Fate Control and Human Rights: Land, Governance and Wellbeing in America's Arctic

Sunday, February 14, 2016
Mara Kimmel, Alaska Pacific University, Anchorage, AK
Alaska Native tribes lack territorial authority over lands transferred under the 1971 Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act.  The loss of territoriality means that indigenous governments face unique obstacles to self-governance that do not affect other local governments in Alaska or indigenous tribes in the continental United States.  This dissertation identifies four specific impacts that occur when local governments lose the authority to govern the lands and resources upon which their communities depend.  First, governments lose the capacity to govern for their community’s food security. Second, Alaska tribes cannot seek to regulate environmental quality. Third, Alaska tribal governments are unable to create policies that promote resilience to climate change.  Finally, the capacity for tribal governments to protect public safety is restricted because of the lack of territorial authority.  These losses create obstacles to the capacity of local governments to govern for the wellbeing of their community and to exercise the right of self-determination. This paper examines the response to the loss of territoriality through a case study of the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council (YRITWC). The YRITWC is an international, inter-tribal consortium of Alaska Tribes and Canadian First Nations that seeks to support its member tribes in asserting the sovereign right to co-govern the water quality of the Yukon River basin. This paper concludes that the loss of territoriality impedes the ability of tribes to exercise the human right of self-determination, and that states and federal governments have a commensurate obligation to recognize those rights This paper also concludes that the loss of land based governance impacts on the capacity of local tribal governments to promulgate policies that promote human development and wellbeing.  To remedy the impacts to human rights and human development, this paper suggests integrating adaptive co-management regimes that structurally share power and authority with Alaska tribes.