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Tribal Sovereignty in Alaska

Tribal Sovereignty in Alaska

How It Happened, What It Means

by Donald Craig Mitchell

Forthcoming October 2021 paper


Tags: Indian and Indigenous Peoples Law

Tribal Sovereignty in Alaska is the first comprehensive history of the Alaska Native tribal sovereignty movement. In 1932, Secretary of the Interior Ray Lyman Wilbur explained that “the United States has had no treaty relations with any of the aborigines of Alaska nor have they been recognized as the independent tribes with a government of their own. The individual native has always and everywhere in Alaska been subject to the white man’s law, both Federal and territorial, civil and criminal.”

As a continuation of that policy, in 1971 when Congress settled Alaska Native land claims by enacting the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, at the request of Native leaders, it required Alaska Natives to incorporate business corporations under the laws of the State of Alaska that then were conveyed land in fee title. But today the Secretary of the Interior and those same Native leaders are adamant that there are more than two hundred federally-recognized tribes in Alaska whose Alaska Native members are “sovereign” and whose governing bodies possess “inherent” governmental authority. Tribal Sovereignty in Alaska tells the story of that dramatic reversal of federal Indian policy in exhaustively researched detail.

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