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Bill introduced to grant Southeast Native lands

Fifty years after being left out of the original 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, a bill has been introduced to the U.S. Senate to grant land to landless Native groups. If passed, over 23,000 acres from the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska would be granted to five new Native corporations in five Southeast communities.

The Sealaska Regional Corporation would maintain sub-surface rights to the land while the village corporations would maintain surface rights, and the bill includes land selections that differ between the U.S. Senate and U.S. House bills. For more, read Alaska Public Media’s coverage.

State of Alaska loses lawsuit challenging hunting rights

In December, a federal judge denied a permanent injunction the State of Alaska pursued against the Federal Subsistence Board opening emergency hunts during the Covid-19 pandemic. The State of Alaska sought to block the Federal Subsistence Board from working with the Organized Village of Kake, a federally recognized Tribe, in an emergency hunt.

“As Alaska Native people, we are only too familiar with the devastation that disease and epidemics can cause to our communities,” said President of the Organized Village of Kake Tribal Council Joel Jackson. “The State of Alaska’s lawsuit is an attack on the right of our people to continue our traditional way of life. Our Tribe is determined to join this lawsuit to defend ourselves and our subsistence way of life.” Learn more from the Native American Rights Fund.

Alaska Native Vietnam War Veterans receive land allotments

After finalizing the Alaska Native Vietnam-era Veteran Land Allotment Program in November, Alaska Native veterans have started to receive land allotments of up to 160 acres. The program was established in 2019, and allotments can be applied for through 2025.

While Alaska Native people were able to apply for land allotments through December of 1971, when the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was passed, military service members serving in Vietnam were often unable to apply for land before the deadline, as the war went through 1973.

“The Department (of the Interior) will continue to move forward expeditiously so that Alaska Native Vietnam-era veterans are able to select the land allotments they are owed, with an expansive selection area,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (Pueblo of Laguna.)

Federal process established to review and replace derogatory names

In November, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (Pueblo of Laguna) announced a process to review and replace derogatory names—particularly those named after derogatory Native words and phrases—on geographic features in the nation.
‘Our nation’s lands and waters should be places to celebrate the outdoors and our shared cultural heritage—not to perpetuate the legacies of oppression .’
Deb Haaland
U.S. Secretary of the Interior
(Pueblo of Laguna)
A Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force was created that includes representatives from federal land management agencies, as well as diversity, equity and inclusion experts. An Advisory Committee on Reconciliation in Place Names was also established with representation from American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations.

“Racist terms have no place in our vernacular or on our federal lands. Our nation’s lands and waters should be places to celebrate the outdoors and our shared cultural heritage—not to perpetuate the legacies of oppression,” said Sec. Haaland.

Read more on the Department of the Interior release.

Covid-19 pandemic disproportionately impacting Native people, communities of color

A poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health that communities of color, including American Indian and Alaska Native communities, struggled disproportionately with negative outcomes during the Covid-19 pandemic. Many, if not most, of the social and health issues were stressors to these communities prior to the pandemic, but the nearly two-year pandemic has exacerbated the issues further.

NPR reports “74% of American Indian and Alaska Natives… said someone in their household has struggled with depression, anxiety, stress and problems with sleeping.”

Yet they also report that Native communities had unique, and even stronger, methods of coping than their non-Native counterparts, and culture has been something highly beneficial to the health and healing of Native communities.