Today, Alaska’s state government formally recognizes all of Alaska’s 229 federally recognized tribes with Governor Mike Dunleavy’s signing of House Bill 123 (HB 123). The measure itself does not impact the current legal status of Alaska Tribes or change the State’s responsibility or authority. However, it does formally recognize Alaska’s Indigenous people.
“House Bill 123 codifies in law what Alaskans have long recognized: the important role that Native Tribes play in our past, present, and future,” said Governor Dunleavy. “I congratulate all the legislators who nearly unanimously voted for this bill and our hosts today, Julie Kitka with the Alaska Federation of Natives and Emily Edenshaw with the Alaska Native Heritage Center. I also want to thank Emil Notti and Willie Hensley for attending and speaking at this historic bill signing – we can’t tell the story of Native rights and unity without Willie and Emil.”
The bill signing ceremony was held at the Alaska Native Heritage Center (ANHC) and hosted by Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) President Julie Kitka and ANHC Executive Director Emily Edenshaw. The bill’s signing was celebrated by key authors and advocates of AFN and Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) Emil Notti and Willie Hensley. The signing of HB 123 signifies the State’s desire to foster engagement with Alaska Natives and tribal organizations.
“Today is a historic day for Alaska and one that is long overdue,” said Representative Tiffany Zulkosky, HB 123’s sponsor. “While the inherent sovereignty of Alaska Tribes has been consistently affirmed in Federal policy, in rulings by the Supreme Court, and by Executive Order in 2018, the signing of House Bill 123 provides formal recognition in statute for the first time in our State’s history. I hope today is looked back on as the beginning of a new chapter of collaboration and partnership between the State and Alaska’s Tribes.”
“The cultural survival of our Indigenous people is dependent on our ability to maintain our values, practice our traditions, and maintain freedom to live our lives well with dignity and respect for each other,” said Julie Kitka, President of the Alaska Federation of Natives. “We have strengthened our tribal governments and have initiated multiple efforts to continue our path to self-determination and self-governance. The formal recognition through this legislation is an historic step for us to have a successful relationship with the state.”
In 2021, Representative Tiffany Zulkosky introduced HB 123. The bill is similar to an initiative intended to go to voters this fall; however, the bill and the initiative were substantially similar, eliminating the need for the ballot initiative.