Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes Sign Deed To Put Land Into Federal Trust

Tlingit & Haida land trust signing
Tlingit & Haida President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson (right) officially signed a deed to put the tribe's first parcel of land into federal trust status.

JUNEAU, AK – The Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (Tlingit & Haida) has signed a deed to put its first parcel of land into federal trust status. The deed was signed by President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson at the Bureau of Indian Affair’s (BIA) Alaska Region office in Anchorage, AK. Once the deed has been recorded, the title for Tlingit & Haida’s land parcel will be officially transferred over to the United States Department of Interior (DOI) to hold for the benefit of the tribe and its citizens. Under federal trust status, Tlingit & Haida’s land parcel cannot be sold, alienated or transferred without federal approval.

“This was a great day for our tribe, self-determination, and all tribes in Alaska,” said President Peterson. “We have crossed the finish line in the land-into-trust process and will continue the journey for our remaining applications. This process started for Tlingit & Haida more than 15 years ago and stalled over six years ago for Alaska tribes. Up until now, Craig Tribal Association’s land-into-trust application was the first-and-only one to be approved in Alaska by the Department of the Interior.”

The parcel of land transferred is Tlingit & Haida’s oldest land-into-trust application. The land is located in the old Juneau Indian Village (Lot 15, Block 5) and was purchased in October of 2007 from the Vavalis family.

Those present during the signing included BIA Deputy Regional Director of Trust Services Lynn Polacca, Realty Specialist Diane Sam, and Regional Realty Officer Cyril Andrews Jr. Several Tlingit & Haida staff were also present including General Counsel Madeline Soboleff Levy, Chief Operating Officer Roald Helgesen and Native Lands & Resources Division Director Desiree Duncan.

On Nov. 17, 2022, the Department of Interior gave notice to Tlingit & Haida that it had approved the land-into-trust application. Four of the Tlingit & Haida’s land-into-trust applications remain pending with the DOI.

“This is a benchmark achievement in our land back initiative,” said President Peterson. “After many years of waiting, we finally have land that will be held in perpetuity for our tribe, land which has been rightfully ours since time immemorial. The parcel may have a small footprint, but it is huge in terms of what this means to the tribe. I am hopeful the Department of the Interior will approve our remaining applications.”

Because the land is now held in trust, it’s considered “Indian Country” under the U.S. Code. With qualifying lands, Tlingit & Haida will have parity with other governments to participate in federal programs such as those for business development, housing, law and justice, natural resources, and transportation.

Federally recognized tribes can apply for land into trust by petitioning the Secretary of the Interior to take the land into trust specifically for the benefit of the tribe and its tribal citizens. The land must qualify under federal Indian laws, historic preservation and environmental laws.