Alaska’s congressional delegation hoping to include five more Native communities to ANCSA

Published: Aug. 29, 2023 at 5:24 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Alaska’s congressional delegation is once again trying to change the country’s federal Native American policy. The trio of lawmakers recently re-introduced a bill to allow so called “landless” communities to be included in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

In 1971, Congress passed ANCSA. It divided Alaska into 12 regions for newly formed private, for-profit native corporations to run. Alaska’s senators have been trying for years to include five other small, southeastern communities into ANCSA that were originally left out of the deal.

“It is a promise that was made and for these communities, a promise that has not yet been delivered on,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

A report done by the University of Alaska nearly 30 years ago did not have an exact reason why Congress excluded the Haines, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Tenakee and Wrangell communities from ANCSA. Richard Rinehart, who grew up in Wrangell, says being “landless” has caused his people to miss out on scholarships, cultural programs, and economic development opportunities.

“It’s always been an issue. And, you know, just something that it’s really just more like a matter of justice,” said Rinehart. “12 communities in southeast Alaska that were allowed to have their own village or urban corporation land have had varying degrees of success to very, very successful, to moderately successful. And we haven’t had that privilege.”

New legislation, introduced in the House and Senate, would change that.

“We are working with other with other people, stakeholders in these communities, because not everybody has been supportive of this bill,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).

One of the groups opposed to the bill is the Alaska Wilderness League. Its senior policy director said the environment the “landless” communities want to develop should be protected from corporations.

“There’s actually an issue right now going on where a community is fighting to protect sacred lands and the tribe and others have been engaged, pushing back on a village corporation, much like what would be created here related to clear cut old growth logging in places that were traditional village sites,” said Andy Moderow.

Neither proposal in the House and Senate have made their way out of committee. And while the House’s version is bipartisan, the Senate’s bill only has Republican support.