Alaska formally recognizes tribal Sovereignty by pedro graterol
After receiving overwhelming support in a 15-0 vote in the State Senate, House Bill 123 was signed into law by Governor Mike Dunleavy. This bill was introduced by Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky (D) from Bethel in 2021 and marks the state’s formal recognition of its 229 federally recognized Native Tribes. This is an important step in the relationship between Alaska’s government and the tribes present in the state’s territory. Rep. Zulkosky commented in an article in Truthout that the bill “is nothing more or less than a statutory codification of a simple truth: that tribes exist in Alaska.” The bill is unlikely to affect the tribes’ legal relationship with the state government. However, according to some of the sponsors of the bill, it marks a new era for opportunities for growth and collaboration between state and tribal authorities. Zulkosky further commented: “Tribes have quietly been doing excellent work as government in its most local form and stewarding this land we now know as Alaska since time immemorial.”
A bill similar to this was introduced by former representative Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage, but it was unable to become a law. According to an article in the Alaska Beacon, House Bill 123 was signed in a ceremony in the Alaska Native Heritage Center on July 29th, with the presence of important community figures such as Native leaders, legislators, and leaders of Alaska native corporations. While the move is largely symbolic, supporters of the bill have argued that this is an important statement given the fact that the state government and native tribes have a history of disputes over tribal sovereignty enforcement. Julie Kitka, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives marked the historical nature of this legislation by commenting in a Native News Online article: “We have strengthened our tribal governments and have initiated multiple efforts to continue our path to self-determination and self-governance. The formal recognition through this legislation is a historic step for us to have a successful relationship with the state.” This was not the only legislation that was signed that day. Governor Dunleavy also signed a bill that allowed the creation of a tribal-state compact to incentivize the opening of more tribally operated schools and was also widely celebrated.
The passing of the law has an important impact on the November electoral ballot given that a measure supported by The Alaskans for Better Government PAC to formally recognize native tribes was introduced in 2021 by Wáahlaal Gíidaak Barbara Blake, Chaa yaa eesh Richard Peterson, and La quen náay Liz. The initiative was able to gather 47,199 valid signatures, well over the required by the state. However, given a constitutional provision, since this bill has now been signed into law, the initiative will no longer be present on the November ballot.
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