"The Nixon Claims Bill Introduced"

by Chris Carlson

Anchorage Daily News, April 7, 1971, p. 1


Washington — The Nixon administration’s Alaska Native land claims bill officially surfaced Tuesday as Secretary of the Interior Rogers C.B. Morton sent the proposal to Capitol Hill.

As expected, the bill provides a total land grant of 40 million acres to the Alaska Natives, a $1 billion settlement, and it makes the Native village the dominant unit in the land settlement.

The proposal also recommends retention of a corporate structure for disbursement of the monetary settlement, and provides that the Natives have both surface and mineral rights to the 40 million acres.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R–Alaska, who, along with Secretary Morton played a prominent role in getting the administration to adopt a much more flexible position, called the bill "a landmark—it’s the first time all parties have agreed in principle to a settlement."

Secretary Morton said "we believe we have developed a plan that will honor our national trustership responsibilities to these more than 50,000 Americans whose claims pre-date the United States Acquisition of Alaska from Russia in 1867."

Included in the Interior Department’s proposal are provisions for a federal cash contribution of $25 million a year for 20 years, which total $500 million. The remaining $500 million, as in the Senate’s bill, is provided for by a 2 per cent over-riding royalty on mineral leases from both federal and state lands. The state, however, will pay the bulk of the amount.

The bill’s strong point is considered to be the emphasis upon the right of each village to select the lands it needs and uses instead of having a regional corporation dictate the selection.

Under the Interior proposal, 25 townships will be withdrawn around each Native village, except in the Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4 and the wildlife refuge, where only 9 townships will be withdrawn. A township contains 23,040 acres.

Each Native village will then be entitled to patent the surface estate in which the village is located plus three contiguous townships to be selected by the village within the 25 township range. Thus each village will be guaranteed the surface rights to 92,160 acres.

The mineral rights in each township the Natives select would go to the proposed Native development corporation, which would be controlled by a 17-member all-Native board of directors elected by the Native stockholders. Each enrolled Native would receive 10 shares of stock.

One board member would be elected from each of the 12 Native regions and five members would be elected at large.

The corporation will designate the remaining acreage necessary to reach the total of 40 million acres from within the remaining 21 townships withdrawn around each village, excluding the Naval Petroleum Reserve and the wildlife refuge.

A provision also provides that Native individuals living outside the 25 townships would be entitled to a patent by the secretary of 160 acres on the surface estate on which they live.

Other provisions of the bill would provide for a three-member commission to be appointed by the President and that Natives would not be excluded from serving on the commission. The commission would prepare a roll of Natives born on or before December 31, 1970, and living on effective date of the act.

The land-freeze provision of the Senate bill would also be dropped as this bill defines the "public lands" from which the Natives could select as lands which the state has not already patented or tentatively approved land for the state. Also, the tentatively approved utility and transportation corridor—a swath of land 12 miles wide following the route of the proposed Alaskan pipeline—would be excluded from Native selection.

Sen. Stevens, while saying that the bill was an improvement over the Senate’s bill, said he did have some reservations about the administration proposal—particularly the competitive leasing proposal on mineral rights which the smaller oil companies oppose.

Stevens also said he disliked the provision which says that the state will lose its rights to further land selections if it files suit against the bill.

The Republican senator was most pleased, however, because the bill meets the needs of the particular Native villages. He termed it "the genius of the bill."

Sen. Mike Gravel, D–Alaska, was out of town and unavailable for comment.

Both senators, however, are expected to speak further on the bill at the Senate Interior Committee’s Native land claims hearing which have now been rescheduled for April 29.

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