Congressman Don Young’s subcommittee on Native affairs took testimony Thursday on a bill to re-open land allotment selections for Alaska Natives who served in the military during the Vietnam War. The right of Alaska Natives to acquire allotments of up to 160 acres comes from a 1906 law. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act ended that opportunity for most in 1971. But Native leaders have said for years that many Vietnam-era vets missed out because they were serving elsewhere when the application period closed.
Young’s been making that argument in Congress for years, too.
“I mean how many time have I introduced this bill? I think five times. Passed it twice, or some crazy thing.”
In 1998 Congress passed a bill to re-open the selection period, giving certain Vietnam vets 18 months to apply. Young says, in hindsight, that bill was too restrictive; It only covered those serving for three years of the war.
Nelson Angapak, an Army vet and long-time Native leader, testified Thursday in favor of another open period for vets, this time with more land to choose from.
“Our research indicated that 49 of our veterans living in Southeast Alaska applied for our Native allotments and every one of those applications were denied, primarily because of the existence of the Tongass National Forest.”
Ditto, Angapak says, for applicants in the Cook Inlet, Chugach and Arctic Slope regions.
Young’s bill is sure to be controversial because it would allow selections within the state’s two national forests and in wildlife refuges.