Senator Begich Testifies on Behalf of Sealaska Lands Bill
Working to solve an overdue issue in Southeast Alaska, Sen. Mark Begich testified today before the Senate Energy Subcommittee on Public Lands. Advocating for the Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization Act (S.881) Begich, a co-Sponsor of the legislation, stressed that this bill can be part of a broader framework for new economic development in Southeast Alaska.
"As Alaskans, it is critical that we come to agreement on the issue of the Sealaska Lands bill and the larger issues of the future of the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest," Begich testified. "If we don't, they will be decided for us, and likely in the unpredictable outcomes of the court system."
The Sealaska Lands Bill presents the Sealaska Corporation a way to receive fair entitlement of the remaining lands claims owed to them and to help with their role as an important economic engine for Sealaska Alaska Natives and Southeast communities in general. The corporation is still owed up to 85,000 acres from the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971.
"With 40 years of hindsight, we can see that a number of restrictions placed on Sealaska's ability to select lands both increase the likelihood of community conflict and restrict their ability to engage in more sustainable economic development for the region," Begich testified. "The bill before you is an attempt by the Sealaska Corporation to achieve a balance in their remaining land selections."
In his testimony Begich thanked the Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the attention that it has paid to this issue. This has included two visits to Alaska by USDA Deputy Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment Jay Jensen. These visits have allowed the federal government to garner a better understanding of Southeast Alaska's needs and will help to facilitate broader discussion about Southeast Alaska's future.
Video of the testimony will be available on YouTube later in the day.