(The Center Square) - A new law will allow up to five state-tribal compact schools in Alaska.
Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, sponsored Senate Bill 34, which authorizes the schools for five years.
“This is a historic opportunity to embrace our unique Alaska Native heritages, providing a means for local tribal governments to determine their own path for educating young Alaskans,” Stevens said.
The bill provides no funding, according to its fiscal note.
"Any costs associated with the negotiations and development of the report to the legislature will be absorbed within the Department of Education and Early Development's operating budget," the note said.
The tribes have until December to tell the DOE if they want to negotiate. The DOE will then submit the plans to the Legislature.
“We collectively want to maintain our language, culture, and traditional ways of life,” said Julie Kitka, President of the Alaska Federation of Natives in a statement. “Educational compacting is one way that we can improve education for our tribal children.”
Dunleavy signed the bill Thursday, the same day he signed legislation formally recognizing Alaska's tribes.
“Today is a historic day for Alaska and one that is long overdue,” said Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, D-Bethel, who sponsored House Bill 123. “While the inherent sovereignty of Alaska Tribes has been consistently affirmed in Federal policy, in rulings by the Supreme Court, and by Executive Order in 2018, the signing of House Bill 123 provides formal recognition in statute for the first time in our state’s history. I hope today is looked back on as the beginning of a new chapter of collaboration and partnership between the State and Alaska’s Tribes.”
The law is just a formal recognition of the state's federal 229 tribes and does not change Alaska's authority, according to a news release from Dunleavy's office.
“House Bill 123 codifies in law what Alaskans have long recognized: the important role that Native Tribes play in our past, present, and future,” Dunleavy said.
A similar initiative was expected to be on the November ballot, but the bill's passage eliminated the need for voter approval.
"The formal recognition through this legislation is an historic step for us to have a successful relationship with the state," Kitka said. “The cultural survival of our Indigenous people is dependent on our ability to maintain our values, practice our traditions, and maintain freedom to live our lives well with dignity and respect for each other."