KETCHIKAN, Alaska — A proposed bill would give 100,000 acres of federal land in total to Native groups in five Southeast Alaska towns, according to Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
Murkowski discussed the proposed legislation Wednesday during a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining, saying a major component of the legislation involves the formation of Native corporations in Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Tenakee and Haines.
The proposed legislation — also called the “Alaska Native Claims Improvement Act of 2017” — looks to mitigate issues with the original Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act that was passed almost a half century ago, the Ketchikan Daily News reported .
The five Alaska communities were never granted village or urban corporations, Murkowski said
Upon incorporation, each of the five new corporations would receive “one township of land (23,040 acres),” according to the text of the bill, which is co-sponsored by fellow Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan.
According to the bill’s text, the revised act: “Shall give preference to land with commercial purposes; may include subsistence and cultural sites, aquaculture sites, hydroelectric sites, tideland, surplus federal property, and ecotourism sites; and shall not include land within a conservation system unit.”
Another component of Murkowski’s bill would give land to Alaska Natives who fought in the Vietnam War but didn’t receive land allotments under a federal measure passed in 1998.
“The 1998 act was supposed to ensure Alaska Native Vietnam vets who were disadvantaged because they were not present in the state, to claim their allotment of land,” Murkowski said. “But unfortunately, that act — the 1998 act — left out the vast majority of Alaska Native vets that it was intended to help, effectively excluding all 300 Native veterans who lived in Southeast Alaska, and only including veterans who served during a certain three-year window instead of any time during the conflict.”
Murkowski said that because of that three-year window requirement, thousands of Alaska Natives did not get the land they were entitled.
“In total, about 2,400 Alaska Natives who served during the Vietnam War were unable to qualify for their land,” Murkowski said. “So, my bill will solve that inequity by allowing those veterans to gain their rightful land, while also protecting all federal lands.”
Those veterans who qualify could receive up to a 160-acre (647,498-square meter) land allotment, according to the text of the legislation.
The bill is still in the early stages of a long path to passage, Murkowski said. Wednesday’s hearing was the first time the legislation was discussed since originally being introduced to the Senate in June of last year.
Information from: Ketchikan (Alaska) Daily News, http://www.ketchikandailynews.com