Groundbreaking Municipal/Tribal Relations Ordinance Passes Anchorage Assembly
Marking an historic first event in Indigenous relations, the Anchorage Assembly on January 14 adopted AO No. 2020-137 (S) by a unanimous 10-0 vote to formalize into code government-to-government relations between the Municipality of Anchorage and the Native Village of Eklutna.
The ordinance was developed by a working group—which included assembly members Christopher Constant, Forest Dunbar, and Kameron Perez-Verdia, Native Village of Eklutna (NVE) President Aaron Leggett, municipal attorney Jessica Willoughby, and North Star Group advisors—with assistance from tribal law and government affairs specialists, as well as NVE tribal members.
“Though the ordinance makes simple changes in the municipal code, it will have a long reach,” Constant, one of the co-sponsors, says. “It recognizes the sovereignty of all 229 federal recognized tribes in Alaska and establishes local government-to-government relations with the Eklutna tribe. Its adoption was long overdue. I’m confident that though we are the first local government in Alaska, and possibly the country, to do this, I know we won’t be the last.”
“I truly believe this is something that we are going to remember as a monumental turning point in government-to-government relations,” Leggett says. “We will all be proud of this for the rest of our careers and beyond.”
“This ordinance instills in our code the municipality’s respect for the Native Village of Eklutna,” Austin Quinn-Davidson, Acting Mayor of Anchorage, says. “Acknowledging our government-to-government relationship with NVE is overdue and formally identifies and honors NVE’s sovereign status. During the remainder of my term, I look forward to collaborating with NVE to continue making Anchorage a city that respects and values the contributions of the people of Eklutna and of Native peoples throughout Alaska.”
“This could not have happened without the cooperation and leadership of Aaron Leggett and the Native Village of Eklutna,” Dunbar says.
“Our long path to this moment has been one of collaboration and mutual respect. I believe this ordinance, with its recognition of the inherent sovereignty of all Alaska Native tribes, as well as the special relationship between the municipality and Eklutna, augurs better days ahead for both our governments.”
North Star Group (NSG) advised the working group during the year-long process that led to the passage of AO 2020-137(S). NSG was chosen by the assembly working group because of its long-standing Native community and tribal relations experience.
Particularly relevant to this project was the work by NSG’s Veronica Slajer and Karl Ohls with the Commission on Rural Governance and Empowerment which led to the Millennium Agreement, signed during Alaska Governor Tony Knowles’ administration.
“Our goal was to ensure a respectful, productive, and lasting relationship between the municipality and NVE,” Slajer says. “It represents the first time in Alaska that a municipality has established an official relationship in code with a federally recognized sovereign tribal government. Former Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich and former governors Tony Knowles and Bill Walker did inspired work in this area in the recent past, but no one was able to go this far.”
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Under the ordinance, MOA will create policies and protocols to institute a government-to-government relationship with NVE. The two governments will work together through future administrations for their mutual benefit and goals, to find more areas where they can collaborate, to discuss challenges and opportunities, to identify specific projects for progress and joint efforts, and to resolve issues that may arise.
The NVE is fully recognized by the federal government as a sovereign Native tribe with inherent rights of self-government; the Municipality of Anchorage’s recognition of NVE has no impact, legal or otherwise, on NVE’s existing and long-standing government-to-government relationships with federal agencies.
“Further, the process of crafting this ordinance has built up the level of trust between MOA and NVE, and between MOA and Alaska’s larger Native community, which is represented in Anchorage through statewide organizations and business interests,” Slajer says. “The passage of the ordinance strengthens that trust.”
As a sovereign government, NVE is eligible to receive and expend state and federal monies for planning and implementing programs for health and wellness, social services, land and environment, housing and roads, transportation, education and training, cultural projects, public safety and works, and economic development, all providing ample opportunities for collaboration.
The Municipality of Anchorage occupies the traditional lands of the Dena’ina Athabascans. The Dena’ina heritage within present day Anchorage is embodied and represented by NVE and its membership, the descendants of the Indigenous people of the Upper Cook Inlet.
NVE tribal members work and reside at the Eklutna village site and throughout the Municipality of Anchorage. NVE tribal members are an integral part of the greater diverse community that makes up the Municipality of Anchorage.
These ideas were confirmed and reinforced throughout the working group’s year of study and deliberation.
“We feel honored to have contributed to this historic event. With the passage of the ordinance and establishment of a government-to-government relationship, NSG joins many Anchorage residents in celebrating this major accomplishment in setting a new and positive standard for Indigenous relations within the Municipality of Anchorage,” Slajer says.
“The Anchorage Assembly has created a model—now embedded in the Anchorage Municipal Code—that can be used by municipalities across Alaska and the United States to establish relationships with federally recognized tribes. We hope it leads to a new era of municipal-tribal relations, based on respect and understanding.”