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Anchorage ordinance to create government-to-government relationship with Native Village of Eklutna

Jan 19, 2021

The Anchorage Assembly chambers at the Z.J. Loussac Public Library in Anchorage. (Alaska Public Media staff photo)

 The Anchorage Assembly unanimously approved Thursday, January 14, 2021, an ordinance that formally establishes a government-to-government relationship with the Native Village of Eklutna. 

The president of the Eklutna village Tribal council, Aaron Leggett, called the ordinance “a monumental achievement by both governments.”

“This isn’t something that will happen overnight, I think it will be a  continually developing relationship and I’m sure that we will find ways to simply have more dialogue on a government-to-government level so that we can get rid of misunderstandings, miscommunications and mis-intent.”

The ordinance is the culmination of nearly a year of work between Leggett, a council working group of Forrest Dunbar, Kameron Perez-Verdia and Christopher Constant and others.

Constant urged his fellow members to pass the ordinance: “The recognition of the sovereignty of the Native people of Village of Eklutna by the municipality of Anchorage is long overdue.”

During the hour-plus of testimony, discussion and amendments, debate turned to a portion of the ordinance that would provide training to municipal employees about Tribes in Alaska, as well as Tribal issues and concerns.

In addition to recognizing the Tribe’s sovereignty, the ordinance also called for regular meetings between the two governments – and it calls for creating a written policy that promotes “communication and clear and lasting relations,” among other things.

The ordinance would also increase the amount of time for representatives from Eklutna to speak for five minutes at public hearings. 

Council member Crystal Kennedy offered an amendment, which passed, that called for either entity to request additional meetings.

Eklutna is the only federally recognized Tribe within the municipality of Anchorage. 

The ordinance passed amid court cases involving the Native Village Eklutna and the future of a Tribal gaming hall – something the ordinance detractors call a casino during public statements.  

And the village wants to build a Tribal gaming facility  on a Tribal allotment.

One lawsuit seeks for the U.S. Department of Interior to recognize the land, which was allotted before the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act – and thus the Tribe argues counts as Indian Country – a legal designation akin to reservation and land-in-trust for Tribes in the Lower 48.

But the state of Alaska considers most gambling outside of state-licensed gaming illegal.

And so the State of Alaska Department of Law intervened in the federal lawsuit between Eklutna and the U.S government – because it wants to protect its jurisdictional and regulatory interests – and what it calls its “sovereignty” in those matters.

Sandy Powers is president of the Alaska Charitable Gaming Alliance. During public testimony, Powers expressed concern that the ordinance would resolve what she called “deficiencies” in the Tribe’s efforts to open a gaming hall. 

Anchorage Council members and Eklutna’s Tribal council president Leggett tried to allay concerns that the municipal ordinance would have any bearing on the court cases.

“We believe and always have that the issues in the federal courts are completely separate issues and that those are being used to somehow justify not taking action on this,” Leggett said. “All we are trying to do in creating a government-to-government relationship is to create opportunities where we can have more dialogue and work toward creating a better city for all of our citizens.”

The gaming hall wouldn’t have slot machines or poker tables. It would be limited to what is called class 2 gaming – which includes pull-tabs, bingo, lotteries. A Tribal gaming hall could also have electronic versions of those games.

And the Tribe would still need permission from the state to open a facility.

Currently, the only Tribal gaming facility in the state is on the Annette Island Reserve in Metlakatla.  

During the Assembly meeting, Council member Perez-Verdia said Anchorage is the largest village in Alaska and members of all 229 federal recognized Tribes in Alaska come to the city, have businesses here and shop here.

“It’s really important in this that we recognize Eklutna but we also recognize all 229 Tribes in Alaska,” Perez-Verdia said. “I also believe this is a first step, this a first step in how we can work with Tribes. I look forward to future work to develop ways of thoughtfully working with all Tribes in Alaska.”  

Leggett told the council that the Native Village of Eklutna has a meeting later this month to take up a similar resolution to the Anchorage ordinance.