"Claims Fill Disappointing: Strong General Note of Dissatisfaction on Latest Claims Bill"

By Susan Taylor

Staff Writer

Tundra Times, May 20, 1970, p.1.

 

Native leaders sounded a strong note of disappointment to the latest version of the Alaska land claims bill agreed upon by the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs.

Their complaints centered on the land provisions which after several changes in the original draft are still considered to be "inadequate."

The inadequacy of the land provisions, first vice-president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, John Borbridge, said will undoubtedly have a major impact on the future of the Alaska natives and "their inadequacy during these enlightened times is an affront to the people of the land whose dependence upon and use of the land is a continuous thing and not a thing of the past."

As unofficially reported out of the committee, the bill provides for 4.5 million acres of land in fee simple, including the mineral rights, plus the surface rights to 3.5 million acres.

Other major provisions provide a $500 million cash compensation and a 2 per cent share in oil and gas revenues until the amount of $500 million is reached.

Concerning land grants, the Alaska Federation of Natives had requested a total 8 million acres in fee simple, 2 million for timber selection and one million for mineral lands.

However, several changes were made in the original draft of the bill.

Natives living north of the Arctic Circle are to receive an additional 500,000 acres—an amount which, according to John Upicksoun is still not sufficient for the subsistence economy of much of the North Slope. Upicksoun is president of the Arctic Slope Native Association.

The Senators cannot seem to visualize or even understand the concept of an earth that does not yield what is planted in it but rather is valuable for its caribou and fish, he stressed. (Refer to article on editorial page for further details.)

The 4,000 natives represented by the association are asking for surface rights to 56 million acres—the amount now claimed by them on the basis of use and occupancy.

The committee also changed the formula for allocating land to the villages as requested by the AFN. Under the new draft all villages except those in Southeastern Alaska will be permitted to select up to one township for every 400 persons rather than a maximum of two townships for a village with more than 400 persons.

Provisions in the original draft providing for the termination of the Bureau of Indian Affairs within 5 to 13 years after passage and the elimination of the Public Health Service were also modified.

According to recent reports, after four years the Secretary of the Interior is instead directed to submit a proposed plan to Congress for an orderly transition of these services to the State.

Speaking for the AFN, Borbridge said that the organization's efforts in this area were successful. The AFN had sought modification to eliminate an automatic termination of the services.

In their request for mineral lands, Alaska's 55,000 natives did not fare quite so well.

As mentioned earlier, the AFN had requested one million acres of mineral lands. Fifty per cent of this amount was to be selected north of the Brooks Range.

Initially, Borbridge explained, the AFN had requested a two per cent perpetual royalty from oil and gas revenues. When the committee decided against this, he continued, and instead voted for the fixed dollar amount of $500 million in royalties; the AFN requested the one million acres of mineral lands as an alternative to the perpetual royalty.

The mineral lands would insure the natives a continuing share in the resources of the land to which they are relinquishing their claim and "would assure that a just settlement today would be considered a just settlement 10 to 50 years from today," he said.

According to the most recent draft of the bill, the only way natives can receive the one million acres of mineral lands is if the State of Alaska files a suit against the 2 per cent overriding royalty and wins.

Also, the AFN had requested that 50 per cent of the proceeds from these mineral lands go to the Arctic Slope Eskimos who now claim the oil rich lands of the North Slope.

In addition, these Eskimos were to be able to select 100,000 acres of land from anywhere on the North Slope including the Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4.

And, a separate corporation for the Arctic Slope Eskimos was to be established to handle the revenues from the mineral lands. The mineral rights for the 4.5 million acres of statewide village lands rest with a statewide corporation established by the bill, not with the immediate villages from which the mineral revenues are drawn.

According to Upicksoun, the Arctic Slope natives were seeking special consideration just as the Tlingit and Haidas and Tyonek Indians have for their valuable lands. The Tlingit and Haidas were awarded $7.5 million by the U.S. Court of Claims for forest lands taken from them by the government and the Tyonek Indians of Cook Inlet leased reservation lands to major oil companies for about $13 million.

The only special consideration shown the Arctic Slope group in the bill is the provision for an additional 500,000 acres on the North Slope with surface rights.

Eben Hopson, executive director of the AFN, strongly termed this provision a poor substitute for what was requested.

"The surface rights to 500,000 acres of land on the North Slope don't mean anything," he stressed.

"What can the North Slope do with 500,000 acres of land to which they have only the surface rights?"

They, in effect, now have such rights, he continued, subject to the State Fish and Game regulations which "we feel we are in a position, to some extent, to control through our elected representatives."

"And," he added, "there is absolutely no use in setting up a separate corporation for the North Slope Eskimos if, in fact, we are going to deal with nothing but surface rights. You've got to have something for the corporation to do."

It is expected that the bill will be reported to the Senate floor the last of May following final meetings of the committee.

Both Borbridge and Hopson said that they were not sure what action the AFN representatives will take once the bill reaches the floor of the Senate. The group could possibly seek an amendment on the floor but in doing so might open up other portions to amendment.

Hopson explained that the organization would probably "play the situation by ear" keeping in close touch with its Washington attorneys.

Once the bill reaches the House of Representatives, Hopson stressed that the AFN intends to try to improve the bill and press for more land.

Indications are, Borbridge said, that the House will be prepared to hold a hearing around the middle of June . . . bill that will be emerging out of the Senate.

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