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My turn: Goodwill toward Alaska Natives was evident in ANCSA era, and today

Posted: July 13, 2011 - 8:34pm  |  Updated: July 14, 2011 - 7:00am

I remember 1971, when the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was before Congress and there was a genuine concern in the country about wanting to improve conditions for Alaska Natives.

Forty years have passed since ANCSA became law, and Sealaska Corp. — the Alaska Native Corporation on whose board of directors I have served since 1972 — has yet to receive its final conveyance of up to 85,000 acres that Congress promised. Looking back, it would have been hard for us to believe in 1971 that we would still be asking for our land now in 2011.

This summer, legislation that would finally transfer lands promised in ANCSA is before Congress. In the U.S. House of Representatives it is H.R.1408 and in the U.S. Senate it is S.730.

The House bill was to go to markup, a legislative process, on Wednesday, which will be the farthest point we’ve reached in the six years that we have sought this legislation.

I am 40 years older and wiser, and yet I am hard-pressed to understand why there is now such a lack of concern about our Alaska Native peoples.

I have come to the conclusion that even though a vocal minority express opposition and animosity they are not as important as the unprecedented commitment of support from other organizations, businesses and individuals.

And I want to personally express my gratitude to this quiet majority of Southeast Alaska residents who are willing to support Sealaska and its Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian tribal member shareholders.

They include the 100 Southeast Alaska businesses that signed their names in support of our legislation. And the Alaska Chamber of Commerce and the Resource Development Council, which recognized the importance of keeping Sealaska’s 400 timber jobs in Southeast Alaska.

I also want to thank Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R) and Mark Begich (D) and Rep. Don Young (R) for introducing our legislation to Congress, for standing with us to see the promise fulfilled.

Since ANCSA, Sealaska has become part of the fabric of the lives of our 20,000 tribal member shareholders, and through business and the arts it has reached across Southeast Alaska and the entire U.S.

Sealaska is a leader in developing through scientific research and forestry management sustainable timber harvest practices. With our final entitlement of land, we will have enough accessible timber to put these strategies fully into practice.

Our opponents are busy pointing fingers at us about practices — while we are busy developing new ways of doing business, and taking care of our homeland.

They fail to consider that when we sell our timber for its best price — be that overseas, or here in North America — we sell it to keep people in jobs and local businesses open.

With our success we seek to bring opportunities to our shareholders, including helping them to preserve our cultures.

Last year the Sealaska Timber Corporation found an ancient Haida canoe amid 500-year-old trees near the Organized Village of Kasaan. Because Sealaska owned the land, we were able to identify and protect the site.

But there are historical and sacred sites across Southeast Alaska that are not in our ownership or that of the village corporations or tribes in our region. The legislation would bring many of these under Sealaska’s wing.

We didn’t start the destruction of these lands, but we survived it. And we have changed how we do business so that we can restore our lands. Our process for managing our young forests including planting trees is as beautiful as our processes for replanting our Native languages in the hearts of our families. (Note: Our planting is an aside to the overall management — I understand the metaphor and left it but want to be factually correct.)

Four decades on, I am convinced that we couldn’t have restored our lands, cultures and families without the resources that the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act brought to us.

The same is now true for passage of this important legislation. Again, thank you Congressman Young, Senator Murkowski and Senator Begich for your commitment to help bring closure to this chapter in our history.

• Jackson signed the incorporation papers for Sealaska Corp. in 1972, and has served continuously on its board ever since. He also serves on the board of directors for Sealaska Timber Corp. and is chairman of the Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Council of Traditional Scholars. He is of the Tlingit Nation-Eagle Tribe, Tsaagweidí (Killerwhale) Clan, child of Kaach.ádi Clan. His Tlingit names are GastIN, AssXAAch, and Daanaawu. His Teikweidi name is Ta Gooch. He is from Kake.

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