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Sullivan’s Extreme Efforts to Undermine Tribal Sovereignty

Failed Efforts Cost the State Thousands of Dollars


ANCHORAGE- Dan Sullivan continues to run from his record of undermining the rights of Alaska Natives and tribal sovereignty by suing tribes as attorney general.

Sullivan tried to restrict the rights and tribal authority of Alaska Natives and tribes by pursuing suits against the Kaltag tribe and Village of Tanana, who sought to protect young children from dangerous situations through adoption. Sullivan fought against the tribal authority to care for and take custody of at risk children without state approval.

Sullivan’s failed lawsuits cost the state thousands of dollars and damaged Sullivan and the state’s relationship with tribes, with Alaska Native leaders calling Sullivan’s actions “extreme.”

Kaltag Suit:


Kaltag Tribe Took Emergency Custody Of Member Child Due To Allegations Of Abuse And Neglect, But The State Refused To Recognize The Adoptive Parents. “The Kaltag Tribal Council had taken emergency custody of one of its member children due to allegations of abuse and neglect and, after conducting hearings and finding a suitable home, it terminated the rights of the birth parents and issued an order of adoption to the adoptive parents in Huslia. Kaltag then notified the State of Alaska Bureau of Vital Statistics about the adoption and requested a new birth certificate reflecting the names of the adoptive parents and the new last name of the child. The State refused, claiming that it did not owe full faith and credit to the decision of the Kaltag Tribal Court because Kaltag did not have jurisdiction to initiate the case at all.” [Native American Rights Fund pressrelease, 10/4/10]

Sullivan Argued The State Needed To Take Kaltag Case To The U.S. Supreme Court Because “We Need Clarity” On Tribal Adoption Issue. As reported by the Juneau Empire, “Legislators used Attorney General Dan Sullivan’s confirmation hearing Wednesday to question the Parnell administration’s actions on a ground-breaking child welfare case concerning tribal court rights. The state lost in lower courts but hired a Washington, D.C., law firm to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.” [Juneau Empire, 3/11/10]

Sullivan Had Poor Record on Tribal Sovereignty, Hired D.C. Law Firm At Over $1,000/Hour to Review Kaltag Tribal Court Authority Case. “Sullivan’s track record on Native rights fares just as poorly when it comes to tribal sovereignty. As Attorney General, Sullivan hired a high-powered Washington, D.C. law firm at over $1,000 per hour to secure U.S. Supreme Court review of a case that had recognized tribal court authority over member children. At issue was the State’s refusal to give full faith and credit to a tribal court order in a tribal adoption case heard by the Kaltag Tribal Court. Sullivan and his hired gun made the extreme argument that the Tribal Court had no jurisdiction to protect its own village children. Fortunately, not only did Alaska lose that case; the state was later forced to pay Kaltag’s attorneys fees. Sullivan’s hostility to tribal sovereignty was palpable in the state’s brief, even when the welfare of a small child hung in the balance.” [Bristol Bay Times, Native American Lawyers Heather Kendall-Miller & Lloyd Miller Op-Ed ,8/29/14]

June 1, 2023 To December 30, 2009: Kaltag Adoption Case Challenges Cost State Over $200,000. [PRA, Department of Law Letter, 1/28/14]

Tanana Villages:
Sullivan Announced He Had Petitioned Supreme Court in Tanana Case to Challenge Tribal Court Jurisdiction Over Non-Members. According to minutes from the Alaska Rural Justice and Law Enforcement Commission, “Dan Sullivan has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court in the Tanana case, which is indirectly related to the Kaltag litigation, and which challenges tribal court jurisdiction over non-members. The State is merely seeking clarity from the Supreme Court on an area that they believe is confused – tribal jurisdiction over non-members. They are not challenging the legitimacy of the tribes’ status as tribes. The Solicitor General has been asked to provide guidance on this case. Loretta inquired re the final ICWA MOU draft, Dan responded that it will be a final draft soon.” [Alaska Rural Justice and Law Enforcement Commission Meeting, Minutes, 9/16/10]

Tanana Case Challenge Cost State of Alaska Over $37,000. According to a public records response letter from the Department of Law, “In the Village of Tanana case, from June 1, 2023 to December 31, 2010, the Department incurred in fees and costs – including fees for Department attorneys and paralegals – a total of $37,514.19. (The State retained no outside counsel.) [PRA, Department of Law Letter, 1/28/14]