State-Tribal Compacts

The State of Alaska and Alaska’s Tribal governments and organizations have entered into one compact for the Tribes to assume responsibility for the delivery of services to a defined group of Alaska citizens and another compact is now under negotiation and also the subject of state legislation. Links on this page provide access to more information about the existing and proposed compacts.

Under negotiated agreements with the state government, compacts offer a way for Tribes to exercise their sovereignty, autonomy and authority in the efficient delivery of services to Tribal members, particularly in rural areas of Alaska where state services are minimal and hard to deliver.

Alaska Tribal Child Welfare Compact

The Alaska Tribal Child Welfare Compact was initiated and agreed upon during the administration of Gov. Bill Walker (2014-2018). Signed in 2017, it is a one-of-a-kind landmark government-to-government agreement that recognizes inherent Tribal authority to oversee the placement of Indigenous children in foster care and provide child welfare services. The complete text of the compact can be found here.

The compact’s goal is to reduce the disproportionate number of Alaska Native children in state custody and improve the lives of Alaska Native families statewide by placing more Native children within their home communities, respecting Native culture and traditions, and encouraging families to change the negative behavior that led to the removal of children. More than half of the children placed in foster care are Alaska Native even though they make up only 20 percent of the state’s child population.

By improving and strengthening the state-administered child welfare system in partnership with Tribal co-signers, the compact’s intent is to increase the effectiveness of state, Tribal, and Tribal organization services by encouraging and providing for collaboration and cooperation in child welfare programs and the efforts to protect Alaska’s children.

The compact contains the following elements within its 11 articles:

  • Broad definition of the services and support that are to be carried out by the Tribes (co-signers) within their service area and memorialization of how information and resources are to be shared between the state government and the co-signers.
  • Authority for the co-signers to oversee the placement of children and delivery of child welfare services within their defined service areas.
  • Details on funding and required services and a description of the broader purpose and scope of the compact. The compact itself did not require funding, instead, the Tribes will receive individual funding for staff as they take over services.
  • The transfer of the first two scopes of work—Diligent Relative Services and Safety Evaluations—to the co-signers.
  • Description of the Alaska Department of Health & Social Services, Office of Children’s Services, and co-signer oversight and coordination responsibilities with individuals designated within each organization to carry out the assigned duties within the service areas.
  • Recognition of the factors that contribute to successful implementation, which include frequent and thorough staff training, information sharing, and use of the state computer system.

The State of Alaska has the most federally-recognized tribes (229) in the nation, in addition to 12 for-profit regional corporations, over 200 for-profit village corporations, and 12 Native not-for-profit regional social services organizations. The Tribes and corporations embrace their own cultural customs, traditions, and often languages. Out of the 229 Alaskan tribes, 196 are represented in the compact.

More Tribes will be eligible to join the compact as co-signers in future fiscal years.

Work on drafting additional scopes of work has continued from the Walker administration into the administration of Gov. Mike Dunleavy. 

Continuing challenges in the negotiations include resolving questions about how to fund the work, how to continue and increase the funding as Tribes take on additional services, and how to recognize the unique status of Tribal entities, as well as incorporate sovereign immunity waivers, address confidentiality issues, and find the enormous time required to draft and review all the documents.

Other issues that needed to be worked out included follow-through on the transfer of previously agreed upon funding, assurances that funding would be spent on “direct services and deliverables,” and whether Tribes will have sufficient insurance to cover liabilities. 

The overall hope of the compact process is that the Tribes and state government will learn to work with one another on a different level, reaching consensus on difficult issues and maintaining a productive and receptive relationship.

State-Tribal Education Compacts

In both direct negotiations with the Dunleavy administration and through a bill in the Alaska Legislature, work continues on the establishment of a State-Tribal Education Compact.

Addressing the virtual Alaska Federation of Natives Annual Convention on Dec. 13, 2021, Gov. Dunleavy and Commissioner of Education Michael Johnson expressed their support for an education compact. Gov. Dunleavy lauded the signing of agreements with the Knik Tribe educational agency and the Tanana Chiefs Conference “to advance tribal charter schools, tribal compacting, improve data sharing, and make certain every child has the opportunity to learn.”

At the same time as the administration continues its efforts, Senate Bill 34—introduced by Sen. Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak)—is working its way through the legislative process. In recognition of Alaska’s cultural and linguistic diversity, SB 34 would allow Tribes—initially, through a demonstration project—to establish State-Tribal Compact Schools in partnership with the state with the goal of improving educational outcomes.

In a sponsor statement, Sen. Stevens said compact schools would “reestablish a sense of ownership and pride in the public educational system,” reinforce Alaska’s “staunch policy of local control as regards education policy and budget decisions,” and provide “another avenue for addressing existing challenges and ensuring that children are prepared to be healthy, productive community members and to be positioned for success.” The complete statement can be found here.  

At a Feb. 11, 2022 hearing before the Senate Education Committee, Alaska Federation of Natives President Julie Kitka endorsed SB 34 as “a critical step in moving forward to achieve one of AFN’s long-standing priorities: to ensure that Native children in Alaska have access to the best education available.” Kitka’s complete testimony can be found here.

For additional information about State-Tribal Education Compacting, see the following documents:

  • SB34A – “An Act providing for the establishment of public schools through state-tribal compacts.”
  • SB34B – “An Act providing for the establishment of public schools through state-tribal compacts; and providing for an effective date.” (Draft Committee Substitute)
  • SB34 – State-Tribal Education Compacts Summary of Changes from version A to version B
  • SB34A – Sectional Analysis
  • Alaska Department of Education Compacting Overview
  • Alaska Federation of Natives News Release Re: SB34
  • AFN Report on Education Compacting – Dec. 2, 2021