GOP Blogger Is Truth-Challenged on Alaska Natives and Trust Land

Richard Peterson

I recently published an op-ed decrying the uninformed fear-mongering being smeared around Alaska by opponents of tribal trust land. Then I saw the blog titled “Decision: Will Walker flinch or do the right thing?” posted by Suzanne Downing, the communications director for our State’s Republican Party. To put it politely – her blog is truth-challenged.

First, what’s at stake is not “millions of acres.” A tribe may ask to have land placed in trust only if the tribe owns the land outright. It is sheer lunacy to think ANCSA corporations will sell off their land holdings to tribes. Tribes in Alaska have nowhere near enough money to buy thousands of acres, much less “millions.”

Second, land in trust would not “create a new era of international relations.” This is crazy talk. It is well-settled federal Indian law that tribes are domestic dependent sovereigns. We tribes chafe at that limitation, but it is a hard, legal fact.

Third, Indians in Indian country do not avoid many taxes, including school bonds. The wrecking ball she describes is a fiction that has never devastated the millions of acres of tribal trust land in the Lower 48 states.

Fourth, trust land does not mean “all zoning, fishing, hunting, licensing, environmental law and law enforcement [are] no longer a state matter.” Rather than Ms. Downing’s scary “islands of sovereignty pop[ping] up around the state”, federal public law 83-280 imposes state law concurrently on Indian country state-wide, including Alaska.

Finally, Ms. Downing gives voice to yet another cruel irony from a party that has always highly valued private property rights. In a fit that would make Karl Marx chuckle, she argues that putting our private property into trust will block her fellow Bolsheviks from trampling across it to look at birds. It is as if she thinks tribes are not worthy of holding private property. Her attitude has a historically familiar ring to it.

Alaska’s sovereignty, just like my tribe’s sovereignty, is limited by the U.S. Constitution which Governor Walker swore, in his oath of office, to support and defend. Ms. Downing is communicating the wrong message for the Alaska Republican Party.

Richard Peterson is president of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, a federally recognized Indian tribal government headquartered in Juneau.

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