You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
Community Perspective

Land delay is a slap in the face to Alaska Native Vietnam vets

  • Comments

They have waited long enough — and they are dying.

It is no secret that throughout Alaska’s history, the federal government has gone to great lengths to lock up huge swathes of Alaska land. In a deeply troubling move last Friday, the Biden administration announced under Public Land Order 7899, that it has delayed a program that gives qualified Alaska Native Vietnam veterans the opportunity to select a plot of federal land in Alaska. After a 50-year wait, these lands were supposed to be released in February of this year, only to be delayed another two years.

A brief history

Under the Alaska Native Allotment Act of 1906, land transfers between 2.5 and 160 acres of “vacant, unappropriated, and unreserved non-mineral” land was first authorized for individual Alaska Natives who could prove “continuous use and occupancy” of the land for five years.

The program existed for 65 years before it was repealed in 1971 with the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). ANCSA granted large land allotments to newly formed Native Corporations who then assumed the responsibility of granting land allocations to their individual members as the organizations saw fit.

It would take another 10 years to settle all the pending land claims made prior to ANCSA, but the federal application period for individual Alaska Natives to apply ended in December 1971 with ANCSA’s passage.

How does this affect Alaska Native Veterans?

During the Vietnam War, 2,800 Alaska Natives served in the military — a higher rate per capita than any other group. Since the conflict did not end until 1973, both voluntary and conscripted service members were unable to apply for land before the deadline.

After years of advocacy, these Alaska Native Veterans were finally given that opportunity once again under the 1998 Alaska Native Vietnam Veterans Allotment Act, which authorized a new 18-month filing period for qualifying Alaska Native Veterans to apply for up to 160 acres of Alaska land.

But 20 more years of delay ensued. Eligible veterans began passing away. In response, the Alaska Congressional delegation worked to include within the President Trump-signed John D. Dingell Jr. Act of 2019 provisions to extend eligibility to qualified veterans and their heirs. These provisions also removed a five-year occupancy requirement — freeing applicants to apply for available lands anywhere in the state.

These lands all over the state would have been made available for selection on Feb. 19 — just a few months shy of 50 years after the passage of ANCSA, which initially closed the application period. But, once again, the service of these men and women is being “rewarded” by the Biden administration with an additional two-year halt to the program.

A trail of broken promises

Alaska has contributed over 60 percent of its lands to the federal government for conservation purposes. And yet, after 60 years, the federal government continues to break the promises it made to Alaskans in exchange for that land. The Biden administration reneging the commitment of past administrations to Alaska Native Veterans is just the most recent instance in a long history of broken promises — and at the worst possible time with record unemployment, a state budget crisis, and a global pandemic.

As a veteran, I deeply appreciate the sacrifices and dedication required to serve our nation — all the more present in those who served during the Vietnam Era. The continued disrespect that is being shown to those who served honorably makes my heart ache.

How is it fair to now tell these Alaskan Native Veterans to ‘pound sand’ after decades of waiting? Why must they pay for someone else’s campaign promises?

As Alaskans and Americans, we owe these veterans far more than a debt of gratitude for the blood, sweat and tears they’ve given to this country. We owe them the land that was promised. And while we may not be able to turn back the clock and make these veterans whole, in the immortal words of Dr. King, “the time is always right to do what’s right.”

Do what is right, Mr. President.

Click Bishop is a Fairbanks Republican and co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He represents UAF and University West, Chena Ridge, Cantwell, Nenana, Tanana, Kenny Lake, Tok and Copper Center.

Josh Revak is an Anchorage Republican and chairman of the Senate Resources Committee. He represents Huffman, O’Malley, Abbott Loop, Independence Park and East Dowling.

Guidelines

The Daily News-Miner encourages residents to make themselves heard through the Opinion pages. Readers' letters and columns also appear online at newsminer.com. Contact the editor with questions at letters@newsminer.com or call 459-7574.

Community Perspective

Send Community Perspective submissions by mail (P.O. Box 70710, Fairbanks AK 99707) or via email (letters@newsminer.com). Submissions must be 500 to 750 words. Columns are welcome on a wide range of issues and should be well-written and well-researched with attribution of sources. Include a full name, email address, daytime telephone number and headshot photograph suitable for publication (email jpg or tiff files at 150 dpi.) You may also schedule a photo to be taken at the News-Miner office. The News-Miner reserves the right to edit submissions or to reject those of poor quality or taste without consulting the writer.

Letters to the editor

Send letters to the editor by mail (P.O. Box 70710, Fairbanks AK 99707), by fax (907-452-7917) or via email (letters@newsminer.com). Writers are limited to one letter every two weeks (14 days.) All letters must contain no more than 350 words and include a full name (no abbreviation), daytime and evening phone numbers and physical address. (If no phone, then provide a mailing address or email address.) The Daily News-Miner reserves the right to edit or reject letters without consulting the writer.

Submit your news & photos

Let us know what you're seeing and hearing around the community.