In 2006, the Akiachak Native Community, the Chilkoot Indian Association, the Chalkyitsik Village Council, and the Tuluksak Native Community IRA, represented by NARF, brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking judicial review of 25 C.F.R. Part 151 as it pertains to federally-recognized tribes in Alaska. This federal regulation governs the procedures used by Indian tribes and individuals requesting the Secretary of the Interior to acquire title to land in trust on their behalf. At the time, the regulation bared the acquisition of land in trust in Alaska other than for the Metlakatla Indian Community or its members.
After full briefing, but nearly three years of no action by the federal court, the case was transferred to Judge Rudolph Contreras. Judge Contreras issued an order on April 30, 2012, requesting that the federal government respond to six additional questions in a supplemental brief. The government filed its supplemental brief on July 11, 2012, and Plaintiff Akiachak Native Community, et al. filed its reply brief on August 15, 2012.
On March 31, 2013 (Easter Sunday), Judge Contreras issued his order granting Plaintiffs complete relief on all of their claims – a major victory for Alaska tribes. Briefing on remedies was concluded and a memorandum order was entered on September 9, 2013 denying the State of Alaska’s motion for reconsideration, and severing and vacating Part 1 of 25 C.F.R. 151. Appellants filed their notice of appeal shortly thereafter.
On May 1, 2014, the Department of the Interior published a new proposed rule addressing the acquisition of land into trust in Alaska. Specifically, the proposed rule deleted the provision that excluded trust acquisitions in the State of Alaska. Following the notice of rule-making, the State of Alaska filed a motion to stay the rule-making pending appeal. On June 6, 2014, the court issued an order granting in part and denying in part Alaska’s motion to stay pending appeal. The court found that the state would suffer no harm from allowing the rule-making to proceed but granted the stay in part to prevent the department from considering specific applications or taking lands into trust in Alaska until resolution of the appeal. The Department of the Interior published its final rule on Alaska trust acquisitions on December 18, 2014.
The case remains on appeal before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Press regarding Akiachak Native Community, et al. v. Department of Interior, et al.:
- Court Decision Has Big Implications for Tribal Lands, Alaska Public Radio Network
Akiachak v. Salazar: court rules in favor of Akiachak, KYUK
- State holds up effort to expand Indian Country in Alaska, Alaska Dispatch News
Press regarding the new Land Into Trust Rule:
- Interior Department rule would set aside ‘Indian country’ lands in Alaska, Alaska Dispatch News
- Alaska Natives hopeful about BIA move to allow tribal land trusts, The Tundra Drums
- Interior Department will accept land into trust for tribes, Alaska Dispatch News