Alaska Native claims were settled in 1971 with the passage of ANCSA, historic legislation that required a complicated balancing of public and private interests. S. 872 would re-open ANCSA for the second time in a year, just six months after the passage of a bill that allowed the regional Sealaska Native Corporation to select and clearcut approximately 70,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest. At the time, Senator Murkowski said,
"Some 43 years after passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the federal government will finally finish paying the debt we owe Natives for the settlement of their aboriginal land claims." Yet, six months later the Alaska delegation has introduced legislation to re-open the over 40-year-old settlement and privatize more public land.
Similar legislation has been introduced in several previous Congresses and dismissed as an inequitable land grab. In 1994, the Departments of Interior and Agriculture funded an Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) study into why the five communities in the bill did not become village corporations under ANCSA. The study documented the long and thorough ANCSA process and suggested there was no evidence to support the premise that the communities were inadvertently denied corporation status. These communities did not meet the eligibility requirement, but residents were included as "at large" stakeholders in the regional Sealaska Corporation and already receive bigger Sealaska dividends than village shareholders.
S. 872 set a dangerous precedent in reopening ANCSA to transfer more than 115,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest into private hands. Audubon Alaska and our conservation partners are working to oppose this bill.