The Sealaska Corp. newsletter sent in October featured a story called "Southeast Lands Bill: Fulfillment of a Promise to Alaska Natives: Good for the Economies, Good for the Environment."
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The U.S. government owes Sealaska Corp. 85,000 acres of land to fulfill its obligation to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The act promised that the Native people of Southeast Alaska would gain ownership of productive, culturally significant lands.
With that said, there are four landless communities that were left out of any entitled land claims: Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg and Tennakee Springs. These communities are Tlingit villages.
I will speak to Ketchikan land claims history. Ketchikan belongs to the Taan ta Kwaan (Sea Lion People), known as the Tongass Tribe. Saanya Kwaan (Cape Fox People) gifted Ketchikan Creek area to the Gaanax adi Clan as a wedding gift, before the non-Native encroachment began.
Ketchikan was a Tlingit summer fish camp. Tongass Tribe had winter village's at one time on Annette Island (where Metlakatla is today), Village Island, Tongass Island, Duke Island, Long Island and Prince of Wales Island.
Now 35 years later, since the land claim act passed, regional corporations and village corporations have been formed. It is our turn to have a village corporation in Ketchikan!
Tongass Tribe is one of the oldest tribes in the Tlingit Nation. Tongass Tribe has aboriginal rights to Ketchikan and to all surrounding lands. Why didn't Ketchikan get village corporation status 35 years ago?
I don't know, but I suspect we didn't have any representation before the act was passed in 1971. Regardless, Tongass Tribe is entitled to its share of lands owed by the federal government.
It is my opinion, that regional and village corporations were formed to extract all our natural resources: timber, oil, minerals and fish by non-Native interests.
Sealaska shareholders have not benefited from our corporation! We wait twice a year for our meager dividend check that is mostly supported by 7(i) revenue sharing by other regional corporation's in the state of Alaska.
Do you know where your Sealaska Corp. lands are? I don't. Have you ever walked on your so-called Native lands? I haven't.
We want land that belongs to the Tongass Tribe. We want land that we can build houses on, land that we can walk on, land that rightfully belongs to us, land that we have control of, and land to save for future generations of Tongass Tribe members. Finally, we want land to save all our natural resources to perpetuate our people's future if we want too.
It is my opinion, that future procurement of Native land claims from the federal government should go to traditional tribes rather than Sealaska Corp. Tongass Tribe has been reorganized to conduct business since 1986 and meets on a regular basis or as problems arise to discuss or vote on. At the very least, the tribe should get an opportunity for village corporation status. Taan ta Kwaan Inc.
I know that having a new village corporation in Ketchikan will be good for economic development and creates a lot of jobs not just for our shareholders but for everybody directly or indirectly involved.
It would be in the best interest to everyone involved to let the owed land claims go through its processes. We will argue later on how we should develop or divide the land up. Thirty-five years of waiting is almost over.
Don Hoff Jr. is a former Ketchikan vice mayor and councilman. He lives in Hixson, Tenn.
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