Central Council of Tlingit-Haida applying to put downtown land in federal trust

The Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska is looking to protect its land for future generations, starting with seven small parcels of land in downtown Juneau.

The pieces of land, which amount to under an acre, are located at the parking lot next to the Andrew Hope Building. For years, Tlingit-Haida has been looking to put that land into a federal trust, and has an application on file. The City and Borough of Juneau has no say on the application, which goes to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), but CBJ officials will share their thoughts on the application during the Assembly meeting at 6 p.m. tonight.

Tlingit-Haida President Richard Peterson said that the use of the land wouldn’t change at all, but it’s merely to protect that land in the future. This is the first application, but Peterson said there will be at least one more, addressing the land underneath the Andrew Hope building.

Putting land in trust would exempt it from local laws, and federal law would apply. Tlingit-Haida is already exempt from sales tax, and Peterson said it isn’t about anything like that.

“The whole reason we’re doing this is just to preserve our title and make sure this land’s available for our tribal citizens for generations to come,” Peterson said. “That’s the bottom line.”

The city is allowed to make comment on the application until June 5, originally extended from May 5 so CBJ staff could have more time to gather its thoughts. Having an honest and open relationship with the city is a priority for Tlingit-Haida, Peterson said.

“Our tribe has worked really hard with the CBJ,” Peterson said. “We want to be good neighbors. We share a community, we serve some of the same people. We have a vested interest in Juneau being a healthy economy. I think one of the messages that’s important is, healthy tribes make for healthy communities.”

If the application is approved, Tlingit-Haida would be the second tribal association in Alaska to succeed. The Craig Tribal Association was the first to do it, having its application approved this January. Craig Tribal Association President Clinton Cook said putting land into trust ensures one of the most basic rights of a tribe.

“The land was never in danger of being taken away, it was just something we wanted to do,” Cook said. “Tribal sovereignty is at the top of the list of being a tribe. Having another entity in your community having control of your land is not sovereign.”

Cook also mentioned that having a good relationship with the city is key to the process, as some city officials might disapprove of an organization wanting to exempt land from local laws.

Once Craig’s application was approved, the process moved along fairly quickly, Cook said. Peterson is hoping for the same to be true for Tlingit-Haida. He’s tentatively hoping to have the land approved and in trust in August, but it’s still too early to make any concrete estimates.

“We’re hoping it’ll be timely, but we don’t have any idea,” Peterson said. “We’re hoping by the end of summer this would be all wrapped up, but it’s all speculation on our part right now. We’re kind of at the will of BIA and their capacity to really move this forward.”

Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at alex.mccarthy@juneauempire.com or 523-2271.

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