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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce unique legislation to remedy a clear mistake by the Federal Government that affects only a single person, an Army veteran, formerly from Alaska, now living in Idaho, who for the past nearly 40 years has been trying to get the Federal Government to remedy an inequity that has affected him, but also has impacts on his family.

While Congress is struggling to find solutions for the economic and health care problems of all 311 million Americans and a means to fund the Federal Government, I hope we also can find the time to right a wrong for a single man and his family.

The issue briefly is that Michael Faber, a Tsimshian Indian whose family has long roots in Southeast Alaska, initially had been granted membership/stock in 1973 in the Sealaska Native Regional Corp., the corporation made up of Southeast Alaska Natives formed as a result of the aboriginal land claims settlement between the Federal Government and Alaska Natives accomplished through passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, ANCSA, of 1971. Because of a clerical error by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the early 1970s Mr. Faber was shifted without cause or his permission to the out-of-state 13th Regional Corporation in late 1976. For decades Mr. Faber has been trying to win reinstatement to the Sealaska Corp., a request the corporation has endorsed, but that the Federal Government, and now seemingly the Federal courts, have decided can't happen without Congress expressly authorizing his reenrollment.

The legislation I offer today, which to my knowledge is supported by everyone possibly connected to this case, will do nothing but right an error by our government that never should have happened. It is a bill that affects a sole individual, which I know is something that has become unpopular on Capitol Hill in recent years. But Congress early in history provided an avenue for passage of legislation to provide relief for individuals who are the victims of an injustice. In fact, it was once relatively common for Congress to pass such legislation. There were hundreds of such bills approved between 1817 and 1971. Admittedly just one was approved last year, when Nigerian student, Sopuruchi ``Victor'' Chukwueke, became the first person in two years to win a private relief bill so he could stay in the United States on an expired visa and gain a path to permanent residency so he could enter medical school in Ohio. Mr. Faber's case is even more worthy of approval because this bill simply remedies a mistake clearly caused by a Federal agency.

This issue stems from the fact that during the original enrollment process following passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, Michael Faber enrolled in the Sealaska Corporation, the tenth of the thirteen corporations created by the Act, along with his father, Clyde Benjamin Faber, his brother Gary Dennis Faber and his sister Debra Marlene Faber. Michael Faber's enrollment was approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and he received Sealaska share number 13-752-39665-01, and an initial 100 shares of stock in the Sealaska Corporation. The family lived in Metlakatla, Alaska prior to passage of the claims act, and by the time of implementation of the act had moved to Juneau, AK.

In the mid-1960s Mr. Faber joined the U.S. Army and was stationed in Germany. At some point in 1976, while Mr. Faber was on duty with the Army, and consequently had an out-of-Alaska mailing address, someone in BIW apparently moved to shift his enrollment from the Sealaska Corp. to the then newly created 13th Corporation. That corporation was intended to serve the needs of Alaska Natives living outside of Alaska.

Under the law, Mr. Faber was sent a ballot that he was required to sign to accept the shift in enrollment. However, he never received the ballot; it was returned to BIA--unopened and unsigned. Mr. Faber had been badly injured during his military service and, in early 1976, was in and out of rehabilitation hospitals and clinics at different locations. By late 1976, Mr. Faber spent 19 months in a military hospital in Texas recovering from severe burns. Unfortunately, someone at BIA went ahead, and without Mr. Faber's legal approval, administratively completed the enrollment shift. Mr. Faber eventually was placed on the military's Temporary Disability Retirement List, TDRL, and then was involved in years of post-service counseling. It wasn't until after his recovery that he fully realized he had been shifted from Sealaska to the 13th Corporation, and it was then that he began his effort to be reenrolled in the Sealaska Corp.

The record indicates that during the 1990s BIA acknowledged it made an error in shifting Mr. Faber's enrollment without his written approval. Unfortunately, by then BIA believed it did not have the legal authority to reenroll Mr. Faber in the Sealaska Corporation shareholder rolls. Over the years, Mr. Faber won a resolution of support by the Sealaska Corporation's Board of Directors. The resolution welcomed his reinstatement to that corporation. He filed in U.S. District Court in Idaho a request for a writ ordering BIA to change his enrollment back to membership in Sealaska. In late 2012, however, a Federal judge in Idaho encouraged all parties to dismiss the suit without prejudice. Accordingly, there is no avenue for this injustice to be rectified without congressional authorization of Mr. Faber's reenrollment in the Sealaska Corp.

This case has been complicated by the fact that Mr. Faber moved back to the community of Metlakatla, Alaska in the mid-1990s to work as the Executive Director of the Metlakatla Housing Authority. The complication is that residents of Metlakatla, the main community on the Annette Island Indian Reservation, were allowed by ANCSA to maintain their reservation status--the only reservation in the state to be reauthorized by the claims settlement act. But in return, members of the Metlakatla Indian Community were required to denounce other ANCSA benefits. This legislation, to prevent any precedents and to clarify the factual record, not only requires Mr. Faber to surrender or abrogate any possible membership in the Metlakatla Indian Community before his enrollment in the Sealaska Corp. can take effect, but also in no way alters the Section 19(a) provisions of ANCSA involving Metlakatla reservation status.

Mr. Faber has been waiting for nearly 40 years for someone to champion his quest to be restored to the Sealaska Corp., a legacy he wants largely for the benefit of his children. This legislation will allow Mr. Faber retroactive benefits only to 2011. In that year, Sealaska's board voted to welcome Mr. Faber back to its membership. It also voted to support the legislation. The bill sets no precedents for other Natives to seek changes in their ANCSA enrollments because of the unique and singular nature of the clerical error that was responsible for this change in enrollment status in the first place. This bill will simply treat Mr. Faber and his descendants humanely and formally recognize their legal and cultural status as Alaska Natives.

I hope that Congress will see fit to pass this bill promptly--truly the right and just result.


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