Last week, the Department of the Interior issued Memorandum M-37069 regarding the Secretary of the Interior’s land into trust authority in Alaska, in keeping with the current administration’s expressed priority of recognizing Tribal sovereignty and self-governance. The memorandum, authored by the principal deputy solicitor, withdrew another memorandum (M-37064), which was issued on the last day of the previous administration. In permanently withdrawing the Secretary’s authority to acquire land into trust in Alaska, M-37064 had expressed that an “irreconcilable conflict” existed between the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and the Secretary’s land into trust authority under the Indian Reorganization Act.
However, M-37069 noted that the previous memorandum contradicted existing Departmental regulations, explaining those contradictions in withdrawing M-37064. The withdrawal of the previous memorandum is in alignment with President Biden’s January 26, 2021 memorandum (Memorandum on Tribal Consultation and Strengthening Nation-to-Nation Relationships), which emphasizes respect for Tribal sovereignty and federal commitment to the trust and treaty responsibilities to Tribal Nations.
The President’s memorandum also prioritizes regular and meaningful consultation with Tribes, and to that end, Principal Deputy Solicitor Robert Anderson in M-37069 recommends that the Bureau of Indian Affairs begin scheduling within the next 90 days virtual sessions with Tribal Nations to “engage in meaningful and robust consultation” on the Secretary’s land into trust authority in Alaska.