State, tribes disagree on sovereignty issue

Posted: Sunday, November 05, 2000

KENAI (AP) -- Recognizing the sovereignty of the state has become a sticking point for a group that's working to establish government-to-government relations between Alaska Native tribes and the state.

Otherwise, the State-Tribal Relations Team is closer to reaching a historic agreement after meeting this week in the group's third negotiating session, leaders said. The team -- made up of 46 Natives from tribes across the state -- was created by Governor Knowles earlier this year.

The panel has been asked to come up with an accord in time for it to be ratified at the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council's meeting in December.

But the sovereignty issue has kept the group from reaching a full consensus. Co-chairs Joe Williams of Saxman and state Attorney General Bruce Botelho said they plan to set up a meeting date for a fourth negotiating session.

Some tribal members walked out when the sovereignty issue came up this week.

Juanita Petla-Moore of Nikiski said that recogizing the state's sovereignty would legitimize a government she called illegitimate. Petla-Moore said she believes the state assumed control of the land illegally.

''We split because the agreement will give recognition the state does not deserve,'' she told the Peninsula Clarion. ''The tribes are not fully informed.''

Dillingham Native activist Ron Barnes agreed.

''More information needs to go to the tribes,'' he said. ''They need to see how a so-called domestic agreement could affect our international rights.''

Botelho said the issue of sovereignty will be reserved for further discussion. ''The perspective one should have is that governments don't need to see eye to eye to have a constructive relationship. There will be ongoing disputes. We're not requiring a conversion to the other's world view.''

Meanwhile, a draft agreement will be circulated among the 200-plus federally recognized Indian tribes in the state for their feedback.

If ratified by both tribes and the state, the agreement would establish government-to-government relations among the groups. Williams described the net effect as allowing tribal input in state decisions that affect them.

''This is not a perfect document because it was drafted by imperfect people,'' he said. I cannot sit here today and say this is the best document, but we've met in the middle of the road...I'm quite frankly pleased with the work that we've done here.''

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