Legislation Finalizing Sealaska Land Claims Advances in U.S. Senate

Photo Credit: SitNews

Photo Credit: SitNews

The Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Jobs Protection Act (S. 340) was approved Tuesday by the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee by unanimous voice vote. The bill now heads to the Senate floor for consideration.

The measure provides Sealaska Corp., the Alaska Native regional corp. for Southeast Alaska, with 70,075 acres to finalize transfer of land owed to the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian tribes under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA).

“It has taken six years, but today we’ve taken a major step toward fulfilling the promise made to Southeast’s 20,000 Alaska Natives more than four decades ago,” U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said. “This has been a difficult process because every acre of the Tongass is precious to someone, but we have worked tirelessly with all of the stakeholders to address their concerns. I truly believe that all of that work has resulted in the best bill possible. It will help the region’s timber industry grow, while at the same time protect more than 150,000 acres for fisheries and habitat.”

Under ANCSA, which extinguished aboriginal land claims in Alaska, Sealaska was entitled to an estimated 375,000 acres of the 16.9-million acre Tongass National Forest to help improve the livelihoods of its shareholders. The government never made good on its promise.

Sealaska is currently owed some 85,000 acres, but under the compromise worked out in Murkowski’s bill it will accept about 15,000 acres less in exchange for 68,400 acres for timber harvesting, 1,099 acres for renewable energy resource and recreational tourism projects, and 490 acres of Native cemetery and historic sites.

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