Dominant culture doesn't trump Alaska Native rights

Posted: Tuesday, March 02, 2010

In regard to Sealaska Corp.'s land entitlement under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act:

To begin with, this was an agreement between Alaska's Native tribes and the U.S. government. The Native people relinquished their aboriginal claim to the state of Alaska. This can't be overstated; and to be clear, this was not a settlement based on reparation for taking land and culture. The legislation was drafted to specifically exclude the Native people from making claim to any of the rich oil fields discovered on Alaska's North Slope in 1968.

The legislation also was intended to limit the release of federal land in Southeast Alaska, which is why we have landless communities, and why Sealaska received far less land proportionately than any other regional corporation.

The Native people gave way to legislation as opposed to litigation to expedite the development of Alaska's oil industry, which took three years to pass with an agreement to make necessary amendments along the way. The land amendments have been an issue since signing away the claim to aboriginal title, and Sealaska has been in the position to fight for their end of the bargain - a bad bargain.

Putting it into perspective, other federally recognized tribes received land they not only can develop as they see fit, but also can govern with established sovereign rights. They create their own laws outside of state laws, most notably gaming, while remaining eligible for government grants to assist with economic development on their lands, including roads.

Alaska's Native corporations are not in that position and find it necessary to have ANCSA amended for practical purposes, as originally agreed. And yet Sealaska has to agree upon conditions that aren't conducive to doing business though they are a for-profit corporation, and not sovereign tribal government.

Environmentalists benefit greatly from ANCSA, just like everybody else in Alaska - even more so than a lot of Alaska Natives who aren't eligible for the Alaska Permanent Fund. So regardless of the outcome of the amendment, they win.

I'm not siding with conservatives, who did even less on the land bill when in power, and will probably stop it themselves so Democrats can't claim any credit. But those on the left also seem to hold the same attitude of their entitlements superseding Native entitlements - an ideology that Native rights and agreements should be overlooked simply because of a dominant culture.

• John Perkins is program administrator of the Chief Seattle Club. He lives in Seattle.

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