The Chilkoot Indian Association had to go to the Pentagon to pitch its case, but it may yet get its old village site back from the U.S. Army.
The tribe hopes to develop the Haines-area site into a deep-water port for shipping ore from future Yukon mines.
"The tribe feels that the recovery of this land and the development of a deep-sea port is the No. 1 economic driver for our community, and the way for us to truly get a path to self- determination," said Greg Stuckey, tribal administrator of the CIA. "This is our casino."
The tribe has been trying to get the site back for the last 30 years, Stuckey said. Two years ago, tribal members got Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, on board. Recently they went to Washington, D.C., to pitch their project to Army officials at the Pentagon.
Now, Young and Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, have gotten language into both the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2010 that authorizes the Army to convey the land to the Chilkoot Indian Association.
The tribe calls the 200-acre site Tanani Village, while the Army calls it the Haines Tank Farm. It's one of seven villages that the people who later formed the Chilkoot Indian Association came from.
Stuckey said that when Europeans settled in Haines, they brought diseases that wiped out most of the 200 to 300 people in the village. Those who were left moved to other Haines-area villages, while the abandoned Tanani site was homesteaded for the next 50 years.
Then the Army bought it and turned it into a tank farm, which has since been decommissioned.
The Department of Defense doesn't need it anymore and has agreed to sell it. The tribe has agreed to pay fair market value, which has yet to be assessed.
Begich called it a "win-win" for the Army and the tribe.
The 400-person sovereign Indian nation doesn't have the cash now and will have to find a way to pay for it - eventually.
Before that, Congress has to approve the conveyance. Also, some petroleum was spilled there that needs to be cleaned up first.
"It's still a long way out, but it's a wonderful first step," Stuckey said.
Currently, the tribe is building a subdivision of affordable-housing complexes for tribal members, partly with federal stimulus money. The tribe has some other programs as well, but the port idea is its one major business venture, Stuckey said.
Skagway already moves some minerals for Canada mines. But Stuckey surmised it would get busy as mines ramp up their production or more come online. A deep-sea port is one that can dock large ships, such as those that would carry ore from Alaska to Asia.
The tribe has its eye, for example, on the Palmer Project mine in the Haines area owned by Constantine Metal Resources Ltd. Constantine wants to develop a copper, zinc, gold and silver mine 34 miles northwest of Haines. The company is based in White Rock, British Columbia, and has a $3 million drilling exploration program this year.
Contact reporter Kate Goldenat 523-2276 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.