- Associated Press - Friday, February 6, 2015

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - The administration of new Alaska Gov. Bill Walker is asking for more time to assess the potential impact of expanding Indian Country in Alaska.

State Attorney General Craig Richards is requesting a six-month delay in a case before a federal appeals court in a long-running battle affecting tribal sovereignty, the Alaska Dispatch News (https://is.gd/xU9802) reported.

In 2013, the District of Columbia appellate court ruled in favor of four Alaska Native tribal governments and one individual who sued the U.S. Interior Department in 2006. The appellate court ruling led to an Interior Department rule to accept land into trust for Alaska tribes and individuals with Native allotments.

Interior is not appealing, but the state is.

Richards argues that a central question in the case is whether creation of new trust land in Alaska is prevented by the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The law established Alaska Native corporations and provided 44 million acres of land to them while attempting to cut tribes from the land, Richards wrote in a filing.

The Interior Department’s ability to put land into trust for Alaska Natives is on hold as a result of the state’s appeal, according to the plaintiffs’ attorney, Heather Kendall-Miller. She said the appellate court is expected to decide soon whether to grant the delay.

The plaintiffs aren’t happy with the proposed delay because they expect to win the appeal. Kendall-Miller said the state is simply reviving old arguments with its Native Claims Act argument.

“The state AG’s office could have cut and pasted this from prior pleadings,” she said.

Expanding Indian Country in Alaska is considered helpful to tribes, which would receive increased authority and access to federal programs. At the same time, expansion could threaten the state’s ability to enforce its laws on tribal land. Currently, the southeast Alaska community of Metlakatla is the only reservation in the state.

In his filing, Richards argues that creating trust lands in the state would be a “monumental departure from the status quo.” He said that could diminish the authority of the state over “islands of land” that would be controlled by a tribal entity or the federal government.

The state could lose the chance to manage and protect the land and its resources, according to Richards. He also said the state could not tax Native trust lands.

“Exercise of police powers and regulation of state resources are fundamental elements of state sovereignty,” Richards wrote.


Information from: Alaska Dispatch News, https://www.adn.com

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