Landless legislation to be reintroduced in 117th Congress

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Campaign organizers with Alaska Natives Without Land are optimistic that legislation advancing the land claims of Alaska Natives from five Southeast communities will be reintroduced during the 117th Congress, which got underway on Jan. 3, 2021.

Haines, Tenakee, Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg were inexplicably left out of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, and were unable to form urban Native corporations. Alaska Natives from these communities have gone 50 years without the economic benefits that are associated with urban corporations, including dividends, scholarships, local economic development and more. The bill, called the Unrecognized Southeast Alaska Native Communities Recognition and Compensation Act, would amend ANCSA to include the five communities and allow them to form urban corporations.

Although advocates have been fighting for inclusion and recognition for 50 years, since ANCSA’s original passage, last year’s legislation fell victim to timing and the chaos that enveloped federal politics at the close of the year. It must now be reintroduced.

“We cannot control other issues that draw the attention of Congress, or whether there is a final bill within each Congressional session,” said Nicole Hallingstad, who serves on Sealaska’s Board of Directors and is from the landless community of Petersburg. “What we can control is the continued work to get the legislation introduced in each session, and to keep community members and other interested parties up to date with our efforts and progress.”

The advocacy group Alaska Natives Without Land provides regular updates on its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts and on its website about the status of the legislation and opportunities for shareholders, descendants and other allies to lend their support. The group is currently asking advocates to post videos of support on the issue using the hashtag #LandBack, and to send videos, photos or other testimonials to info@withoutland.org so they can share it with their audiences.

The group’s steering committee, Southeast Alaska Landless Committee, is also planning to announce a special opportunity for youth board members to join the fight within the next couple of months. The hope is that youth board members will help bring awareness of the issue to younger shareholders and descendants, whose futures will be most impacted by the creation of new urban corporations through the financial and other benefits they can provide.

“There is no stopping us,” Hallingstad said. “We will stay at this until a bill is passed to give land to our five communities who deserved it 50 years ago, and still deserve it today.”