Sealaska’s lawyer, Aeleen Aruajo, has been very strident in her defense of the Sealaska Lands Bill S.730, currently before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Every time some facts adverse to the bill come forward, she rises to defend it. This is admirable, but flawed in one major respect. She is charged with defending a bill which is indefensible. Apparently, like Sisyphus, she is doomed to forever try to do the impossible.
In Aruajo’s most recent defense of the Sealaska Lands Bill in this column, she attempted to refute a piece by Wayne Regelin (Territorial Sportsmen). Regelin claimed that the Sealaska Lands Bill (S 730) would hinder public access to those chosen lands. She stated that the language of ANCSA 17(b) provides and protects access to these lands, and that Section 17(b) of ANCSA already preserves access to public lands and waterways based on present existing use.
Fact: ANCSA 17(b) does provide access to public land, but does not guarantee access and use on any Native land. The lands Sealaska wants to seize under S.730, according to the language from ANCSA, incorporated and cited in S.730, will be regulated just as they are on other ANCSA lands. Access is allowed only to traverse ANCSA land at designated points, but not to use the ANCSA land, or stop, hunt, fish, or recreate there.
She claimed that S. 730 will not reopen ANCSA throughout Alaska, and Sealaska was forced to make choices it did not want.
Fact: ANCSA has been opened and re-opened numerous times since its inception. S. 730, is another attempt to amend ANCSA and replace prior agreements made under ANCSA.
Sealaska requested the land selection boxes in Sealaska’s John Borbridge letter (1975) wherein Borbridge requests selections within “boxes” near Native villages so that Sealaska and Native village corporations could consolidate their timber holding to maximize profits, and is a matter of public record
Aruajo claimed that S.730 selections would not trigger the Endangered Species Act to list for old growth dependent species.
Fact: The current U.S. Forest Service TLMP has protections within it to prevent the listing of these species. If Sealaska is allowed to now withdraw old-grow timber tracts from the areas governed by TLMP, this will upset the protection strategy and remove lands used to protect these species, and trigger the listing of these species.
Aruajo claimed Sealaska was forced to make land selections within inferior land selection “boxes”.
Fact: Once again, Sealaska’s John Borbridge, in a 1975 letter, requested selection boxes in proximity to Native villages so that Sealaska and Native village corporations could consolidate their timber holding to maximize profits.
Lastly, Aruajo claimed that Sealaska made it clear at that time that conveyances were not suitable for selection and that legislation would be pursued to develop appropriate alternative selections. She also claimed Sealaska was forced to select a watershed where the city of Craig secures its public drinking water, and other important watershed and community use areas.
Fact: Sealaska has finalized its selections. This is a matter of record, and in fact, Sealaska did select several municipal watersheds and slated them for clear cut logging, in order to consolidate Native timber holdings [Borbridges letter of 1975]. In fact, the drinking water supply of the village of Kake was put at risk by Sealaska’s timber selection there, and was only saved from being destroyed by outside intervention by environmental groups.
I challenge Aeleen Aruajo to produce one single shred of evidence that will irrefutably prove that the general public will have the same level of perpetual free access under S. 730, on Sealaska land, as that which is provided under federal control of public lands. If she is able to produce such a document, I will personally pay to have it published in the Juneau Empire.
ANCSA’s 17(b) does not guarantee access to the general public on Native lands; it does not guarantee Sealaska’s selected land will never be posted “No Trespassing;” it does not guarantee that the land they want to select will not be sold; it does not guarantee that the land will not be lost to satisfy corporation debts.
• Sever lives in Sitka, and is a long-time forest advocate.