Alaska Native Issues

Since its founding in l982, Hobbs Straus has advised Indian tribes and tribal organizations in Alaska on a wide variety of legal issues. While the courts have held that some principles of federal Indian law – especially questions involving the scope of territorial jurisdiction – do not apply to all tribes in Alaska, general principles of federal Indian law do apply but sometimes with an Alaska twist. We review below areas of law applicable to tribes in Alaska in which we have extensive experience:

Sovereignty and Jurisdiction. Hobbs Straus attorneys advised tribes in Alaska on the exercise of their sovereignty for many years prior to the inception of the firm. One of the firm’s founding partners has served as counsel to the Metlakatla Indian Community, the only statutory Indian reservation in Alaska, since l965. Today, Hobbs Straus advises our Alaska tribal clients on tribal sovereign powers of land use, child welfare, tribal court jurisdiction, taxation, hunting and fishing, gaming and the development of tribal constitutions and law and order codes.

Self-Determination and Self-Governance. Attorneys at Hobbs Straus continue to advise tribes in Alaska on the exercise of tribal self-determination under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEAA) that was passed by Congress in l975. We represent Alaska tribes that seek legislative amendments to the Act, including the amendments establishing the Tribal Self-Governance program, and regulations under the Act to strengthen the authority of Alaska tribal governments. We represent both tribal governments and tribal organizations in negotiating ISDEAA agreements with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Indian Health Service (IHS), including negotiating the Alaska Tribal Health Compact and annual funding agreements under which the entire IHS-funded health program in Alaska is administered. We also negotiated the first ISDEAA agreement between a tribal organization (the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Corporate/Business. We advise our tribal clients on business law issues, including the formation and operation of tribally owned corporate business enterprises (for example, we represented a tribal electric power company in establishing that it is not subject to regulation by the Federal Power Commission), the development of tribal business corporations and their commercial relations with other entities, as well as tax and financing matters and eligibility for contracts under section 8a of the Small Business Development Program.

Health. Our representation of tribes and tribal organizations in negotiating ISDEAA contracts to operate hospitals and community health programs, provides us with the experience to advise our clients on health-specific legal issues, including medical malpractice claims and the application of the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), personnel issues such as the requirements for federal and state licensing professionals, Indian and tribal employment preference, eligibility for IHS funded services and the tribal right to determine that non-Indians can be served. We also advise on questions arising under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and the federal and state laws applicable to Medicare and Medicaid.

Housing. Hobbs Straus attorneys have a long history (since the late 1960s) of advising public housing authorities established by Indian tribes. We advise on eligibility for assisted public housing, construction contracts and rental and homebuyer agreements, personnel matters, and compliance with Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA) and NAHASDA regulations.

Transportation. Alaska tribes and tribal organizations face a variety of matters relating to transportation. We provide counsel to our Alaska clients on transportation related issues including legislative advocacy to strengthen tribal authority and increased funding, participation in the Indian Reservation Roads (IRR) Program administered by the BIA and the Federal Transit Administration’s Tribal Transit Program, and we monitor and report regularly to our clients on new and changing developments to these programs.

Tribal Council and Board Training. We provide training sessions for our clients on legal issues that include workshops on the revision of tribal constitutions, incorporation of tribal corporations both under Section l7 of the Indian Reorganization Act and under inherent tribal authority and state law, tribal elections, the administration and jurisdiction of tribal courts, tribal self-determination and self-governance, Tribal Employment Rights Ordinance (TERO) programs, tribal council roles and responsibilities, and Robert’s Rules of Order.