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

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of July 20

Here’s what to expect this week.

Bartlett Regional Hospital’s behavioral health and crisis stabilization center during its unveiling on June 14, 2023. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Bartlett Regional Hospital shuts down programs at recently opened Aurora Behavioral Health Center

Behavioral health and crisis services halted at center due to lack of funds and staff, officials say.

A car on Gastineau Avenue is partially buried by a mudslide that occurred during record rainfall on Sunday, July 14, 2024. (Photo by Simba Blackman)
New July rainfall record set for Juneau with a week to go; Suicide Basin nears 2023 fill level

No more heavy storms expected this month, according to forecaster.

The Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. Board of Trustees votes for a new chair and vice chair during a meeting in Fairbanks on Wednesday. (Screenshot from APFC livestream)
Ellie Rubenstein resigns from Permanent Fund board, Ethan Schutt displaced as chair in wake of email allegations

Trustees elect new chair, vice chair Wednesday morning; Rubenstein announces resignation hours later

Police and other emergency officials treat Steven Kissack after he was shot on Front Street on Monday, July 15, 2024. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Names of officers involved in death of Steven Kissack released, along with more details of standoff

JPD states Kissack threatened to kill officers; one officer who fired gun cleared in 2016 shooting.

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, speaks on Jan. 4, 2024, at a town hall meeting on the possible Albertsons-Kroger grocery merger. The meeting was held at the Teamsters Local 959 headquarters in Anchorage. Peltola said on Tuesday she has not decided whether to support her party’s likely candidate, Vice President Kamala Harris. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Rep. Mary Peltola withholds support for Kamala Harris, is ‘keeping an open mind’

Congresswoman says she’s considering Harris presidency’s affect on Alaska as an oil-dependent state.

People arrive for a service at Resurrection Lutheran Church on Sunday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Lawsuit: Resurrection Lutheran Church leaders have been ousted, clarity in ‘ministerial work’ needed

Pastor Karen Perkins, two others targeted in long-brewing feud at church known for helping homeless.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Sunday, July 21, 2024

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

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Saturday, July 20, 2024

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

Most Read