Alaska will formally recognize Native tribes, likely negating planned ballot measure

A group of people pose with an approved bill.
Supporters of House Bill 123, the tribal-recognition bill, pose for a group photo after the Alaska Senate approved the bill on Friday, May 13, 2022. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy will sign a bill giving state recognition to Alaska’s 229 federally recognized Native tribes, the Alaska Federation of Natives said Thursday.

In a July 28 ceremony, the governor will also sign bills creating child welfare and education agreements between the state and tribal governments, AFN said.

An official in the governor’s office confirmed that he will sign the tribal recognition bill but could not immediately confirm the status of the other two pieces of legislation.

“This is an historic moment for all Alaska Tribes,” said AFN President Julie Kitka in a prepared statement. “The acknowledgment of our 229 federally recognized tribes by the state of Alaska is a step toward building a stronger relationship with our state government.”

State recognition is not expected to affect tribes’ legal relations with the state, but supporters have said it is an important symbolic statement by the state, which has historically fought efforts by tribes to exert their sovereignty.

Last year, supporters of tribal recognition launched a ballot measure to put the issue in front of voters. The measure garnered enough signatures to put the measure on the November general-election ballot, but Alaska’s constitution contains a clause that allows a measure to be removed if the Legislature passes a “substantially similar” law.

In June, the Alaska Department of Law concluded that the tribal recognition bill meets that standard. Legislative attorneys previously published an analysis that reached the same conclusion.

Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and Twitter.

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