FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — Two Alaska tribal communities are hoping to take advantage of a policy change that allows for land to be placed into federal trust.
The Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich'in Tribal Government for the village of Fort Yukon, located northeast of Fairbanks, submitted a request to place into trust a series of contiguous lots adding up to as much as 83,750 square feet (7,780 square meters). While in the Kenai Peninsula, the village of Ninilchik has requested to place 2.5 acres (10,100 square meters) into trust, The Daily News-Miner reported (http://bit.ly/2x09KTj) Thursday.
The communities filed the requests through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The applications follow a 2016 change in policy when federal courts and the U.S. Department of Interior retracted a longstanding ban on Alaska tribes putting land into trust. Previously, Alaska Native Tribes were not allowed to place land into federal trust based on the Interior Department's interpretation of the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. This ban from federal trusts kept Alaska lands from being placed into reservations like much of the Native lands in the contiguous United States after the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.
“Since the regulation changed and we got our first application back in 2016, it is a new world for Alaska,'' said Cori Mills, an assistant attorney general for Alaska. “Exactly what this looks like for Alaska will be very different than what it looks like in the Lower 48. We're looking at each and every application and examining each one as it comes.''
Mills said public opinion on the issue varies.
“You have some people with very strong opinions but you also have people who just want to know what this means for the state,'' Mills said.
Most concern has centered on taxes, she said.
“I think the main concern is that once land is taken into trust by the federal government then that land cannot be taxed by the local authority so you lose out on whatever taxes were being paid,'' Mills said. “That's the main concern that the BIA wants to know about as well, what are the financial impacts to the local municipalities and the state.''
Fort Yukon lies in an unorganized borough. Therefore there is no local taxing authority that would be affected by the change.
Ninilchik, a community of about 880 according to a 2017 population demographics report, is located within the Kenai Peninsula Borough and is taxed as such.
Since the policy change in 2016, the federal government has approved only one application in January, which allowed the Craig Tribal Association to place an acre of land into federal trust.
The only other land in federal trust is an area of the village of Metlakatla, which has been in trust since before the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was passed in 1971, Mills said.
In addition to the two most recent applications, the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska has applied to place about two-thirds of an acre into trust in Juneau. This application, among seven others, is pending, according to the Bureau.
The Bureau is requesting comment from the public with any concerns regarding the proposals, according to the Alaska Office of the Attorney General.
MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — Bridges are the sinew that holds Missoula together. They cross the Clark Fork River throughout town, but are so commonly used that they are almost invisible because they're so important.
Kevin Kickingwoman is kind of like a bridge.
“Teaching Native studies at the University (of Montana) and Loyola helps build a bridge through humanity of different races and make an impact,'' he said. “It builds a bridge of understanding.''
It's a Missoula metaphor for the 50-year-old Blackfeet-Cree man born in Browning, who lived in seven different foster homes, joined the Navy, became a Hotshot, has taught at collegiate and high school levels, earned his master's degree, worked corrections and now goes back to guide prisoners, wrote a play that could turn into a book, is raising six children, is deeply invested in Native American rights and still plays a mean post-heavy game of basketball at the YMCA.
Violence, displacement, destruction of culture and genocide were carried out against Native people for hundreds of years in the U.S., which left deep psychic wounds. And even though the wars against Natives might have stopped in a conventional sense, Natives still are suffering from the trauma of those experiences today.
That's where Kickingwoman's bridging presence comes in.
Kickingwoman works five days a week at Loyola Sacred Heart High School and UM, where he teaches the Blackfeet language. On Saturdays, he goes to the Missoula County Jail and helps facilitate classes for Native inmates. And depending on the Sunday, he will run “sweats,'' a Blackfeet religious ceremony that Kickingwoman describes as a “process of renewal and healing,'' at Fort Missoula. He's almost always doing something that is aimed at healing the painful American past.
Ceremony for healing
“Historical trauma? People say just get over it. No. That's not how it works. Historical trauma and ceremony go hand in hand. Both are from the past. You need ceremony to heal from it,'' Kickingwoman said.
Kickingwoman worked as a corrections officer in Missoula County for a few years. And then, he remembers, he thought to himself “Why am I trying to keep these inmates in when I should keep them out?'' He decided to join forces with Kathy Little Leaf and work at the Missoula County Jail.
Little Leaf is a researcher working with the Urban Institute on a project trying to reduce Native American recidivism.
“It's culturally centered programming,'' Little Leaf said, and is split into two programs. Kickingwoman runs “Regaining the Warrior,'' a program that he describes as “helping Native inmates share in order to gain their warriorship back.'' It goes hand-in-hand with Little Leaf's “Mending Broken Hearts'' grief and loss group, also aimed at healing old wounds and traumas.
Little Leaf's research is aimed at “trying to gain an understanding of Natives in detention centers, while implementing cultural programs'' that will then reduce the recidivism rates for those groups. It's a lofty goal, but one that Kickingwoman and Little Leaf are determined to reach.
That kind of work is why the Dakota Access Pipeline protests were so important to Kickingwoman.
“What they're doing to Natives, treating them so unfairly,'' is a major, enduring problem. “Look at Cliven Bundy and how (the Federal government) didn't do nothing to them. The white supremacists in Charleston, they had guns, and look how they treated them,'' Kickingwoman said.
“It makes you know how resilient Natives are and were,'' that they still fought.
Kickingwoman didn't make it to North Dakota, but his family did. “I helped through prayer, doing a lot of ministrations,'' he said.
But he remembers the pain of seeing the violence inflicted on Natives.
“Dogs biting them, elders thrown to the ground, water cannons turned on them,'' was all terrible to see. But it mattered that people still came together to make their stand for indigenous rights.
Historical trauma is not just an academic term for Kickingwoman.
He wrote a play called “The Sun is My Witness'' that was inspired by his time growing up in Browning, where he was shuffled through seven different foster homes.
Kickingwoman said it was originally going to be a book, but was convinced by a Native playwright to convert it into a play.
“It's about what you can do to get through the hardest times,'' he said.
After a moment of abuse when he was 9 years old, Kickingwoman remembers getting down on his knees, crying and thinking “Creator, if I can't kill (my abuser), then I'll kill myself.''
But then a feeling of deep warmth came into his chest, and he heard the words, “Don't give up, there's fire in your heart, don't give up.''
“No matter what happened, I didn't cry anymore,'' Kickingwoman said. “I've never gave up since.''
There are seven Indian reservations in Montana, plus the state-recognized Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians. Four percent of Missoula's population is Native American. Six percent of the entire state is Native American or Alaska Native, which is the biggest minority population in the state. It's why Kickingwoman is in his second year teaching a Native studies class at Loyola that is now a required course for all seniors.
“They're like deer in the headlights because it's all so new to them,'' Kickingwoman said with a deep chuckle.
Kathy Schneider is Loyola's principal.
“We started the Native studies class last year,'' Schneider said. “A year and a half ago, Kevin said ‘if you're interested in a course on teaching Native studies, I'd be happy to do it.' "
After one full year of the course, Schneider and other administrators decided that it should become a required senior class.
“We don't know enough about our neighbors and indigenous people,'' Schneider said, which is why Kickingwoman's course “deepens and enriches the curriculum, because there is a bigger world out there.''
“He's committed to making our world a better place, with a deeper and richer perspective in the world we live in,'' she said.