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12/19/14 - Interior Dept. issues regulations allowing Alaska tribes to put lands in protected status

Alaskan tribes allowed to exercise same rights as lower 48 tribes

Tribes in Alaska are celebrating a decision that allows them to apply to have lands placed into trust status with the federal government. The Department of Interior issued regulations settling a long-running dispute between Interior, the state of Alaska, and tribes over an interpretation of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 (ANCSA). 

Trust status for tribal land protects it from taxation and alienation – the taking or sale of land – and gives tribes greater jurisdiction. Reservations are trust lands, and are common throughout the lower 48. However ANCSA transferred title to land to for-profit regional and village corporations, not to tribes.

Then a Department of Interior associate solicitor issued an opinion in 1978 interpreting ANCSA to mean tribes shouldn’t be allowed to put lands into trust.

Native American Rights Fund Attorney Heather Kendall Miller sued on behalf of four tribes and one Alaska Native individual in 2006.

“This is a huge, wonderful day to see Alaska tribes be able to fully exercise the right to have their petitions considered,” said Kendall Miller.

The district court for DC rejected the state of Alaska's position that ANCSA required different treatment of tribes in Alaska. The state is appealing that decision.

Kendall Miller says one of the plaintiffs is the Chilkoot Indian Association, which had 160 acres of land donated to it by a church. Kendall Miller says the state could decide to drop the appeal now that Interior has adopted the court's position that sided with tribes on all counts.

Other plaintiffs in the case are the tribes of Akiachak, Tuluksak, and Chelkeysak. Kendall Miller says numerous tribes beyond the plaintiffs have been preparing applications for requesting trust status. She says this land status could be considered Indian Country.


Sealaska Heritage Institute starts moving into new cultural center in Juneau

As KTOO’s Lisa Phu reports, Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) in Juneau started moving into its new home in the yet-to-be-opened Walter Soboleff Center this week. Chief Operating Officer Lee Kadinger hopes Sealaska Heritage Institute will be relocated by the end of January. The grand opening of the Walter Soboleff Center is May 15.

“Next door will be our new home,” Kadinger says from his current office at One Sealaska Plaza. “So every time you hear we’re having a Native Lecture Series, it’ll be at Sealaska Heritage. Every time you hear that we’re having weaving classes, it’ll be at Sealaska Heritage. Everything that we do isn’t going to be scattered around in different places or classrooms or meeting rooms; it’ll be at Sealaska Heritage.”

The building will have space for art exhibits, demonstrations and education. The main collections vault will be in the basement, the retail shop on the first floor, Sealaska Heritage offices on the second and office rental space on the third.

In the very center of the building, visible as soon as you enter, is a traditional clan house.

“If we want to have lectures in there, if we want to have presentation in there, if we want to have smaller performances in there – it’s really a flexible space. It’s a multiuse space and it’s an educational space,” Kadinger says.

The clan house front will be carved and painted by Tsimshian artist David A. Boxley. The inside will feature a carved glass house screen and two house posts depicting Eagle and Raven warriors made by Tlingit glass artist Preston Singletary.

Other permanent art work includes 40-foot panels by Haida artist Robert Davidson that will go on the building’s cedar-clad exterior.

Formline design expert Steve Brown created the glass sidewalk awnings that are already installed.

Having raised around $20 million for the construction of the Walter Soboleff Center, Sealaska Heritage continues to fundraise for added artwork and exhibits. Kadinger says more than a thousand individuals, businesses and organizations have already donated.


New minimum wage to take effect Feb. 24, 2015

Alaska's minimum wage will go up by a $1 an hour, to $8.75 an hour, starting Feb. 24. Voters in November approved a ballot measure that called for an increase on Jan. 1. That would have held true had the ballot measure appeared on the August primary ballot, as originally expected.

But when the last legislative session ran long, it pushed to the November ballot the initiatives that had been scheduled for the primary.

Since the constitution calls for ballot measures to take effect 90 days after the election results are certified, the effective date in this case will be in February.

The state labor department says the next scheduled increase in the minimum wage, to $9.75 an hour, will take effect Jan. 1, 2016.