Department of Interior approves Tlingit & Haida’s first 'Fee-to-Trust' application

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The United States Department of Interior on Thursday announced that it has approved the Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s fee-to-trust application to place one of its land parcels into federal trust status.

    This is the second fee-to-trust acquisition in Alaska since the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971, and the first in five years.

    The recently approved fee-to-trust application, also called “land-into-trust,” was submitted by Tlingit & Haida in 2009. The parcel (Lot 15, Block 5) is located in Juneau, Alaska within the historical and cultural area long known as the “Juneau Indian Village.”

    President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson has issued the following statement in response to the notice from DOI:

    "Today is a historic day for Tlingit & Haida. In addition to being awarded the largest grant ever in the history of the Tribe that will expand broadband infrastructure development in Southeast Alaska, the U.S. Department of the Interior has provided official notice Tlingit & Haida’s oldest land into trust application has been approved.

    "Trust lands are a cornerstone of federal Indian policy and are key to federal and private sector funding and investment. The ability for Alaska tribes to petition for trust land acquisitions maximizes tribal government resources, eligibility for federal programs and services, and fosters economic development.

    "Alaska tribes have been unfairly left out of the fee-to-trust process up until recently. This decision not only reflects a firm commitment by the United States to provide Alaska tribes the same opportunities to exercise tribal self-determination as tribes in the Lower 48, but also recognizes the importance of rebuilding and restoring tribal homelands.

    "This is about Alaska tribes exercising their inherent sovereignty and right to self-determination to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of trust lands for themselves and their communities.

    "Today’s announcement brings us one step closer to ensuring our Tribe will have a center for our tribal government in perpetuity.

    "We commend Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland for her unwavering commitment to the restoration of tribal homelands and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland for all the hard work that led to the decision to approve Tlingit & Haida’s fee-to-trust application.

    "I also want to express my deep gratitude to former Tlingit & Haida President William Martin, who initiated the Tribe’s first fee-to-trust applications under his leadership, as well as Native Lands & Resources Division Director Desiree Duncan, General Counsel Madeline Soboleff Levy and outside legal counsel Phil Baker-Shenk for shepherding this process.

    "This is great progress for Alaska tribes that we should all celebrate. This is what advancing tribal sovereignty and self-determination looks like so that we can address public safety and child welfare issues, protect historic homelands and cultural sites, and expand funding for services, education, and housing.

    "The work is not done yet. We still have fee-to-trust applications pending that we are hopeful the U.S. Department of the Interior will approve. Many of these parcels were once held subject to a restriction that prevented their alienation or taxation. When Tlingit & Haida purchased these parcels from its tribal citizens, the Bureau of Indian Affairs terminated the federal restrictions that protected them, and it is the Tribe’s priority to restore these protections."

    Under federal trust status, Tlingit & Haida’s land parcels cannot be sold, alienated or transferred without federal approval.

    Federally recognized tribes can apply for land into trust by petitioning the Secretary of the Interior to take the land into trust specifically for the benefit of the tribe and its tribal citizens. The land must qualify under federal Indian laws, historic preservation and environmental laws.

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