[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Nearly 2 million acres of land owned by a village of Alaska natives is not "Indian country" where tribes have broad regulatory and taxing powers, a lawyer for Alaska told the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
But a lawyer for the Village of Venetie, an Athabascan Indian tribe of some 350 people who live in Venetie and Arctic Village, argued that such a court finding "would not be fair or honorable."
In an intense 60-minute session, both lawyers were subjected to numerous questions as the justices wrestled with what Congress intended in a 1971 federal law.
John Roberts argued for Alaska that the case focuses on "the basic question of who is in charge" on some 1.8 million acres of land in north central Alaska -- roughly the size of Delaware.
Right now, the state claims such control. But if the justices rule that the land is Indian country, Roberts said, the tribe would gain broad authority over environmental regulation, hunting and fishing and health and safety matters.
A federal appeals court said the land should be treated as Indian country in light of a 1971 federal law, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. It conveyed 44 million acres of Alaska lands to more than 200 native villages recognized as Indian tribes and abolished all but one Indian reservation in Alaska.
Roberts argued that Congress did not intend to have the land treated as Indian country because the federal government and the tribe "retained no control" over it after 1971.
Anchorage lawyer Heather Kendall, representing the village, said Roberts was wrong. The village "was Indian country in 1971, and nothing in the law changed that," she said.
The justices, in comments and questions, generally appeared to be more skeptical of Ms. Kendall's arguments but she gave no ground.
When Justice Sandra Day O'Connor noted that the village could obtain taxing power simply by incorporating as a municipality under Alaska law, Ms. Kendall replied, "That would be an act of assimilation."
But the village would not be giving up any control, O'Connor suggested.
"It would give up its culture," said Ms. Kendall, her voice rising.
The highest court's decision is expected by July.