ANCSA's confused settlement for Native groups

ANCSA's Confused Settlement for Native Groups, "The Council," June 1983, v. 8, p.8. Used with permission of Tanana Chiefs Conference for educational purposes only.

A report on ANCSA Native groups was researched by George Tobuk as part of the Interior Region Post-ANCSA Impact Analysis. This summary is part of a series of articles covering the major issues of that report.

ANCSA Section 14(h)(2) provided for a land entitlement for groups of Natives that were too small to qualify as a village corporation. While tribes were required to have at least 25 members to establish legal status, 3 or more people could file as a "group" for up to 23,040 acres. Actual acreage would be determined by the number of people in the groups.

Controversy has surrounded Section 14(h)(2) since the claims act passed in 1971. BLM and BIA, two interior department agencies charged with implementing the act, have imposed eligibility requirements to ensure that group applications are handled the way Congress intended. Those requirements have set residency standards that have made 14(h)(2) unworkable.

Native groups are defined as settlements that fell short of the 25 residents required to file as a village corporation under ANCSA. The Doyon Region includes nine Native groups with a total of 123 people.

These small Native groups are made up of people living near old mining claims, trading posts or Native settlements. Traditionally nomadic, Natives traveled to various areas according to the seasons to harvest fish, meat and furs.

Congress intended that those small groups still living near camps established by their nomadic ancestors should be entitled to land under the claims act.

ANCSA was vague about defining those groups and the interior department has sought to establish guidelines based on residency. Processing group applications has been slow even though the Department of the Interior is determined to implement ANCSA rapidly. This inefficiency is caused by confusion about residency requirements needed to achieve group status. BIA and BLM regulations impose more residency constraints on Native groups than they do on village corporations. A 1978 regulation required group members to have lived at the group's locality continuously since 1970.

Native group applicants must specify their location, membership and use of the land. BIA determines if the group actually lived in the area and if those members are the majority of the area's residents. Members must live in permanent homes in a community composed of more than a single family.

Secretary of the Interior James Watt eased some of these requirements in June 1982 so that ANCSA's intentions for Native groups could be met more readily. The law no longer requires that members of Native groups must have lived in a specific place since 1970.

But Native groups still face frustration when applying for their land entitlement. No Native group in the Doyon Region has yet been found eligible. A group of 45 Natives claimed land near Wiseman even though few members had ever lived in the area. They based their claim on the traditional use of that land by their families. The group chose land near Wiseman but the selection was rejected because it was within the pipeline corridor withdrawal.

Alexander Creek in the Cook Inlet region is the only one of 31 statewide applicants for group status to be found eligible. It was incorporated as a Native group under Section 1432 of the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

This act proves that ANCSA Section 14(h)(2) is awkward and so far unworkable. Another congressional act was needed to effect Alexander Creek's recognition as a group. The only group to gain eligibility did so by special legislation, not under provisions of ANCSA. Alexander Creek has received no final land conveyance.


[Alaskool Home]