Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska                                 Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson (left), president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage, and Ken Truitt on Thursday.

Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson (left), president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage, and Ken Truitt on Thursday.

Bill would require state to officially recognize Alaska’s 229 tribes

Tribes are already recognized federally.

A bill that would require the state of Alaska to formally recognize federally recognized tribes in the state is moving through the Legislature with broad bipartisan support.

House Bill 221 is sponsored by Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage, and now has 17 Democratic, Republican and Independent co-sponsors. It would enshrine in state law what has been the de facto status of the 229 tribes in the state for years.

“We work with the State of Alaska on things like (Village Public Safety Officer) program and Head Start,” said Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson, president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. Though the state does not officially recognize tribal sovereignty, the state does at times do things which in effect acknowledge a tribes sovereign status.

“We have to sign waivers of sovereignty when (work with the state),” Peterson said. “It’s always been a little awkward when we sign those.”

Peterson said the bill was largely symbolic and that it wouldn’t change much of how tribal governments already operate. But he didn’t diminish the importance of that symbolism.

“Just a simple act of recognition can heal decades of hurt,” Peterson said. “One of the things that will happen for the larger community of Alaska, this will normalize the thought of tribes as sovereigns.”

But even as the state has tacitly recognized tribal sovereignty in the past, Alaska has been wary of actually acknowledging the presences of those entities within the state, according to Kopp.

“I think it comes down to a fear based in a sense of if we recognize another sovereign entity that the federal government recognizes, are we losing some power, some authority as a state,” Kopp said.

Beyond symbolism, there are financial benefits to the state as well. Federally recognized tribes receive funding from the federal government for services they provide to their citizens, relieving the state of some financial burden.

Under current laws, jurisdictional conflicts complicate tribes’ abilities to receive federal funds, said Ken Truitt, a staff member in Kopp’s office. Recognizing a tribe’s sovereignty would clarify those roles and allow both the state and tribes to work with the federal government for additional funding for things like public safety programs, Truit said.

“The lack of recognition just creates a roadblock,” Truitt said. “Getting more resources isn’t going to magically happen because of this bill, but it’s our hope this helps to lift that roadblock.”

Peterson said he recognized there was a financial component to tribal recognition, and said the state’s budgetary crisis probably motivated the state to look to tribes for additional funding. But he doesn’t believe that was the only consideration.

“I think (Kopp) comes from a very sincere place,” Peterson said. “We want to work together for a stronger Alaska. Healthy tribes make healthy communities.”

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or psegall@juneauempire.com.

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of April 8

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

Juneau Assembly members and other visitors examine a meeting room formerly used by the nine-member Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development on Monday, April 8, which is about 25% larger than the Assembly Chambers at City Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Of three possible new City Hall buildings, one stands out — but plenty of proposed uses for other two

Michael J. Burns Building eyed as city HQ; childcare, animal shelter among options at school sites.

Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, speaks to members of the Senate majority caucus’ leadership group on Friday. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Schools, university and projects across Alaska are set to receive money from new budget bill

Alaska Senate sends draft capital budget to House as work continues on a state spending plan

The Boney Courthouse in downtown Anchorage, across the street from the larger Nesbett Courthouse, holds the Alaska Supreme Court chambers. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska judge strikes down state’s cash payments to families using correspondence school programs

Decision will become a ‘hot-button legislative item’ in final weeks of session, lawmakers say.

A statue of William Henry Seward stands outside the Dimond Courthouse in downtown Juneau. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Juneau man convicted of sexual abuse of 15-year-old girl more than four years after incidents occur

JPD: Randy James Willard, 39, sent explicit videos to and engaged in sexual contact with victim.

Capital Transit buses stop at the Valley Transit Center on Thursday. Two bus routes serving areas of the Mendenhall Valley and near the airport will temporarily be discontinued starting April 22 due to lack of staff. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Capital Transit temporarily suspending two Mendenhall Valley routes due to shortage of drivers

Officials hope to fix situation by July; extra tourist buses also scaled back due to fleet shortage.

A fenced lot proposed as a campsite for people experiencing homelessness located next to the city’s cold weather emergency shelter, in the background, is also next door to a businesses where extensive construction is scheduled, thus prompting city leaders to rethink the proposal. (Photo by Laurie Craig)
Indefinite ‘dispersed camping’ for homeless proposed by city leaders due to lack of suitable campsite

Proposed Rock Dump site is next to long-term construction, more costly than expected, report states.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, April 10, 2024

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

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, watches as the tally board in the Alaska House of Representatives shows the vote against House Joint Resolution 7 on Thursday. Eastman supported the amendment. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska House votes down constitutional guarantee for Permanent Fund dividend

Guarantee had been discussed as part of long-term plan to bring state expenses in line with revenue.

Most Read