My Turn: Time to settle Native claims

Posted: Friday, February 18, 2005

This My Turn is in regard to the landless issue on behalf of the aboriginal people of Alaska, particularly of those who were left out. It is in response to the recent and controversial Murkowski land liquidation article that was released in the news.

My words are meant to speak on behalf of those Alaska Natives that have not received benefits under the Alaska Native Land Claims Act of 1971. Over three decades have passed and no resolution or attempt to settle with these aboriginal Alaskans has been made, and they still have not received what is entitled to them.

I remember the Alaska Native Land Claims Act was originally presented as a social experiment intended to create corporations instead of reservations for Alaska's aboriginal people. However, I do thank U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski for the new bill in Congress that does seem intent on helping to speed up the land conveyance to Native people and to Native corporations. This was land for individuals and personal home sites, and was the original intention behind the claims act.

This news article about the land conveyance in Congress relates to claims that date back to the early 1900s. Many of the original Alaska Natives that had filed for land claims back then have long since passed on. This old bill indicates that the time frame it takes to resolve claims requires 85 years, just long enough for many of the people originally involved in the land claims to pass on. Now many of their old claims will be forgotten, or put back into the circular waste files.

The aboriginal landless people must have a settlement before it is too late for them as well. The landless communities include: Haines, Tenakee, Wrangell, Petersburg and Ketchikan. They would like this issue resolved before they too pass on, as their ancestors already have.

The Sealaska Corp. can do more about the landless too. If they were at all concerned about what happens to our people, these established Native corporations would work much harder and use their resources to help the people that were left out of the original land claims act. These landless people would like the Alaska delegation in Congress to resolve this issue. Let this be a test, resolve this issue once and for all.

Once again, I thank Lisa Murkowski for the bill. I sincerely hope it will help to speed up the conveyance of all the land that was meant to be back in the hands of the original people of Alaska. And to those conservation outfits out there that still think this is a handout, how about helping conserve the aboriginal people here in the state.

And my final thought: I don't consider myself a well-educated person, nor do I have any degrees, but I do have a lot of common sense. Common sense tells me there's something wrong here. Gov. Frank Murkowski made a promise at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention before he became the governor. He said the landless settlement is going to go through this year. That tells me it can happen. Before he passed on to Glory, a good friend of mine, Robert Willard, wrote Frank Murkowski a letter to remind him of his promise. Now, I am reminding him. It's time to settle up.

• Tommy J. Jimmie Sr. is a retired construction worker and 30-year Juneau resident.

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