There’s a silent struggle for the soul of Alaska, and it may be over before you even know about it. It has been “covered” by with an unusually low media profile. Aug. 24 is the last day Gov. Bill Walker can delay deciding whether to continue defending the Alaska Constitution or capitulate to Alaska Native sovereignty advocates.
If Gov. Walker defends the Alaska Constitution, he will continue Alaska’s appeal of a Bureau of Indian Affairs solicitor’s decision that, despite precedent honored since 1937, when the Indian Reorganization Act was passed, the BIA can now receive Alaska Native lands in trust. If this interpretation of the act stands, it will dismantle the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act as we know it.
If Gov. Walker accommodates the pressure generated by Alaska Native tribal interests to drop the appeal, he will permanently institutionalize the “urban/rural divide” and racial tensions most Alaskans have worked so diligently to heal for the last 40 years. Furthermore, if Gov. Walker should choose to institutionalize the “urban/rural divide,” he will essentially ratify rule of Alaska by overreaching federal agencies.
Nobody knows what Gov. Walker will do, but his unusually influential lieutenant governor, Byron Mallott, has been an outspoken advocate of Native tribal sovereignty for decades. Additionally, Alaska Native tribal interests and “not-for-profit” Native corporations have been generating significant pressure on the governor to drop Alaska’s appeal of the BIA regulations.
This would allow BIA to place Alaska Native-owned lands in a government-managed trust. Many see this move as an end run to establish “Indian Country” and expand BIA influence in Alaska. The Interior Department has told Sen. Murkowski such trusts would establish “Indian Country” in Alaska. ANCSA pointedly avoided “Indian Country,” preferring instead to free Alaska Natives from the failures of the existing reservation system.
For those interested in separating Alaska Natives from non-Native Alaskans, the “Indian Country” designation is a really big deal.
It would allow tribes to tax each other, tax fellow Alaskans and permit gambling on these trust lands. It would also affect the regional corporation development interests that provide dividends to shareholders. That scares the pants off many visionary Alaskans as well as some notable jurists who foresee a torrent of litigation. These interests are not well connected to the Governor’s office.