Unit 2: Tribal Governments – Alaska

Lesson 1: Indian Reorganization Act (IRA)/Wheeler-Howard Act

Objective 1: Students understand the context that led to the passage of the IRA, such as the U.S. government turning away from assimilationist policies and trying to alleviate the situation created by the Dawes Allotment Act. Students understand the basic intent of the IRA, which is to empower tribes.

Objective 2: Students know that the IRA was passed in 1934 and extended to Alaska in 1936. Students know that IRA reservations were created in Alaska and that about one-fourth of the tribes in Alaska adopted IRA constitutions.

Objective 3: Students understand that other tribal governments in Alaska are termed ‘traditional tribal governments,’ which operate in the same way as the IRA governments. Students understand that the term ‘traditional’ does not refer to culture, but merely differentiates between the tribes that adopted IRA constitutions and those that adopted other non-IRA constitutions.

Objective 4: Students understand the blood quantum requirements that were set in place for enrollment in most tribes in Alaska, and are aware of different enrollment requirements for tribes elsewhere in the United States. Students are aware of the debate surrounding blood quantum and explore their own views on the issue.

Lesson Ideas

  • Online Lesson: Have students visit the UAF Tribal Management Program’s webpage on the Indian Reorganization Act (1934) and read the information presented, and watch the short video clip included on the page. https://tm112.community.uaf.edu/unit-2/indian-reorganization-act-1934/
  • Background Information: Provide students with an overview of the “checkerboarding” of Indian land that was occurring prior to the passage of the IRA, and the shift toward tribal self-determination that the IRA was part of.
  • Tribal Constitution Review: Provide students with copies of an IRA constitution of an Alaskan tribe and the constitution of a non-IRA constitution of an Alaskan tribe. Have students identify the differences between the two and explain the different processes behind the adoption of each version. Have students obtain a copy of their tribe’s constitution and identify what type it is, and if students are non-tribal members they can choose a tribe in Alaska and request this for the purposes of the lesson.
  • Blood Quantum Research and Debate: Have students identify the blood quantum requirements for enrollment in their tribe, or if students are non-tribal members, have them choose an Alaskan tribe to look into enrollment requirements for. Have students research other tribal enrollment requirements that exist for tribes in the lower 48, and read some opinion pieces from the Internet on the issue of blood quantum. Have students write a short essay explaining their views on the use of blood quantum for tribal enrollment, and what criteria they feel should be used to determine tribal enrollment.

Lesson 2: Federal Recognition of Tribes

Objective 1: Students understand the significance of federal recognition of tribes in terms of the ability of tribes to receive certain services and resources from the U.S. government and exercise tribal sovereignty.

Objective 2: Students know that Alaskan tribes were largely not federally recognized until 1993, when Ada Deer, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs under the Clinton administration, published a new list of federally recognized tribes including 226 tribes in Alaska. Students know the current number of federally recognized tribes in Alaska.

Objective 3: Students understand that the State of Alaska has not recognized tribes in Alaska and understand how this has hampered the ability of the state to work cooperatively with tribes.

Lesson Ideas

  • Online Lesson: Have students visit the UAF Tribal Management Program’s webpage on Federal Recognition of Alaska Tribes and Relations with the State of Alaska and read the information presented, and watch the short video clip included on the page. https://tm112.community.uaf.edu/unit-4/federal-recognition-of-alaska-tribes-and-relations-with-the-state-of-alaska/
  • Class Discussion: After reviewing the information on the Tribal Management webpage, have a class discussion on the significance of federal recognition for tribes and the idea of government-to-government relationships. Also discuss with the students some of the reasons why the State of Alaska would be unwilling to recognize tribes, such as perceived threats to state sovereignty, and some of the reasons why recognition and cooperation with tribes might benefit not only tribes but the rest of the state, such as increased federally funded programs and law enforcement capacity.

Lesson 3: What do tribal governments do?

Objective 1: Students generally understand the powers that tribal governments in the Lower 48 have in conjunction with Indian Country status.

Objective 2: Students understand the powers that tribal governments in Alaska have, and their limitations due to a lack of a tribal land base/Indian Country.

Objective 3: Students understand the functions/roles of tribal governments in their communities and everyday lives. Students know who their tribal government officials are and what they do in their official capacities. Students understand how their tribal governments could play a role various possible scenarios, such as in representing the interests of the tribe on important issues.

Lesson Ideas

  • Video: Have students watch the film “Alaska Tribes – The Story of Federal Indian Law in Alaska.” Information on how to obtain a copy of this film can be found at https://www.tananachiefs.org/films/
  • Tribal Council Meeting: With permission from the tribe, have students attend and observe a tribal council meeting, then write down and/or discuss their thoughts and observations about the meeting, its process, and the issues discussed.
  • Presentation from Tribal Leader: Ask a tribal leader or staff member (president, council member, etc.) to visit the classroom and explain the roles of the leaders and employees of the tribe, and some of the important issues the tribe has dealt with in the past or is dealing with currently. Ask the presenter to explain how the tribe has been involved in representing the interests of its membership in regional statewide forums.
  • Mock Tribal Council Meeting: Have students role-play in a mock tribal council meeting. Have some students act as the tribal council members and some as tribal members attending/observing the meeting. Have the students prepare issues they feel are pertinent to their tribe to include on the agenda for the mock meeting, and have students prepared to voice their differing views on the issues as both tribal members and tribal council members. Have students practice utilizing Robert’s Rules of Order or whatever meeting procedure is used by their tribe during tribal council meetings.
  • Thriving Tribe Brainstorm Activity: Keeping in consideration what they have learned about tribes and their powers, roles and functions in both Alaska and the lower 48, have students brainstorm ways that they envision their tribe thriving in the future. Have students identify specific qualities of a future thriving tribe and potential solutions for achieving these conditions. One option to add to this activity is to have students compile their ideas into a list, with items considered by the group to be most important at the top. Have students develop a poster of this list to hang in the classroom.

Lesson 4: Tribal Courts

Objective 1: Students are familiar with the different types of tribal courts in Alaska and their powers, roles, and methods, such as the use of culturally relevant traditional punishment and talking circles.

Objective 2: Students understand what Public Law 83-280 is and what concurrent jurisdiction means for Alaska tribes.

Objective 3: Students understand the basic provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act and the role of tribal courts in Alaska in resolving child custody and related disputes.

Lesson Ideas

  • Student Presentations: Depending on class size, assign each student or group of students a chapter from the document “Tribal Court Development – Alaska Tribes” by Tanana Chiefs Conference and Lisa Jaeger accessible at http://thorpe.ou.edu/AKtribalct/index_2.html. Have the students or groups prepare Power Point presentations on each chapter to present to the rest of the class, along with a set of notes summarizing the information from the chapter to hand out to the rest of the class.
  • Tribal Court and/or ICWA Presentation: Ask a local tribal court judge and/or Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) specialist (if available) for the tribe visit the class and present on their roles. Ask the presenters to give examples of some of the issues and challenges they face in these roles and the kinds of cases that arise.
  • If the local tribe does not have a tribal court, have students conduct research among the tribal council and employees to see if developing a tribal court had ever been considered and what different perspectives council members have on the idea of a tribal court. After gathering this information, and keeping in mind what they have learned about tribal courts, have students write a reflection on whether or not they feel a tribal court would be beneficial to their community, what the challenges might be to developing and operating a tribal court, and any other thoughts about the idea of a tribal court, such as how it should be structured, etc.
  • Mock Tribal Court: Have the students role-play in a mock tribal court. Have some students act as tribal court judges, some as the parties involved in the case, and some as attorneys (if appropriate). If the class size is larger, it can be split into more than one mock court. Have students select the tribal court structure they wish to act out and assign the mock court a scenario/issue to hear, discuss, and decide on.