SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Sealaska lands bill
By Sarah Red-Laird


April 27, 2010

I still have a strong connection to Southeast Alaska, although I now live in Montana for school, through my friends and family that remain in the area, and through my crystal clear memories of all the years I spent there, especially those of my childhood on Prince of Wales Island.

During those years on POW the timber industry was booming. It seemed like there was an endless supply of trees and money, and people were happy. I remember loggers from the community coming to Hollis School's bake sales and dropping one hundred and fifty bucks on Cathy's pineapple upside down cake. I also have heard stories from my friends and former Fo'c'sel Bar tenders about sweeping up hundred dollar bills from bellow the bar stools back then. They would just fall out of the stuffed pockets and wallets of the men and they were too lit to really care or notice. Being a logger's daughter in the eighties on POW was fun. Hollis was a great community, and those were good times. My step-mom always says, "Southeast Alaska is a very small town." The small town, tight-knit community feeling that spans across the largest National Forest in America is a unique and special quality. Tensions have been growing, however, since the end of the logging boom, and I believe that The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, or SB 881, brings that tension to an unprecedented and harmful level. This bill, introduced by Alaska legislators (who are elected to solve issues, not create them) has brought my community to a disturbingly decisive state, which makes SB 881 bad public policy that needs to be killed.

In 1971, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) was passed by Congress. This legislation gave the Sealaska Corporation the right to select acreage for private ownership, much of which has already been designated. I believe that there is no reason that this legislation, which is written into law cannot be fulfilled. Native Alaskans should have rights to land to manage for the welfare of their people. For the remainder of their selections, however, Sealaska does not want to adhere to the original legislation. SB 881 is an amendment to ANCSA, which has given Sealaska free reign over Southeast to (excuse the worn out term) "cherry-pick" the good stuff.

Southeast is moving on from the "good ol' days" of the timber boom. Being such a resilient community, the residents have been able to see the forest as useful in different ways. Restoration projects, fishing and hunting guiding opportunities, small timber operations, mom and pop saw mills, and eco-tours are bringing a sustainable income to Southeast. In-tact forests also support abundant fish and wildlife populations, this in-turn sustains unique and amazing recreation opportunities for locals and visitors, and also supports traditional ways of life which is so important to the local communities. Allowing Sealaska to have at it with their history of harsh clear cutting methods and private property signs would be a tragedy.

This harmful legislation has come during a time of collaboration in Southeast Alaska, and is threatening years of work that has gone into progress toward diverse stakeholder management. With groups such as the Tongass Futures Roundtable and board driven watershed councils scattered around Southeast, many communities were beginning to feel empowered by the opportunity for a say in the future of their forest. This collaborative process includes members from Native Alaskan communities and the Sealaska Corp. This legislation throws the steps that have been made through collaboration right out the window. Not only is the sense of collaboration being lost, especially with recent closed door meetings between Sealaska, conservation organizations, and other groups, but communities are being divided. Recent wheeling and dealing steered land selections from North POW and Edna Bay area to their Hollis area neighbors, which broke the hearts and the patience of Hollis residents.

Southeast Alaska has been going through a turbulent transition these last couple of decades. Unable to rely primarily on timber extraction money, communities and their people have had to re-invent themselves and their livelihoods. This is OK, as life is dynamic and gives us multiple chances to change course to a more positive direction. I have faith that Southeast residents value of old growth and healthy second growth forests for the subsistence, recreation, and business opportunities and not allow this legislation to pass. If it does, it will only be the beginning of a long, painful, and divisive process for Southeast Alaska.

Sarah Red-Laird
Resource Conservation student (graduating) at University of Montana,
Former resident of Hollis, Ketchikan, and Skagway, AK


Received April 27, 2010 - Published April 27, 2010


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