Sealaska land bill has many problems

Posted: Thursday, February 18, 2010

It has recently come to my attention that the Sealaska Corp. land bill, S. 881 sponsored by our congressional delegation, is fraught with important problems.

Congress would declare all ANCSA lands as "tribal lands." The final section of the bill entitled "Miscellaneous" includes section 5e that would amend federal statute in this manner; it is totally unnecessary;

The land Sealaska selected unnecessarily includes dozens of small acreages with undefined boundaries in Southeast that, when placed in private ownership, could block access to valued public lands.

Sen. Albert Kookesh, the Sealaska president and others in the corporation have been working for several years to achieve Sealaska's land entitlement under ANCSA. However, classification as "tribal lands" can be followed by Department of Interior designation of some portion of those tribal lands as "federal trust lands." This opens the door to classifying these lands as "Indian country."

What's "Indian country?" It is a federal land designation that negates all state regulation and taxation authority - similar to Indian reservation land in the Lower 48 - no state fish and game or environmental regulations, and no taxes.

In the early 1990s, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled, in the Venetie case, that no ANCSA land is Indian country. As I recall, the Venetie community was attempting to tax the contractor who was building them a state school. The state objected. Had Venetie won, the state would have no regulatory or taxation authority on Venetie land; Venetie would have those authorities.

If Congress passes S. 881 as it now stands, this would be the first step toward negating the U.S. Supreme Court Venetie decision and placing some or all Native corporation lands beyond state authority to regulate and tax.

Please attend a meeting of the Citizens Advisory Commission on Federal Areas, to held Friday, Feb. 19, in Juneau, and express your opinion. Please bring this problem to the attention of our congressional delegation and others - soon.

Mary Bishop


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