The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) was enacted for the purpose of promoting economic development in remote Alaska Native villages. ANCSA has fallen short of this goal. ANCSA dissolved the trust relationship between Alaska Native tribes and the federal government by transferring former tribal lands to state-chartered, Native corporations. As a result, ANCSA severed Alaska Native tribal authority from tribal lands. Today, tribal governments in Alaska are without the resources necessary to address issues that threaten the survival of their communities. Tribal governments throughout the lower 48 states have long used federal land-into-trust provisions to expand and consolidate former tribal lands through reacquisition. In Alaska, however, a longstanding policy excludes Alaska Natives from placing their lands into trust. Without a means of reasserting tribal authority, tribal governments in Alaska are left to rely on a failing state and federal apparatus to combat poverty, social disorder, emigration, and a changing climate. A 2013 decision by a United States District Court has revived the proposition of establishing new Indian country in Alaska. In Akiachak Native Community v. Salazar,' the district court held that ANCSA does not provide an absolute bar for Alaska Natives wishing to place their lands into trust. This decision has prompted the Department of the Interior to remove the "Alaska Exception" from its land into-trust regulations, thus opening up the possibility for tribal governments in Alaska to rebuild their former trust lands. Despite the actions of the district court and the Interior Department, obstacles remain that limit the ability of tribal governments in Alaska to place their lands into trust. To overcome ANCSA's limitations on trusteeship, Congress must amend ANCSA to make settlement lands eligible for trust status. Additionally, the Interior Department must overcome regulatory ambiguity by creating separate criteria to evaluate land acquisitions in Alaska. When these limitations are removed, tribal governments in Alaska will be able to expand their territorial reach and access crucial economic development tools tied to Indian country, allowing them to work in partnership with both the state and the federal government to meet the needs of Native communities.
William H. Holley,
Starting From Scratch: Reasserting "Indian Country" in Alasky by Placing Alaska Native Land Into Trust,
Fla. A&M U. L. Rev.
Available at: http://commons.law.famu.edu/famulawreview/vol11/iss2/7