Publication Title

Columbia Journal of Environmental Law


Federal lands, Tribal rights, Land use law

Document Type



Nowhere else in the United States are tribal connections and reliance on federal public lands as deep and geographically broad-based as in what is now Alaska. The number of Tribes—229 federally recognized tribes—and the scope of the public land resource—nearly 223 million acres—are simply unparalleled. Across that massive landscape, federal public lands and the subsistence uses they provide remain, as they have been since time immemorial, “essential to Native physical, economic, traditional, and cultural existence.”[1] Alas, the institutions, systems, and processes responsible for managing those lands, protecting those uses, and honoring those connections are failing Alaska Native Tribes.

The cases referenced in this article share a common theme: federal land officials underutilize their existing legal authorities to engage tribes in the management of federal public lands, or treat them like pro-forma “check-the-box” exercises that must be done but have no real substantive impact on decisions that are likely already made. In case after case, Alaska Native Tribes are forced to defensively react to federal land use programs, plans, and projects they had no role in substantively shaping. Though traditional methods of tribal consultation and engagement are used by federal land agencies, they are viewed for the most part as procedural hurdles that are divorced from their core missions and mandates.



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