My Turn: Claims of inequity are untrue

Posted: Thursday, October 30, 2003

Buck Lindekugel's op-ed on the Cape Fox-Sealaska Berners Bay land exchange was right on when he said Cape Fox's claims of inequity were, at best, overblown and at worst were untrue.

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, ANCSA for short, did not envision that every Native corporation would receive lands of exactly equal value as every other Native corporation. Lands surrounding some villages, say in southern Southeast Alaska, would of necessity not be of equal development value as the lands around other villages, say those in northern Southeast Alaska, or indeed, as other regions of the state, such as the North Slope. It also didn't envision that all the lands selected by a village corporation would be selected for the sole purpose of development. The hope of ANCSA was that some of the lands traditionally valued by Native Alaskan communities for subsistence and cultural reasons would, through ANCSA, be forever in their ownership.

Now we have corporations such as Cape Fox and Huna Totem playing the inequity card as an excuse for land trades. It is interesting to note that Cape Fox Corporation complains that they got short-sheeted because they couldn't select lands close enough to the village of Saxman. Huna Totem Corporation, in contrast, claims they are disadvantaged because they had to select lands directly above the village of Hoonah. Now Huna Totem can't log them because their own shareholders, after seeing what the corporation has done to their other lands, are vehemently opposed to it. Sealaska Corporation, meanwhile, gives as one of their reasons for wanting to obtain lands in Berners Bay that they just don't have any in the Juneau area presently, and they would like to own land in all the areas of Southeast Alaska where their shareholders reside. Other communities should be as lucky as Juneau. Native corporations have clearcut and roaded and generally nuked their lands to such an extent that other communities in Southeast Alaska, Native or otherwise, are up in arms in regard to a Sealaska proposal to obtain more lands surrounding their towns and villages. Via another land exchange, of course. It is no surprise that the Auk Kwan also oppose Sealaska and Cape Fox corporations becoming owners of lands in Berners Bay. Sealaska gives as another reason for the Berners Bay land exchange that they want to protect the old village sites of the Auk Kwan and the cemeteries associated with them. The truth is that they already own many ancient village sites and their associated cemeteries around Southeast Alaska, including at least one in Berners Bay. If Sealaska wishes to obtain ownership of any other village sites that may exist there, no one is going to oppose that worthy goal.

That is as long as the Auk Kwan, whose ancestors are buried there, agree to it. Even with that agreement however, they wouldn't need 12,000 acres to accomplish their stated goal of protection when a hundred or two has sufficed in other areas. The only real rationale for the Cape Fox-Sealaska Berners Bay land exchange is that they have seen a political window of opportunity to exchange cutover lands, and subsurface rights of little or no value, for public lands they are speculating will be of very high value if the proposed Kensington gold mine and the Juneau access project go forward. The fact that these lands are also high-value wildlife habitat and important recreation areas for the citizens of Juneau apparently is not a concern for them.

• Mark Rorick is the chairman of the Juneau chapter of the Sierra Club.

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