Federal judge undermines Alaska Tribe’s electronic bingo ambitions

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Posted: Sep 24, 2021, 7:47 a.m.

Last updated on: September 24, 2021, 5:00 a.m.

A federal judge has rejected an offer from the Alaska Native village of Aklutna to build a modest game room on its land 20 miles outside of Anchorage.

Eklutna
In the cold: A Washington DC judge upheld a DOI ruling that the Eklutnas do not have jurisdiction over their lands 20 miles from Anchorage, Alaska (pictured) (Image: Brittanica)

The Eklutna sued the Home Office in 2019 after blocking the plan. The lawsuit argued that the DOI had “misapplied the relevant standards” and used “outdated legal precedent” to decide that the land in question was not the sovereign territory of the tribe. Under federal law, a tribe must have governmental authority over its lands in order to have playing rights there.

But District Court Judge Dabney L. Friedrich of the District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the DOI’s decision was “rational.”

“Although the tribe may not agree with the Interior’s application of the law to the facts at issue, the record shows that the Interior issued a reasoned judgment that the Court will not question,” she wrote. “Thus, the tribe’s claim that Interior acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in applying the Indian lands test set out in the Sansonetti Opinion must fail.”

Limited sovereignty

The Sansonetti Opinion is a legal opinion from the George HW Bush era that examined the extent of tribal jurisdiction in Alaska. He concluded that the sovereignty of the indigenous village was severely limited.

The Eklutna argued that the opinion was out of date and had been replaced by changes in the law. Friedrich rejected this claim.

The tribes of Alaska have a different legal status than their counterparts in the rest of the United States. This is because they are classified as “corporations” as opposed to sovereign nations.

This is due to the federal Alaska Native Claims Resolution Act of 1971 (ANCSA). The law of the Nixon era was intended to address long-standing issues surrounding tribal land claims in the state. He restored 44 million acres of inalienable land and shared $ 962.5 million among the tribes.

Tribes are lacking

It was hoped that the designation of tribes as corporations would help them engage in the capitalist system and spur economic development. But that meant the Alaskan tribes largely missed out on playing. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 protects gambling rights for sovereign countries only.

If the Eklutna had commissioned its electronic bingo hall, this would have been only the second such facility in Alaska. The only other is operated by the Indian community of Metlakatla, which refused to sign ANSAA.

Alaska does not have any state casinos or lotteries, but it does allow a handful of charitable bingo establishments.

In a statement to The Associated PressEklutna chairman Aaron Leggett called the move a “disappointment,” but added the tribe was considering their options. He could appeal the decision if he wanted to.


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