My turn: Opportunity is passing 'landless'

Posted: Thursday, October 19, 2006

Recently there has been a lot of press regarding the landless situation in Southeast Alaska. There was the formation of nonprofit Native corporations and some misconceptions regarding the objective of for-profit corporations.

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U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski admits the landless bill isn't a priority in the Senate with the ongoing energy crisis, even with Sen. Ted Stevens as co-sponsor. I appreciate her honesty. But the same bill has been sitting dormant even longer in the House Resources Committee. We have yet to hear from the bill's sponsor, Rep. Don Young. We have heard his talk of new land legislation for the 13th Region Corp., but nothing about the landless, even after the bill's reintroduction to the House last year. Young has seniority and influence in the House of Representatives, and uses this as a platform for his re-election bid. But what good is seniority to the landless if their bill never gets addressed?

The November election is rapidly approaching, and it looks as though six years of opportunity is bypassing the current landless situation. I just hope the recently formed nonprofits won't dissolve along with the bill. The work they're doing is significant. Those on the left indicate support for the landless people, as long as it's not at the expense of everybody else. So we won't be forgotten. Up to this point, we have been used as leverage in an attempt to privatize as much public land as possible. Which brings us to why we were left out in the first place.

Research shows there was a limit on the amount of land the federal government would release in the Southeast Alaska region. Our region received just more than 600,000 acres in land entitlements, while the other regions divided over 21 million acres. Five towns were decidedly cut out of that allotment to justify coming back for more with subsequent legislation, and the plan backfired. Unless, of course, everybody involved with Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act truly forgot that Ketchikan and Haines existed. Why, is not important anymore unless it has something to do with why it's not being corrected.

Allowing the oil industry to hastily compose most of ANCSA (1968-71) created a lopsided situation that hurt many people. The so-called "at-large" Sealaska shareholders are worse off than the landless. And there were those who where left out altogether because they were misinformed or simply didn't know what was going on. Most believed that land claims were going to be equal for all Alaska Natives.

If you are a landless shareholder, make sure you tell your representatives what your family considers an equal settlement, and remember we're asking for profit-making businesses, not reservations. And a final word to the new directors of the nonprofits: Mail-outs to shareholders are rarely successful, which is why Sealaska pays $25 per proxy, and still had to lower the voting standard. Sealaska provides a list of those names to anybody running for their board of directors, so it should be available to you.

• John Perkins is a Juneau resident and member of the Southeast Alaska Landless Society.

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