Federal Court Holds Interior Secretary Retains Authority to Make Trust Land Acquisitions for Alaska Natives

Here are the materials in Akiachak Native Community v. Salazar (D. D.C.):

DCT Order Granting Summary J to Plaintiffs

Akiachak et al Motion for Summary J

DOI Motion for Summary J

DOI Supplemental Brief

Akiachak Supplemental Reply Brief

An excerpt:

Four tribes of Alaska Natives and one individual Native brought this suit to challenge the Secretary of the Interior’s decision to leave in place a regulation that treats Alaska Natives differently from other native peoples. The challenged regulation governs the taking of land into trust under Section 5of the Indian Reorganization Act, 25 U.S.C. § 465; it provides that, with one exception, the regulatory procedures “do not cover the acquisition of land in trust status in the State of Alaska.” 25 C.F.R. § 151.1. The plaintiffs argue that this exclusion of Alaska Natives-and only Alaska Natives-from the land-into-trust application process is void under 25 U.S.C. § 476(g), which nullifies regulations that discriminate among Indian tribes. The State of Alaska has intervened to argue that the differential treatment is required by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (“ANCSA” or the “Claims Settlement Act”), which (on the State’s account) deprived the Secretary of the statutory authority to take most Alaska land into trust.

The Secretary disagrees, but nonetheless seeks to justify the regulation by reference to ANCSA. For the reasons explained below, the court concludes [2] that the Secretary retains his statutory authority to take land into trust on behalf of all Alaska Natives, and that his decision to maintain the exclusion of most Natives from the land-into-trust regulation violates 25 U.S.C. § 476(g), which provides that contrary regulations “shall have no force or effect.” The court therefore grants summary judgment to the plaintiffs, and orders additional briefing on the question of the proper remedy.