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Ketchikan and other Southeast towns aren’t asking for anything above what other parts of the state received.
It’s more a matter of treating the whole of Alaska equally in terms of Natives and Native land.
Beyond that, what Natives choose to do is their business, and as long-time Alaskans, their collective interest obviously is for Alaska.
Alaska’s congressional delegation, led by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, is behind the Alaska Native Claims Improvement Act of 2017. Murkowski’s predecessor, the late Sen. Ted Stevens, steered the original Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in the 1970s.
Senate Bill 1481 in part aims to address issues with Southeast Alaska Natives and Native Vietnam War veterans.
The first issue is that when the original act formed Native corporations, it overlooked creating village or urban corporation status for Natives in Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Tenakee and Haines.
The bill would correct that situation, allotting 23,040 acres to each of those five to-be-established corporations or villages.
Secondly, the bill would allow Alaska Natives who served in the U.S. armed forces during the Vietnam War era to receive land allotments — if they haven’t already.
Some weren’t present in the state during the allotment timeframe, which occurred during their service, and didn’t receive land. This included 300 Natives in Southeast.
The act currently before Congress would correct that situation, allowing for land allotments to the veterans.
When it comes to these issues and a few others included in the bill, the federal government should treat all Alaska Natives equally as well. For whatever reason, that wasn’t the case in past decades. But, during this decade, it can be corrected.
Natives and Native corporations have met with varying successes since the original claims act. But, generally, they have been conscientious overseers of the land entrusted to them, both for preserving their heritage and for commercial development.
Placing federal land in their control is not only the right thing for the feds to do given history and the situation, but it will benefit Alaska as a state and the communities of which the Natives are a part.
Places like New York City and Los Angeles join Anchorage in the top five of cities with Alaska Native and American Indian populations. Their congress members should be attuned to issues affecting Natives and American Indians and be willing to help Alaska’s congressional delegation get this bill passed this session without delay.