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State commission's rejection of S. 730 merits praise

Posted: November 10, 2011 - 1:03am

On Oct. 28, the state of Alaska’s Citizen’s Advisory Commission on Federal Areas, or CAFCA, held a public meeting where testimony was taken on Senate Bill 730 and House Resolution 1408, the Sealaska land bills, now before Congress.

The commissioners, appointed by the governor and state Legislature, voted unanimously to nix this legislation.

CACFA rejected these bills after two years of fact finding that included discussions with congressional staff, meetings with Sealaska, and review of public testimony and letters.

After a thorough evaluation, CACFA reached the same conclusion that U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Harris Sherman made during the Senate hearing on S. 730: “The selections identified by Sealaska within the original withdrawal areas are more than sufficient to meet Sealaska’s remaining ANCSA entitlement.”

The Commission’s comments further echoed Sherman’s view that, “neither S. 730 nor H.R. 1408 will accomplish [completion of the entitlement] in a manner that is fair and equitable to all of the residents and communities who depend on the resources of the Tongass National Forest.”

The heart of the issue is that Sealaska needs to finalize the selections it requested from the Bureau of Land Management in 2008, which are in the area they asked Congress for in 1976 through the testimony of John Borbridge, Sealaska’s president.

Thirty-five years is too long for Sealaska to come back and upset the apple cart by going hundreds of miles from the 1976 areas. The U.S. Forest Service’s Tongass Land Management Plan and Transition planning would be thrown out the window by this bill.

In order for Sealaska to receive its current legislative selections, families and businesses that have lived and worked in the region for decades would, in fact, be thrown to the wolves.

Rather than “jobs protection,” the consequences of this legislation are the destruction of jobs and the ruin of communities.

I am grateful to CACFA for voicing the same valid concerns the nine towns most affected by the bills have raised: No new legislation is necessary to settle Sealaska’s land claims.

Passed in 1971, the Alaska Native Settlement Claims Act was and is a fair, just, and equitable settlement of all claims. CACFA has taken a position based on true facts and its conclusions are valid.

Hopefully, Gov. Sean Parnell and our congressional delegation will respect CACFA’s letter by encouraging Sealaska Corp. to move forward and get its just entitlement by dropping this unfair legislation.

Myla Poelstra

Edna Bay

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