Senator introduces Sealaska land bill

Posted: Tuesday, September 30, 2008

JUNEAU - Sealaska Corp. announced Monday that Sen. Lisa Murkowski has introduced a Senate bill that would authorize the completion of Sealaska's land entitlement under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

The legislation will ensure that Sealaska continues to play a pivotal role in the Southeast Alaska economy and the creation of jobs, as the region experiences declining employment and migration of residents from rural to urban areas, Sealaska said in a statement.

Senate Bill 3651 differs from the original House bill introduced by Congressman Don Young. The changes are a result of more than 100 stakeholders' meetings attended by senior Sealaska executives and board members. The House bill will be adjusted as a result.

The Senate bill authorizes selections outside original ANCSA withdrawal areas.

Under the legislation, land selections would include timber land for economic development, and land for non-timber based development and cultural and historic sites.

"We desire to be productive citizens in the Tongass National Forest but at the same time upholding and celebrating the first people of the region including Tlingits, Haidas and Tsimsians," Sealaska board director Byron Mallott said.

The adjustments to the legislation ensure that Sealaska can reaffirm its commitment to economic development and rural energy needs and cultural preservation.

Sealaska President and CEO Chris McNeil Jr. said the bill does not give Sealaska anything more than what was promised under ANCSA but provides sustainable opportunities to the region.

One provision would provide public access to newly acquired timber lands.

"This important element protects public access for subsistence and other recreational uses," Sealaska board chairman Albert Kookesh said.

Sealaska sees an opportunity to transition from a timber-focused company to creating new sustainable economies, working with other tribal organizations and local communities to create a new form of economic enterprise, the company said.

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