Almost a decade ago, Van Ness Feldman’s Alan Mintz started drafting a piece of legislation intended to resolve and finalize the indigenous land claims of Sealaska Corporation. Today, at around 5 p.m., the U.S. Senate passed that legislation as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, on a vote of 89-11. It now goes to the President for his signature.
The firm serves as Washington, DC counsel to Sealaska, the regional Native Corporation for southeastern Alaska (which includes 20,000 Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian tribal member shareholders), representing the company on government relations matters before Congress and federal agencies. The legislation authorizes Sealaska to select 70,000 acres of land in the Tongass National Forest in fulfillment of Sealaska’s indigenous land entitlement, established under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. The legislation is a key component of the company’s plans for future growth, providing lands with natural resource value. But the legislation is crucial as well to fulfilling the cultural and social wellbeing of Sealaska’s tribal member shareholders, granting Sealaska the right to select and preserve dozens of sacred sites and to select sites near Native villages that can be utilized for community development. The legislation passed after more than seven years of hearings, public meetings, and negotiations with the regional timber and fishing industries, sportsmen’s groups, environmental groups, more than a dozen communities, the State of Alaska, and the Bush and Obama Administrations.