"The Land Claims: Sen. Jackson Questions Nixon’s Bill"

by Chris Carlson

Anchorage Daily News, April 30, 1971, p. 1

Washington — Sen. Henry M. Jackson, D–Wash., has some grave doubts about the administration’s Alaska Native land claims bill and its large land settlement.

Secretary of the Interior Rogers C.B. Morton, on the other hand, calls the bill a "just and equitable settlement."

And the Alaska Federation of Natives wants a Native representative to sit in on the closed session which will ultimately decide what kind of bill the Senate will end up enacting.

All these developments crystallized here Thursday as the Senate Interior Committee opened its third hearing this year to discuss the various Alaska Native land claims bills.

In his opening statement, Sen. Jackson, the chairman of the Interior Committee, outlined the major areas of differences he detected in the contrasting land claims proposals. The final answers to the four questions he raised will do much to clarify the role Jackson will play in the final settlement.

Jackson asked about the differences relating "to the amount of land to be granted; the land selection process; the number and nature of the corporations which would administer the proceeds of the proposed settlement; and the treatment accorded nonresident Alaska Native people."

After Morton’s formal statement in which he merely summarized the Nixon administration’s bill, Jackson, in questioning zeroed in on what apparently worries him most.

"Do you see any problems in the Lower 48 states in the way of a precedent being established," Jackson asked. The Washington senator added he foresaw Indians in the contiguous states filing claims seeking new agreements, if such a generous land settlement were passed.

Morton replied "I hope this is not a precedent-setting piece of legislation." He added, though, there was no way he could guarantee "with or without this bill" that there wouldn't be other claims. "It won’t open a Pandora’s Box of other claims," Morton predicted.

He urged Jackson "not to let it become a precedent" and to "deal with it on its own merits." Jackson was not persuaded though.

The Washington senator in effect stated that all Indian claims would be decided only on a cash basis. A generous land settlement "would be contrary to the rules laid down in the Lower 48," Jackson said.

Assistant Interior Secretary Harrison Loesch assured Sen. Jackson that the basis of the Alaska Native claims was entirely different than others, that it was an aboriginal claim, as opposed to treaty violation claims in the Lower 48. He added, "I can’t guarantee it won’t reopen a clamor for other claim settlements."

Jackson also reminded the Interior Dept. delegation the IOC act had stipulated that the cash settlements to Indians be awarded on the basis of a land’s value at the time it was originally taken over and irrespective of anything that might lie underneath the land.

He pointed out that that could be just one or two cents an acre for the Alaska Natives, implying he felt the Natives lost the land when the United States bought Alaska from Russia in 1867.

Loesch pointed out to Jackson that the final bill would be the act which takes the Native’s land—"we’re today in the process of taking the land." Jackson said he thought the courts considered it a "constructive taking" as opposed to having just pushed the Indians out, as was done in earlier American history.

Another point on which Jackson questioned Morton at length was what the senator termed the administration’s "change of heart." He pointed out that last year the administration was only going to grant 10 to 14 million acres in surface rights to the Natives, whereas this year the administration is offering 40 million acres with complete title to surface and subsurface rights.

He also told Morton that last year the administration had assured him that revenue-sharing of the oil royalties was unconstitutional, whereas this year the administration endorses the idea. "Where’s the change?" he asked.

Morton termed it the result of "a change at the top," and said that last year’s position adopted by the Department of Interior when Walter Hickel was secretary, "did not reflect the President’s desire to see the Alaska Native land claims settled in a meaningful way."

Morton also assured Jackson that the statehood act was not endangered and that giving the Alaska Natives the right to select three townships around each village plus additional townships within a 25 township radius did not endanger the state’s selection rights. Under the bill the Natives could not select lands the state has tentatively selected.

AFN leader Don Wright, in his informal delivery, urged that the Interior Committee allow a Native to sit in on their executive session when the committee tries to adopt a final Senate bill. Wright felt that only a Native’s presence during the committee deliberations would insure that the committee was fully aware of what the Natives’ position was.

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