Alaska Native tribes’ sovereign immunity upheld in ruling

JUNEAU — The Alaska Supreme Court has upheld Alaska Native tribes’ sovereign immunity from state courts in a recently released decision.

 

The tribes’ rights were challenged during a legal dispute between two tribal governments out of Juneau, KTOO-FM reported. Other Alaska Native tribes had been closing watching the litigation.

The Douglas Indian Association filed a lawsuit seeking about $1 million of unspent federal transportation funds it claimed it was entitled to as part of a tribal consortium. The consortium was run by the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

Judge Louis Menendez rejected the lawsuit in January, ruling the parties named in the suit had immunity as part of their federally recognized tribal status.

The association appealed, arguing that the state’s standard was separate from federal rules.

The Supreme Court on Friday reaffirmed the tribes’ sovereign immunity.

“Tlingit and Haida is pleased that the Alaska Supreme Court has aligned itself with what has long been settled law in other jurisdictions, that tribal sovereign immunity, unless explicitly waived, protects tribes from the burdens of litigation,” said Madeline Soboleff Levy, general counsel for Central Council.

The court’s opinion provides a clear directive for the first time for Alaska courts, Soboleff said.

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