Administration Supports Objectives of Sealaska Land Legislation
JUNEAU, Alaska – The Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Jobs Protection Act, or S. 340, introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and co-sponsored by Senator Mark Begich (D-AK), was the subject of a hearing on April 25 before the Public Lands Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
S. 340 would convey 70,000 acres in the Southeast Alaska region, the traditional homelands of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian, who make up more than 21,000 shareholders of Sealaska. Under S. 340 the locations where Sealaska receives land are moved to achieve greater conservation and job benefits. The legislation does not award Sealaska any more land than it is owed under the terms of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA).
S. 340 is the product of collaborative work of a varied group of stakeholders interested in the Tongass National Forest. According to Murkowski, more than 175 amendments have been made since the last Congress to address myriad concerns, and the result is a bill that has gained support from a diverse array of conservation, business, tribal and local community interests.
“The current bill provides a substantially improved conservation benefit than if Sealaska selected from inside original selection areas,” said Sealaska Board Chair Albert Kookesh. “We are pleased by the administration’s testimony supporting the goals of this bill.”
According to James M. Peña, associate deputy chief of the National Forest System of the U.S. Forest Service, S. 340 does not set a precedent for other Native corporations in Alaska due to the unique circumstances. He provided the following testimony, “The Department of Agriculture supports the objectives of finalizing Sealaska’s remaining ANCSA entitlement, and completing conveyance of it. Over the last two years, the Forest Service has worked diligently with USDA, the Department of the Interior, Sealaska, the Alaska delegation, members and staff of the Committee and others to develop a solution that works for everyone. S. 340 represents a major step forward in that effort. We have come a long way toward developing a solution that works for all parties.”
Ms. Jamie Connell, acting deputy director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), provided testimony supporting the goal of S. 340 to complete Sealaska’s ANCSA entitlement as soon as possible. The BLM defers to the U.S. Forest Service to represent the administration’s position on this bill, according to Connell. In response to questioning by Murkowski on previous concerns about precedent, endangered species and other issues, she stated, “Working closely with the Forest Service, and on behalf of the Fish and Wildlife Service, we appreciate the hard work and the significant improvements that have been made in this bill.”
“The Sealaska bill is very important to me,” said Murkowski. “A good faith effort was made by everyone, from Sealaska, to the communities, to the fishermen, to the sportsmen, to the recreationalists, to the folks in the agencies, and I really appreciate the efforts that have been made.”
Following the hearing, Sealaska is hopeful that S. 340 will be reported out of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources quickly and considered by the full Senate.
Sealaska leadership was present at the hearing, which included Sealaska Board Chair Albert Kookesh, Board Vice Chair Dr. Rosita Worl, and President & CEO Chris E. McNeil Jr. For media interviews with Sealaska leadership, please contact Nicole Hallingstad (information below).
Sealaska, Values In Action
Sealaska has strengthened business with culture since 1972. We are a Native institution owned by more than 21,000 tribal member shareholders whose core cultural values guide all that Sealaska does and represent the rich heritage of our Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people. We live our values to build excellence in our Native enterprise and take action towards our purpose: to strengthen our people, culture and homelands.