Tribal Recognition Now

HB 123, a bill to institute official state recognition of Indigenous Tribes in Alaska, has a long list of bipartisan legislative co-sponsors. A proposed citizens initiative that would do the same thing has an impressive 53,000 signatures (state law only required 36,140 signatures to make the ballot). The tribal recognition campaign has surpassed this benchmark by orders of magnitude, proving a popular and necessary policy. State law also provides the state legislature the opportunity to pass significantly similar legislation ahead of a vote on a ballot measure, hence HB 123.

House Bill 123, introduced by Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, will require the State of Alaska to recognize Alaska's federally recognized tribes. The federal government has a special and unique relationship with tribes that the State formally acknowledges. HB 123 will codify in Alaska law that federally recognized tribes are sovereign governments. It does not change any legal relationship. State recognition of tribes will honor the first peoples of this land and the historical, economic, and cultural value they bring to the State. 

The federal government recognizes 229 tribes in Alaska. For context - there are 574 federally recognized tribes nationwide. According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs: "A federally recognized tribe is an American Indian or Alaska Native tribal entity that is recognized as having a government-to-government relationship with the United States, with the responsibilities, powers, limitations, and obligations attached to that designation, and is eligible for funding and services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs."

A policy to recognize tribes in Alaska will help build trust and respect in the State of Alaska's relationship with Tribes. While Alaska has a long history of explicitly denying tribal recognition following statehood and the later passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, it is high time we respect the sovereignty of tribal governments. One of the most poignant quotes on the matter, courtesy of Native Peoples Action "The foundation of any relationship is first recognition."

HB 123 will be heard, and public testimony will be taken at 3:30 pm on Tuesday, February 15, in the Senate State Affairs Committee. Please consider signing up to testify by calling 907-465-4648 or send a note of support to [email protected]

In recognition of the critical importance of Alaska Native Tribal members in dismantling the racism and colonialism in state law, please join The Alaska Center on Elizabeth Peratrovich Day, February 16, from 1 pm-2:30 pm for a screening of "For the Rights of All: Ending Jim Crow in Alaska" followed by small group discussions. You can register here.

Alaska Native Peoples have faced countless obstacles in the fight for equal access to decision-making in our State. Elizabeth Peratrovich, an Alaska Native Sisterhood Grand President and a member of the Lukaax̱. ádi clan in the Raven moiety of the Tlingit nation fought at the forefront. Organizing innumerable community members, she paved the way to ensure Indigenous peoples today can access housing, education, careers, and even citizenship rights. We keep up her fight, and on Elizabeth Peratrovich Day, we honor her with a virtual community event.

Join us to see how she advocated for all Alaskans, and together let's talk about how we can keep her legacy alive in our work moving forward!

The Alaska Center

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