Sealaska reviewing comments about lands bill

Ketchikan, Alaska (AP) April 2010

A Native American corporation has been reviewing comments received from community meetings held to discuss the Sealaska lands bill, which would allow the corporation to choose lands outside the boundaries of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

Sealaska is looking at proposed changes to the bill in Congress that would enable it to finalize its land entitlements. Jaeleen Araujo, Sealaska vice president and general counsel, told a Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce that the corporation wanted to hear about concerns on specific sites so they could work with people to resolve issues.

Sealaska has held several community meetings and Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s staff was in Southeast Alaska gaining comments from community members on the bill in March, including a couple of meetings at Edna Bay and Port Protection.

Judy Magnuson, the community secretary for Port Protection, said that a meeting in her community was attended by about 40 people, with more than half commenting against to the bill. She said no one spoke in favor of it.

“We feel it’s not the best thing for Southeast Alaska, and the selection next to us is not the best thing for us,” she said. “We feel it will pretty sure mean the destruction of our community.”

The proposed changes to the bill include adding around 3,600 acres for cultural and sacred sites and 5,000 acres to develop new business opportunities. Also included, are 80,000 acres of land on Prince of Wales island for future timber development.

At the Chamber lunch, Ketchikan resident Joe Johnston asked whether Sealaska would honor existing permits issued by the U.S. Forest Service to businesses.

Araujo said there is a provision to honor the permits until they expire. She said a provision was being drafted to guarantee the permits’ renewal as long as the permit holder meets the standard under the Forest Service permit program.

She encouraged people who had specific questions about certain sites to contact Sealaska so they know of the concerns

“We need to hear from people to see if we can work out something,” Araujo said. “We don’t want one site to jeopardize the bill.”