My turn: Amend Native claims act to include 'landless'

Allow landless communities to consolidate by providing a list of shareholders

Posted: Thursday, September 14, 2006

It's been 35 years since the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act created more than 200 corporations throughout Alaska. Five Southeast Alaska towns were left out and have been trying to become included ever since. They're referred to as landless.

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The landless aren't exclusively liberal, conservative, developer or conservationist, they're just people willing to play the hand they're dealt. It's time to look realistically at what's preventing their legislation from being addressed.

The environmental lobby has deep enough pockets to prevent logging and title acquisition on land selections, but, short of a filibuster, they don't possess the votes to stop legislation.

The Republicans, sponsors of the landless bill, have been in power on all levels of government for going on six years. Throughout that time our congressmen have held chairmanships in both the Senate and House resources committees, where the landless bill sits. The stars don't align any better than this. They've had the numbers to pass this bill for quite some time, yet it wasn't re-introduced until last year. This is the same bill that passed Congress without land entitlements in 1998 and was allowed to die. Unfortunately, without land it benefited nobody but the landless themselves.

Understandably, Sealaska receives priority for any forthcoming land awards. Sealaksa contributes hundreds of millions in revenue sharing, and their timber condition is distressed. I just wish the corporation would be honest with the landless and let us pursue a settlement separate of land entitlements. We've now become a corporate culture with land as the main asset, but not the only asset. I have never spoken with a landless person who isn't willing to accept alternative compensation. But nobody ever asks them. The landless need to make sure their legislation represents them, as opposed to any specific industry or revenue-sharing plan. The tribal government should represent the legislation so it's not contingent upon land and a fair settlement can be sought with bipartisan support.

Sealaska's landless committee recently formed nonprofit corporations in each of the five communities, to posture as real corporations. They have yet to provide a list of shareholders, articles of incorporation or bylaws, leaving these groups impotent. The directors of these nonprofits are sincere, and I'd hate to see them become disillusioned like those before. It's been 35 years, and I've watched too many in my community get used and die, while others prosper.

Right now, all indications point toward Republicans losing control of the U.S. Senate in November, which means the landless bill in its current form is dead, and we can go back to blaming Democrats. As far as our current leadership is concerned, the landless are a low priority for land, and useless to them without it.

If Sealaska or any member of our congressional delegation can categorically disagree with what I write, I challenge them to prove me wrong. I'm not asking for 100,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest or any other compensation. I'm simply challenging them to amend ANCSA to include the five towns that were left out. That's it. At the very least, allow us to consolidate as landless tribal communities by providing a list of our shareholders. And please stop misleading shareholders. If it's not happening in Congress - it's not happening.

• John Perkins is a resident of Petersburg and the coordinator for Southeast Alaska Landless Society.

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