
But the Bureau of Indian Affairs, under former Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell, moved to change the terms of ANCSA. With applications rolling in now for Indian Country, Alaska has entered a new chapter of multi-jurisdictional challenges.