By Myla Poelstra
February 22, 2010
"Listening Sessions" with a tape recorder and someone from your staff are not the answer we were petitioning for. After the years of disinterest both you and Sealaska have shown to the sincere petitions for a better solution, how can you expect us to have any trust in your office? How do we know what we say on tape will ever be heard by anyone?!! Why would you suggest sending Sealaska members to do what we have asked you to? Haven't they already been allowed to do enough of the legwork for their own legislation? Formal Public Hearings in affected areas are the only way people will feel certain they have been heard. None of our public officials, including Senator Kookesh, our district representative, have ever given their constituents the representation they deserve in regards to this legislation. How can you deny his obvious attempts at coercing compliance from the communities he is supposed to be representing? Why does he announce himself Chairman of the Board for Sealaska, before he mentions he is a State Senator? We believe someone could be trying to control what is said, and what gets out to the media. This looks more all the time like a corrupt process. Most would say now that it has been from the start. Everyone suspects that its really about money, power, and greed.
Your comments give folks the impression of a carefully planned game of "spin". "Never once have I heard someone say Sealaska doesn't deserve to have their land conveyances," Murkowski said. Of course no one has ever said Sealaska should not receive their conveyances, and in a timely manner. It was their decision to fight the provisions of ANCSA and continue to push for selections outside the withdrawal areas, which is the really at the heart of this issue for the people that stand to be affected by their repeated legislation. They do not need to amend ANCSA. They need to take their selections from around their communities, instead of destroying the lives and livelihoods of communities that Congress did not intend for them to select around. People are beginning to question why Sealaska petitioned Congress for amendment to ANCSA in 1977 to exclude selections from around Yakutat, Angoon, and Klawock (timber lands inside the withdrawal area). Just a coincidence that these are the home villages of the board members for Sealaska? Is this why they say they don't have adequate areas to select from?
This is the most blatant example of injustice to hit Southeast Alaska that I have ever seen. Some people are questioning whether the corruption exposed by Senator Kookesh extends throughout our Congressional Delegation as well. Two wrongs don't make things right. How is completing Sealaska's entitlements by destroying existing communities any different from the reasons ANCSA was created in the first place. Is this what you had in mind for an equitable solution?
Using the timber industry as justification again comes across as "spin". The Tongass will never support the intensive harvesting of the past decades. That is why we need to transition into a broader economy. Sealaska themselves have stated this in their press releases and full color portfolios. What many believe they are looking for is fast money from timber to provide them with the capital they will need to move into every other economic opportunity in Southeast.
We are taught to respect members of our government who are elected to public office. Respect in any situation is something that must truly be earned. If you want the people of Southeast Alaska who have tried so hard to reach you to have respect for what you are trying to do, stop what appears to be stonewalling, deflecting, and spinning the story. Hold the congressional hearings your constituents are requesting, or stop this legislation in committee. How many more cities, towns, and communities will have to pass formal resolutions to have a responsible answer to this bad situation addressed? If you are determined to stay on the path you have chosen, you may ultimately be responsible for turning Alaskan neighbors against one another, and causing serious conflicts within the Tongass for decades to come. Is that what you meant by an equitable solution?
There has to be a better answer than the one Sealaska has come up with. ANCSA was developed around their input. The areas they were supposed to select from were choices they made on their own. What has changed in the years since its establishment that justifies what they are proposing to do? What kind of entitlement obligates the people who have labored for decades to build what they have in this region to simply step aside and watch their lives be destroyed as if they mean nothing? The answer to this problem is simple, Sealaska needs to complete their land conveyances from inside the available withdrawal areas that were designed at their request, and be the "good neighbor" they have claimed they want to be. This will produce a peaceful solution that will allow everyone living in the Tongass to move forward into a prosperous future.
Received February 21, 2009 - Published February 22, 2010
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