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Craig officials comment on Sealaska lands bill

Posted: Friday, January 29, 2010

Craig city officials voted unanimously this week to voice concerns over the Sealaska lands bill, despite accusations that Sen. Albert Kookesh attempted to bully the council into supporting the legislation.

The council's letter dated Wednesday was "very carefully written," according to City Manager Jon Bolling.

The council had been split on the bill that attempts to complete land conveyances to Sealaska, a Juneau-based Native corporation, promised under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. But after a vote at a special meeting Monday, members were able to agree on two points.

The letter outlines concerns about transferring specific "highly valuable" sites near Craig out of public ownership, and questions how the legislation would impact future timber harvest activities.

Kookesh was accused by council members of violating ethics laws by threatening to use his position as a legislator to advance Sealaska interests during a council meeting earlier this month. He urged members not to stand in the way of the bill, and his comments were recorded and later reported on by the Anchorage Daily News.

Craig joins a list of Southeast communities and organizations that have weighed in on the legislation, which is backed by the state's two Republican members of Congress.

Sealaska was pleased the council chose not to come out in opposition of the bill and only raised two concerns, said Jaeleen Araujo, vice president and general council for the Native corporation.

"Their original draft had six points and was much more strongly worded," Araujo said.

Sealaska used the same approach in Craig that it has in more than 150 community meetings on the legislation, she said, which she described as "listening to concerns and being responsive."

Sealaska has gathered 30 letters of support from municipalities, tribes, village corporations and others through the process, Araujo said. The specific sites listed in the Craig letter will be taken out of the bill, she said.

Craig City Council members could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

Sealaska Chief Executive Officer Chris McNeil Jr. on Tuesday responded to charges against Kookesh, saying the senator spoke in an "unguarded" moment but was speaking from years of frustration in trying to accomplish the goals of ANCSA.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.



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