FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — Two Alaska tribal communities are hoping to take advantage of a policy change that allows for land to be placed into federal trust.
The Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich'in Tribal Government for the village of Fort Yukon, located northeast of Fairbanks, submitted a request to place into trust a series of contiguous lots adding up to as much as 83,750 square feet (7,780 square meters). While in the Kenai Peninsula, the village of Ninilchik has requested to place 2.5 acres (10,100 square meters) into trust, The Daily News-Miner reported Thursday.
The communities filed the requests through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The applications follow a 2016 change in policy when federal courts and the U.S. Department of Interior retracted a longstanding ban on Alaska tribes putting land into trust. Previously, Alaska Native Tribes were not allowed to place land into federal trust based on the Interior Department's interpretation of the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. This ban from federal trusts kept Alaska lands from being placed into reservations like much of the Native lands in the contiguous United States after the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.
"Since the regulation changed and we got our first application back in 2016, it is a new world for Alaska," said Cori Mills, an assistant attorney general for Alaska. "Exactly what this looks like for Alaska will be very different than what it looks like in the Lower 48. We're looking at each and every application and examining each one as it comes."
Mills said public opinion on the issue varies.
"You have some people with very strong opinions but you also have people who just want to know what this means for the state," Mills said.
Most concern has centered on taxes, she said.
"I think the main concern is that once land is taken into trust by the federal government then that land cannot be taxed by the local authority so you lose out on whatever taxes were being paid," Mills said. "That's the main concern that the BIA wants to know about as well, what are the financial impacts to the local municipalities and the state."
Fort Yukon lies in an unorganized borough. Therefore there is no local taxing authority that would be affected by the change.
Ninilchik, a community of about 880 according to a 2017 population demographics report, is located within the Kenai Peninsula Borough and is taxed as such.
Since the policy change in 2016, the federal government has approved only one application in January, which allowed the Craig Tribal Association to place an acre of land into federal trust.
The only other land in federal trust is an area of the village of Metlakatla, which has been in trust since before the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was passed in 1971, Mills said.
In addition to the two most recent applications, the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska has applied to place about two-thirds of an acre into trust in Juneau. This application, among seven others, is pending, according to the Bureau.
The Bureau is requesting comment from the public with any concerns regarding the proposals, according to the Alaska Office of the Attorney General.