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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

Governor Walker: Boot the Boogie Man!

By Richard Peterson


August 09, 2015
Sunday PM

As a child I lived in terror of the BOOGIE MAN. The Boogie Man was a monster in my imagination who victimized children by frightening them into good behavior. If we misbehaved, we feared the Boogie Man would “get us”. Over time I learned this monster does not exist; he was just a fear based on misplaced and uninformed fiction.

It is now the State of Alaska’s turn to realize there is no Boogie Man in tribal trust land. It’s time to let go of this misplaced, uninformed, and oppositional fear.

Tribal land is at the core of our Native cultures. It is the basis for our subsistence lifestyles, our way of life, and our livelihood. It is the key that opens the door to federal funding and investment that enables tribes to pursue tax advantaged economic development. Tribal land helps secure our tribal future.

Back in 1934, the United States (US) Congress, with regret at the land loss it had approved or tolerated for decades, authorized the US Secretary of the Interior to accept land back into trust for Indian individuals and tribes. Placing that tribal land in trust, with its legal title held in perpetuity by the US and beneficial title in the current and future generations of tribal citizens, is one way to recover and protect some lost tribal land.

Tribal trust land is not the only answer, but if tribes are to recover, tribal trust land must be one of the tools in our toolbox. For decades, the US Department of Interior held unclean hands with the State of Alaska to make tribes in Alaska the exception to the federal rule accepting tribal land in trust. Finally, a judge ruled two years ago that it is illegal to treat tribes in Alaska differently from tribes in the rest of the US and that no statute allowed the Department of Interior to discriminate against us.

To its credit, the Department of Interior read the court’s opinion, dropped its fight, and issued a new regulation restoring the right to accept land in trust for Alaska tribes. However, the State of Alaska has continued to intervene and fight against tribal trust land authority as if the survival of the planet depends upon it. It is time for the State of Alaska to recognize there is nothing to fear in tribal trust land. I have called upon Governor Walker to boot the Boogie Man and drop the State’s appeal in Akiachak Native Community v. Department of the Interior before the end of August.

The State of Alaska’s fear of tribal trust land is unfounded. Dozens of states south of the 48th parallel have survived and thrived with tribal trust land within their borders. In fact, tribal trust land often can create a win-win situation for both tribes and neighbors. With proper management, it invites economic development activity, as well as federal and private sector investment which has been overlooked in Alaska for far too long. One example is the $2 billion in tribal economic development bonds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 which would have been of great value to our Alaska economy, but could not be accessed by Alaska tribes due to lack of tribal trust land.

Just imagine the jobs some of that $2 billion could have created in Alaska if tribes had a few strategically-located parcels in trust they could develop, with tax, finance, and regulatory advantages, in partnership with their sister Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) corporations. Given our State’s economic challenges, shouldn’t we work together to use all available tools?

There are many misconceptions about the tribal trust land process. The truth is, it does not involve eminent domain in any way. Instead, the US accepts land into trust only at the request of an Indian tribe or individual who owns the land. The trust application process is a lengthy one in which the federal government seeks the comments of a tribe’s neighbors before making a final decision. And finally, as is routinely done in Oklahoma, split estates of land (surface or subsurface rights) can be taken into trust for tribes while protecting the property rights of the other owners.

Governor Walker, tribal trust land authority poses nothing the State of Alaska should fear. Tribal acquisitions of land in trust should be welcomed – it is good for everyone.

Richard Peterson
Kasaan, Alaska


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


Received August 07, 2015 - Published August 09, 2015



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