Landmark: ‘Landless’ legislation passes committee for first time in history

Washington, D.C. (KINY) – For the first time ever, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has favorably reported a bill to right a historical injustice made when five Alaska Native communities were omitted from the 1971 settlement of indigenous claims in Alaska. The bill, the Unrecognized Southeast Alaska Native Communities Recognition and Compensation Act, amends the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) to grant the Alaska Native communities of Haines, Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, and Tenakee equitable land ownership and the right to form an Urban Corporation. The measure will provide these “Landless” communities with the rights and benefits of ANCSA recognition, including ownership of culturally relevant lands.

The Unrecognized Southeast Alaska Native Communities Recognition and Compensation Act is sponsored by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) is a cosponsor, and Representative Mary Peltola (D-AK) has introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives. During the markup, several Alaska Native leaders were present in the ENR hearing room to support the committee’s passage of the legislation [by voice vote].

“Five southeast Alaska Native communities were left out of ANCSA, hampering their ability to support development and opportunity while protecting their traditional ways of life. Alaskans have been trying to right this wrong for 51 years, and I’m so pleased to worked with so many over the years to right this wrong,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski. “I also thank my colleagues for supporting our Landless legislation, allowing for this critical legislation to head to the full Senate for consideration. Today was a critical step, and I will do everything I can to see this through.”

“We’re so happy of the work that Senator Murkowski has done to advance our cause, which has been going on for 51 years,” said Cecilia Tavoliero, Petersburg Landless and Chair of the Southeast Alaska Landless Corporation board. “We want to cross the finish line, and we’re just elated and happy today. So folks back home, please keep sending positive thoughts and prayers.”

“We want to thank Senator Murkowski and the Alaska delegation for their support,” said Randy Williams, Ketchikan Landless and Southeast Alaska Landless Corporation board member. “It’s been a long battle. Senator Murkowski has stayed the course with us for all these years and we certainly appreciate the effort that she’s made to make this happen.”

“I am just so proud to be here in Washington, D.C. for this momentous occasion, reaching a milestone for 4,400 of our brothers and sisters of the landless communities to receive recognition under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act,” said Todd Antioquia, Goldbelt, Inc. board member. “There’s still a lot of work to be done and we so appreciate the leadership of Senator Murkowski and the rest of the Alaska delegation that support us across Congress. We look forward to working with all of our brothers and sisters across the region to push this over the finish line. Gunalchéesh.”

The lands selected for conveyance to the new ANCSA Native Corporations were chosen in consultation with the Alaska Native communities, affected communities, local stakeholders, the U.S. Forest Service,and the public to allow for consideration of existing land uses. Consistent with ANCSA, 23,040 acres will be conveyed to each community to form a Native Corporation. The total amount of land to be transferred equals roughly 115,000 acres and will account for less than 0.7% of the Tongass National Forest’s 17 million acres.