ANCSA Improvement Act Could Create New Native Corporations in Ketchikan & Southeast
By MARY KAUFFMAN
February 14, 2018
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) spoke at the hearing to highlight the importance of S. 1481, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) Improvement Act. The bill, sponsored by Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) will help ensure that ANCSA continues to serve and benefit Alaska Natives as they say Congress intended.
“Back in 1971, Congress passed ANCSA to settle the aboriginal land claims of Alaska Natives, clearing the way for Alaska Natives to receive 44 million acres of land and $962 million of compensation,” Murkowski said. “The law also pioneered a new method for U.S. treatment of Native Americans through the establishment of corporations to provide a continuing stream of income to help improve the lives of Alaska Natives.”
“This legislation is long overdue. It remedies and perfects legislation we passed 47 years ago. I hope my colleagues will join Sen. Sullivan and me in supporting S. 1481, so that we can finally fulfill the promises that Congress made to Alaska Natives all those years ago,” said Murkowski who is chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
The ANCSA Improvement Act as proposed will re-dress the omission of the Southeast Alaska communities of Ketchikan, Haines, Petersburg, Teneakee and Wrangell from eligibility by authorizing the Native people enrolled in the communities to form Urban Corporations for these communities under the Alaska Native Claimes Settlement Act and to receive certain settlement land.
The Improvement Act would also allow the Southeast Alaska Native villages of Ketchikan, Haines, Petersburn, Tenekee and Wrangell to establish additional native Corporations allowing these Native villages to reorganize as Urban Corporations. pon Upon incorporation entitling each to receive one township of land (23,040 acres) in southeastern Alaska from “local areas of historical, cultural, traditional and economic importance”.
Each Native who was enrolled as a shareholder fo the Regional Corporation for Southeast Alaska on or before March 30, 1973, would receive 100 shares of Settlement Common Stock in their respective Urban Corporation.
Members of the Native Villages of Haines, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Tenakee, and Wrangell who become shareholders in an Urban Corporation will continue to be eligible to receive distributions as at-large shareholders of the Regional Corporation for Southeast Alaska.
Subcommittee members received testimony from the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The Deputy Director of Policy and Programs for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Brian Steed, expressed the administration’s support for S. 1481.
“The Department is proud to support the efforts of the sponsors to bring about resolution of many issues facing Alaska Native communities,” Steed said. “The Department supports this legislation and looks forward to working with the sponsors and the Committee on technical modifications to specific sections [of the bill].”
Steed also supported adding the Secretary of Agriculture for consultation and coordination on land selections resulting from implementation of the bill. In addition, we recommend that the word “township” be replaced with “23,040 acres” because some townships along the coast may be less than 23,040 acres.
Murkowski and Sullivan introduced the ANCSA Improvement Act of 2017 to correct oversights in the original Act and other federal statutes to respond to challenges ranging from erosion to incomplete land selections affecting Alaska Native communities.
The Improvement Act not only makes technical corrections to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act but also addresses other purposes around Alaska.
According to an Action Alert posted on the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council's website, their biggest concern with this current version of the bill is the threat it poses to lands previously designated by Congress for permanent protection in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980, the Tongass Timber Reform Act of 1990, and the Sealaska Land Entitlement Finalization Act of 2014.
Regarding Section 10 which establishes new “urban” Native Corporations in Southeast Alaska for Alaska Native residents from the communities of Haines, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Tenakee, and Wrangell. The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council wrote that once “recognized,” these for-profit corporations can select 23,040 acres of high value, “local,” public lands from the Tongass. As drafted, Section 10:
Robert Dewey, vice president of government relations and external affairs, Defenders of Wildlife, issued this statement: "The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Improvement Act is a massive public lands giveaway. The bill would sell off hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands within the Tongass National Forest and the National Wildlife Refuge System to private profit. Lands that belong to the American people within the biologically sensitive coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would be privatized and opened to oil and gas development. These actions would have significant impacts on the wildlife that rely on old-growth forest and the Arctic Refuge to survive."
Quoting a news release from the Defenders of Wildlife: Three sections of S. 1481 (Section 7, Section 10, and Section 11) would privatize large areas of currently designated federal lands that are part of the Tongass National Forest and national wildlife refuges across the state of Alaska. Sections 5 and 6 would give away wild forest and taxpayer dollars in exchange for logged lands. Even worse, the legislation authorizes the exchange without mandating a review to ensure that it is in the public interest. This bill could lead to the privatization of more than 600,000 acres of public lands in Alaska, including national wildlife refuges, national forests and other wilderness areas in the state.
The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971 settled aboriginal land claims in Alaska and entitled Alaska Native communities to select and receive title to 46 million acres. ANCSA established a corporate structure for Native land ownership in Alaska under which Alaska Natives would become shareholders in one of 12 private, for-profit, land-owning Regional Corporations. Each Regional Corporation encompassed a specific geographic area, and was associated with Alaska Natives who had traditionally lived in the area.
For each Regional Corporation, ANCSA provided at least two acreage entitlements through which it could select and receive ownership of Federal lands. For Alaska Natives who were non-residents of the state at the time the Act was signed into law, ANCSA authorized a 13th Regional Corporation. In addition, ANCSA created more than 200 Alaska Native Village, Group, Urban, and Reserve Corporations.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska Land Transfer program administers the transfer of lands to individual Alaska Natives under the Alaska Native Allotment Act (1906 Act); implements the 46 million-acre transfer to Alaska Native communities under ANCSA; and is also responsible for conveying 104.5 million acres to the State of Alaska under the Alaska Statehood Act. When the survey and conveyance work under the Native Allotment Act, the Alaska Statehood Act, and ANCSA is completed, over 150 million acres, approximately 42% of the land area in Alaska, will have been transferred from Federal to state and private ownership.
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