Date: Wed, 17 Dec 97 10:30:51 CST
From: SISIS@envirolink.org (S.I.S.I.S.)
Subject: Court Weighs Alaska, Indian Dispute
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Nearly 2 million acres of land owned by a village
of Alaska natives is not
Indian country where tribes have broad
regulatory and taxing powers, a lawyer for Alaska told the Supreme
Court on Wednesday.
But a lawyer for the Village of Venetie, an Athabascan Indian tribe of
some 350 people who live in Venetie and Arctic Village, argued that
such a court finding
would not be fair or honorable.
In an intense 60-minute session, both lawyers were subjected to numerous questions as the justices wrestled with what Congress intended in a 1971 federal law.
John Roberts argued for Alaska that the case focuses on
question of who is in charge on some 1.8 million acres of land in
north central Alaska -- roughly the size of Delaware.
Right now, the state claims such control. But if the justices rule that the land is Indian country, Roberts said, the tribe would gain broad authority over environmental regulation, hunting and fishing and health and safety matters.
A federal appeals court said the land should be treated as Indian country in light of a 1971 federal law, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. It conveyed 44 million acres of Alaska lands to more than 200 native villages recognized as Indian tribes and abolished all but one Indian reservation in Alaska.
Roberts argued that Congress did not intend to have the land treated
as Indian country because the federal government and the tribe
retained no control over it after 1971.
Anchorage lawyer Heather Kendall, representing the village, said
Roberts was wrong. The village
was Indian country in 1971, and
nothing in the law changed that, she said.
The justices, in comments and questions, generally appeared to be more skeptical of Ms. Kendall''s arguments but she gave no ground.
When Justice Sandra Day O''Connor noted that the village could
obtain taxing power simply by incorporating as a municipality under
Alaska law, Ms. Kendall replied,
That would be an act of
But the village would not be giving up any control, O''Connor suggested.
It would give up its culture, said Ms. Kendall, her voice
The highest court''s decision is expected by July.
The case is Alaska vs. Village of Venetie Tribal Government, 96-1577