Jurisdiction over this small plot of Juneau land, seen Jan. 20, is being disputed between the state of Alaska, the federal government and the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Alaska asks judge to determine whether federal officials can create ‘Indian country’ on Juneau land

Lawsuit focuses on Tlingit and Haida’s 787-square-foot parcel of land downtown

The state of Alaska has formally asked a federal judge to decide whether the Bureau of Indian Affairs may create the equivalent of reservations in Alaska on behalf of Alaska Native tribes.

On Tuesday, the state of Alaska filed for summary judgment in an ongoing lawsuit against the federal government and the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

Under a briefing schedule published earlier this year, the state, Tlingit and Haida, and the federal government will trade written arguments through Jan. 10, whereupon the case will be considered by U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason.

At issue is a 787-square-foot parcel of land in downtown Juneau that the Bureau of Indian Affairs took into federal trust on behalf of Tlingit and Haida earlier this year.

On trust parcels, tribal governments — rather than the state — generally have legal jurisdiction over what’s known in federal law as “Indian country.”

“Whether (the Department of the Interior) has the authority to shift the balance of territorial jurisdiction in Alaska by creating Indian country presents a significant political question,” state attorneys wrote.

The state is arguing that the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act prohibits the federal government from creating new trust land in Alaska. That act awarded land to Alaska Native corporations, not tribes, extinguishing Indian country in the state with the exception of the Metlakatla Indian Community’s Annette Island Reserve.

The federal government disagrees with the state’s assessment, and Tlingit and Haida has filed to intervene in the case on the side of the federal government.

The land in question is small, but the state noted in this week’s request for summary judgment that a ruling could have broad implications.

“There are currently 227 federally recognized tribes in Alaska; that is potentially 227 different sovereigns exercising territorial jurisdiction in the state,” state attorneys wrote.

Tribes in Ninilchik and Fort Yukon have already submitted land-into-trust requests, and Tlingit and Haida has submitted additional requests for other land in downtown Juneau.

• James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. This article originally appeared online at alaskabeacon.com. Alaska Beacon, an affiliate of States Newsroom, is an independent, nonpartisan news organization focused on connecting Alaskans to their state government.

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of Feb. 26

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

Liana Wallace offers a water blessing during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool on Friday following nearly a year of renovations. The pool is scheduled to reopen for public use on Tuesday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Ribbon-cutting for Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool a blessing for longtime users after 11-month renovation

Infrastructure upgrades, new locker rooms and student tile art in lobby greet visitors at ceremony.

The Alaska State Capitol in Juneau is seen on Friday, Feb. 23. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska Legislature plans March 12 vote on Gov. Dunleavy’s executive orders

Order giving governor full control of Alaska Marine Highway Operations board among six scheduled.

Brenda Josephson, a Haines resident, testifies in favor of a bill setting statewide standards for municipal property assessors during a state Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee hearing Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Statewide standards for municipal property assessments sought in bill by Juneau lawmaker

Some residents say legislation doesn’t go far enough, want limits on annual valuation increases.

The front page of the Juneau Empire on Feb. 26, 2004. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Empire Archives: Juneau’s history for the week of March 2

Three decades of capital city coverage.

Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, speaks Thursday, April 27, 2023, at a news conference in Juneau. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska House considers constitutional guarantee for Permanent Fund dividend

The Alaska House of Representatives will vote as soon as Friday morning… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Alexei Painter, director of Alaska’s Legislative Finance Division, presents an update of the state’s budget situation for the coming year to the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Analysis: Balanced state budget next year can include a $1,535 PFD and $680 BSA increase

However, a “statutory” $3,688 PFD would result in a deficit of more than $1.2 billion, report says.

Most Read