Alaska Natives Without Land
As we come to the end of 2021, more than 140,000 Alaska Native shareholders and their 200 Native corporations begin their 50-year anniversary celebrations of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), enacted on December 18, 1971. Regrettably, five “landless” Alaska Native communities — from the Southeast Alaska municipalities of Haines, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Tenakee Springs and Wrangell — are reminded of the injustice and inequity that has plagued them for half a century as they have watched their brothers and sisters thrive with the benefits of land and successful Native corporations without recognition. As the 50th anniversary milestone of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act approaches, there is hope of remedy within newly introduced legislation in the U.S. Congress thanks to the leadership of the Alaska congressional delegation. Today, after tireless efforts put forward from Senator Lisa Murkowski and Senator Dan Sullivan, the Southeast Alaska Native Landless Bill was introduced to reunite these five communities with one township of land each from within the Tongass region, granting them an equal opportunity to form new Native corporations under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and to provide economic, social, and cultural benefits to their community shareholders in the same ways their brothers and sisters, who already received land under the original act, have for the past 50 years.
Congressman Don Young introduced H.R. 3231 in May of this year, opening the doors for continued conversations and engagement amongst the Southeast Alaska Landless Corporation (SALC), a nonprofit corporation advancing awareness and advocacy for a landless solution, and communities and stakeholders throughout the Tongass. Conversations have emphasized the fact that this landless issue is one of the top human rights and indigenous land issues plaguing Southeast Alaska Native peoples. The Southeast Alaska Landless Corporation board has built a strong coalition of support through years of work to build awareness — institutions like Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Sealaska Corporation, Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood Grand Camp, Alaska Federation of Natives, National Congress of American Indians, and numerous other community and tribal leaders, organizations, and businesses have advocated for this legislative solution.
This legislation amends the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act to include the five landless Alaska Native communities, which were left out through no fault of their own. It will allow each of the five landless communities to receive and manage 23,040 acres of land and authorizes grant funding to aid in the startup of the individual Native corporations.
“These corporations will provide economic benefit to the surrounding communities, as well as provide lands where cultural ceremonies, cultural education, and economic growth can occur, all while continuing to allow public access for people to interact with and appreciate the lands through subsistence and recreational activities,” said Cecilia Tavoliero, president and chair of the Southeast Alaska Landless Corporation. “We are grateful for the leadership of the Alaska congressional delegation and their continued efforts to finally resolve this long-standing injustice. We also deeply appreciate the leadership and thoughtful engagement we have experienced in recent years from the conservation community, industry, tribal and municipal governments, and other Tongass stakeholders that have dedicated time to work with us as we strive for a just solution. We are confident the ongoing collaboration will finally lead to the enactment of legislation that will support the future of our landless shareholders, our communities, the region, and the state.”