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NPS in Alaska Before 1972

current topic ANCSA

Response to ANCSA, 1971-1973


NPS in Alaska, 1973-1980





The National Park Service and the
Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980: Administrative History

Chapter Two:
The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act
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A. Statehood Grants

The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 provided for 43,585,000 acres of new national parklands in Alaska; the addition of 53,720,000 acres to the National Wildlife Refuge System; twenty-five wild and scenic rivers, with twelve more to be studied for that designation; establishment of Misty Fjords and Admiralty Island national monuments in Southeast Alaska; establishment of Steese National Conservation Area and White Mountain National Recreation Area to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management; the addition of 56,400,000 acres to the Wilderness Preservation System, and the addition of 3,350,000 acres to Tongass and Chugach national forests. It was, many believe, the most significant single piece of legislation in the history of conservation in the United States. In Alaska it represented, too, a significant step in the disposition of public lands in the state. [1]

In 1958, when Congress passed the Alaska statehood bill after nearly two decades of lobbying by Alaskans, federal land reserves in the new state totaled 92,400,000 acres. Twenty million acres were in national forests, 23,000,000 acres in a naval petroleum reserve above the Arctic Circle, more than 27,000,000 acres in power reserves, 7,800,000 acres in wildlife refuges, and in excess of 7,500,000 acres in national parks and monuments. The federal government was, additionally, trustee for more than 4,000,000 acres of Indian reservations. Only 700,000 acres in Alaska had been patented to private individuals, while another 600,000 acres were pending. The unreserved public domain consisted of 271,800,000 acres. [2]

Two questions that emerged in the debate over Alaska statehood are particularly relevant here. What could be done, Congress asked, to guarantee that the new state would survive economically? A second, and even more vexing question, was one Congress had avoided in the past—what to do about the land claims of the Native peoples of Alaska.

In an effort to provide the new state with a sound economic base, Congress proved to be generous by any standard. Alaska received the right to select 102,550,000 acres from the public domain, 400,000 acres from national forest land in Southeast and 400,000 acres from the public domain for community expansion, and 200,000 acres of university and school lands to be held in trust by the state. Congress also confirmed earlier federal grants to the territory that amounted to 1,000,000 acres. [3] Congress gave Alaska the right to select an area of land roughly the size of California—larger than that given all the other western states combined. [4]

Moreover, Alaska could select mineral lands as part of its statehood grant, although the mineral rights transferred would be unalienable—that is they could be leased, but not sold. Finally, Congress gave Alaska a larger share of the mineral lease revenues on the public domain than any other state. [5]

Natives—Aleuts, Eskimos, and Indians—made up some twenty percent of the population of Alaska in 1960. Although they were a minority of the population as a whole, they did constitute a majority in some 200 communities and villages spread across the face of rural Alaska. A considerable majority lived a subsistence lifestyle similar to that of their ancestors. Congress had, according to a 1963 report, sidestepped the question of their rights in the land for more than seventy years. An added difficulty Congress faced during the statehood debate was the existence of three Alaska cases then pending before the Court of Claims. [8]

The Natives were unorganized in the late 1950s. Most lived in small, isolated villages spread across Alaska. As a result, the question of their rights in the land was not one that Congress dwelled on during a statehood debate. After some discussion, the statehood act did include a provision in the law that merely reaffirmed the right of Congress to settle the Alaska Natives' claims in the land:

As a compact with the United States, said State and its people do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to any lands or other property not granted or confirmed to the state or the political subdivisions by or under the authority of this Act, the right or title to which is held by the United States or is subject to disposition by the United States, and to any lands or other property (including fishing rights), the right or title to which may be held by Indians, Eskimos, or Aleuts . . . or is held by the United States in trust for said Natives, shall be and remain under the absolute jurisdiction and control of the United States until disposed of under its authority, except to such extent as the Congress had prescribed or may hereafter prescribe, and except when held by individual Natives in fee without restrictions or alienation. [9]

Chapter Two continues with...
Native Land Claims


Last Modified: Tues, Jan 9 2001 10:08 am PDT

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