Kake's village corporation is about to receive the final bit of land it is entitled to under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, passed by Congress in 1971.
Kake Tribal Corp. will get 180 acres of federal land on scenic Payne Island, subject to appeal by affected property owners until Sept. 16.
Kake residents and visitors value Payne Island because of its bald eagle nests and its prime vantage point for watching the migration of humpback whales through Frederick Sound, according to residents and others familiar with the island.
The northernmost island in Keku Strait, Payne Island is a destination for kayak tours out of Kake, and lies directly west of the small coastal Native village.
"It really is a beautiful spot. It has been used by the community for years as a place to visit," said Harry Brouilette, the Kake owner of Island Excursions, which offers eco-tours to Payne Island and other locations nearby.
He said eco-tourism is becoming a big focus for Kake, which is struggling due to the recent closure of its cold storage plant and loss of timber industry jobs.
Kake Tribal Corp. applied for the Payne Island award in 1974.
"It was part of their original application" under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, said Edward Bovy, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Anchorage.
Peter Metcalfe, a Juneau consultant who worked with Kake on a previous non-ANCSA land transfer, said he is not surprised that this conveyance took so long.
"BLM is famously slow on these things," Metcalfe said.
Kake Tribal Corp. representatives did not return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday.
Metcalfe said the extremely narrow islands of Keku Strait are likely unsuitable for timber harvest because of the state law requiring a shoreline tree buffer.
"I doubt very much it has value as far as (timber) development goes," he said.
Regional Native corporations are entitled to a total of 355,000 acres under ANCSA but only 290,000 acres have been conveyed to Sealaska so far, said Todd Antioquia, a spokesman for Sealaska Corp., the Southeast Alaska regional Native corporation based in Juneau.
"There is a lot of unfinished business ... it is really, really critical that this is finalized," Antioquia said.
Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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