Land Legislation Introduced
in the United States Senate
Satisfies remaining land entitlement
under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act
September 30, 2008
(SitNews) - Senator Lisa Murkowski introduced Senate Bill 3651
Monday that would enable Sealaska Corporation, the regional Alaska
Native Corporation for Southeast Alaska, to satisfy its remaining
land entitlement under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
"We are pleased that Senator
Murkowski has introduced this land legislation. Over the last
10 plus years, Sealaska has been working with stakeholders to
finalize its land selections that provides optimum environmental
protection, allows Natives to have greater say in the management
of historical and cultural sites in the region and to maintain
a significant economic presence in southeast," said Sealaska
President & CEO, Chris McNeil, Jr. "The passage of
this legislation is critical to achieve these objectives"
said McNeil. "The legislation does not give Sealaska anything
more than what was promised under ANCSA but provides sustainable
opportunities to the region."
Estimates place Sealaska's
remaining land entitlement at 65,000 to 85,000 acres. Murkowski
introduced the bill, which was referred to the Senate Energy
and Natural Resources Committee, to stimulate public comment.
With Congress wrapping up its business for the year, it will
be early 2009 before the Senate would address the issue.
Murkowski's bill, which is co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens,
R-Alaska, would permit Sealaska Corporation to select new acreage
on and around Prince of Wales Island for timber development from
a pool of 80,000 acres, up to 5,000 acres of lands, called "Native
Futures" sites, elsewhere in Southeast Alaska for non-timber
economic development, and up to 3,600 acres for cultural and
historic preservation. In return, Sealaska would be required
to relinquish land selections in roadless and more environmentally
sensitive areas of the Tongass National Forest.
In prepared remarks for the Congressional Record, Murkowski noted
that the Tlingit and Haida people of Southeast Alaska were among
the first of Alaska's Native peoples to pursue the settlement
of their aboriginal land claims. They organized the Alaska Native
Brotherhood and subsequently the Central Council of the Tlingit
and Haida Tribes to litigate the federal government's taking
of Native lands to create the Tongass National Forest and the
Glacier Bay National Monument, which is today called Glacier
Bay National Park.
In 1968, the Tlingit and Haida peoples received a settlement
of $7.5 million from the US Court of Claims, which the Native
people have long regarded as inadequate compensation for the
loss of their lands and resources. When the Tlingit and Haida
people pursued this pioneering litigation they could not have
foreseen that they would be disadvantaged in obtaining the return
of their lands when ANCSA was enacted. ANCSA imposed more severe
restrictions on the selection of lands by Sealaska than it did
on other regional Alaska Native Corporations in other parts of
the state. In November 2007, U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, introduced
H.R. 3560 to correct this injustice.
Murkowski's bill differs significantly from the original H.R.
3560. The changes were made in response to comments received
from the Southeast Alaska community by Alaska Congressional Delegation
staff and by Sealaska in dozens of community meetings. Young
had already agreed to make such changes as consistent with his
own communication with constituents in the Southeast.
"Prince of Wales Island communities were deeply concerned
that they would lose access for hunting, fishing and gathering
on lands that are presently part of the Tongass National Forest
but would be transferred to Sealaska," said Murkowski. "The
bill provides that conveyances of timberlands on Prince of Wales
Island would be subject to the 'right of noncommercial public
access for subsistence uses and recreational access' while protecting
Sealaska from lawsuits."
"I am proud to join Senator Murkowski in sponsoring this
important legislation for Southeast Alaska and Alaska Natives,"
said Senator Stevens. "The bill would allow Sealaska to
continue its significant contributions to the economy of the
area and efforts to help keep the timber industry which
continues to be hard hit by federal timber policy and constant
litigation over timber sales in the Tongass alive. The
bill would benefit Alaska Natives statewide through 7(i) revenue
sharing principles as well as allow Sealaska to finally complete
its land entitlement promised by ANCSA".
The language would allow Sealaska to regulate access for public
safety, cultural or scientific purposes, environmental protection
and uses incompatible with natural resource development. The
bill also would exclude major roads on Prince of Wales Island
from the lands that would be conveyed to Sealaska.
The bill would prohibit the Forest Service from closing, consolidating
or reducing staffing levels in any Ranger District of the Tongass
National Forest for a period of 10 years due to the legislation.
Sealaska has also excluded certain lands around Sitka from the
pool of lands it can select for "Native Futures" sites,
in response to concerns expressed by the City and Borough of
Sitka. Changes have also been made to the boundaries of some
of the proposed land conveyances on Prince of Wales Island to
accommodate local concerns.
New investment from Sealaska on lands made available through
the legislation is hoped to provide a boost to the sagging Southeast
Alaska economy. Murkowski noted that Prince of Wales Island suffers
from unemployment rates in the range of 20 percent.
A June 2008 study by the McDowell Group, an economic consulting
firm, noted that Sealaska was responsible for 580 jobs and approximately
$22 million of payroll in Southeast Alaska during 2007. In 2007
Sealaska spent $41 million in support of its corporate and timber-related
operations in Southeast Alaska, benefiting approximately 350
businesses and organizations in 19 Southeast Alaska communities.
Before introducing the legislation, Murkowski requested assurances
from Sealaska that the benefits of the legislation would flow
to the overall Southeast Alaska economy. In response, Sealaska
Corporation Chairman Albert Kookesh and CEO Chris McNeil submitted
a letter in which Sealaska promises to maintain its commitment
to create jobs for residents of Southeast Alaska, sell timber
at fair market value to local mills and local producers of wood
products, collaborate with others to preserve the viability of
the Southeast Alaska timber industry and work with Southeast
Alaska communities and organizations on energy issues facing
The legislation will ensure
that Sealaska continues to play a pivotal role in the Southeast
Alaska economy and the creation of jobs. This is critical as
the region experiences declining employment and devastating out
migration of residents from rural to urban areas. Sealaska is
committed to providing stability in the Southeast Alaska timber
industry and working with the Alaska Forest Association for long
term success. The Senate bill authorized selections outside original
ANCSA withdrawal areas. Under the legislation, land selections
will include timber land for economic development; economic development
land for non-timber based development and cultural and historic
sites. The adjustments to the legislation ensure that Sealaska
can reaffirm its commitment to economic development and rural
energy needs and cultural preservation. Sealaska Board of Director
Mallott said "We desire to be productive citizens in the
Tongass National Forest but at the same time upholding and celebrating
the first people of the region including Tlingit's, Haida's and
The legislation enables Sealaska
to initiate new strategies that were germinated by it's participation
in the Tongass Futures Roundtable. This group represents organizations,
corporations, state and federal agencies that are committed to
creating sustainable economies in southeast. Sealaska sees an
opportunity to transition from a timber focused company to creating
new sustainable economies, working with other tribal organizations
and local communities to create a new form of economic enterprise.
One provision of the Senate
bill will provide public access to and through newly acquired
timber lands. "This important element protects public access
for subsistence and other recreational uses" said Sealaska
Board of Directors Chair Albert Kookesh.
Murkowski seeks public comment
on the legislation which will be posted on her website, www.murkowski.senate.gov.
Alaskans can submit their comments on the legislation through
the website or by calling Senator Murkowski's office toll free
at (877) 829-6030.
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