I was fortunate enough to work for Sealaska Corp. in the early days of implementation of ANCSA. During that time, I became aware of several issue that must be kept in the forefront of all discussions concerning Alaska Native corporations with respect to their land entitlements.
The purchase treaty between Russia and the United States in 1867 recognized that there were claims by the Alaska Natives against the federal government that were to be addressed at a later date. The Territorial Organic Act of 1884 and the Statehood Act of 1958 each recognized that there were Alaska Native Claims that were outstanding and had to be dealt with at some future date.
Through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, (ANCSA) these land claims were settled by allowing the Native corporations to retain title to 44 million acres and compensating them for clear title to the remaining 321 million acres of federal, state and private lands. In essence, until ANCSA, all land title in Alaska was clouded by the outstanding claims of the Alaska Natives.
While ANCSA withdrew certain lands for selection by Native corporations, these land withdrawals were very restrictive and did not even closely approach the areas traditionally used by Natives. In addition, certain village corporations were further encumbered by having their selection area already patented to the state or private owners, such as Klukwan Inc., or being placed in the position of deciding which withdrawal lands not to select in order to stay within their allotted amount, such as Hydaburg. Through congressional action, many of these inequities have been accommodated. Sealaska now seeks similar accommodations.
In short, Alaska Natives had the underlying title to all Alaska lands until ANCSA was enacted in 1971. Public usage was in effect "trespassing" and private ownership was clouded until passage of ANCSA. People need to keep that in mind when discussing any Alaska Native land acquisition situation.