JUNEAU, Alaska (KINY) — The United States Department of the Interior announced Thursday that it has approved a request by the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska to place one of its land parcels in federal trustee status.
This is the second fiduciary acquisition in Alaska since the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971 and the first in five years.
The recently approved fee-to-trust application, also known as “land-in-trust,” was filed by Tlingit & Haida in 2009. The property (Lot 15, Block 5) is located in Juneau, Alaska within the historical and cultural area long known as the “Juneau Indian Village”.
President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson issued the following statement in response to the DOI’s announcement:
“Today is a historic day for Tlingit & Haida. In addition to awarding the largest grant in the tribe’s history, which will expand broadband infrastructure development in Southeast Alaska, the U.S. Department of the Interior has officially announced the oldest Tlingit & Haida land in escrow application has been approved.
“Trustland is a cornerstone of Indian federal policy and is key to federal and private sector funding and investment. The ability for Alaska tribes to apply for trust lands maximizes tribal government resources, eligibility for federal programs and services, and promotes economic development.
“Alaska tribes were unfairly excluded from the fee-to-trust process until recently. This decision not only reflects a firm commitment by the United States to provide Alaskan tribes with the same opportunities to exercise tribal self-determination as tribes in the Lower 48, but also recognizes the importance of rebuilding and restoring tribal homes.
“This is about Alaskan tribes exercising their inherent sovereignty and right to self-determination to weigh the pros and cons of trust lands for themselves and their communities.
“Today’s announcement brings us one step closer to ensuring that our tribe will continue to have a center for our tribal government.
“We commend Home Secretary Deb Haaland for her unwavering commitment to restoring the tribes’ homeland, and Assistant Secretary of Native American Affairs Bryan Newland for all the hard work that led to the decision to grant Tlingit & Haida’s application for trusteeship authorize.
“I would also like to express my deep gratitude to former President of Tlingit & Haida, William Martin, who under his leadership initiated the tribe’s first fiduciary applications, as well as Director of the Native Lands & Resources Division, Desiree Duncan, General Counsel Madeline Soboleff Levy and external counsel Phil Baker-Shenk for overseeing this process.
“This is a major step forward for the Alaskan tribes that we should all celebrate. This is what promoting tribal sovereignty and self-determination looks like so we can address issues of public safety and child welfare, protect historic homelands and cultural sites, and expand funding for services, education and housing.
“The work is not finished yet. We still have requests for escrow fees that we hope will be approved by the US Department of the Interior. Many of these packages were once subject to a restriction that prevented their sale or taxation. When Tlingit & Haida purchased these packages from their tribal people, the Bureau of Indian Affairs ended the federal restrictions that protected them, and it is the tribe’s priority to restore those protections.
Due to federal trustee status, Tlingit & Haida’s properties cannot be sold, disposed of, or transferred without federal approval.
Federally recognized tribes may apply for land in trust by petitioning the Secretary of the Interior to place the land in trust specifically for the benefit of the tribe and its citizens. The land must qualify under the Indian federal laws, the monument protection and the environmental laws.