Gov. Mike Dunleavy has taken another poke at new Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to hold the post.

Following Haaland’s recent announcement that she will delay release of federal lands that would have been available for Native allotments for veterans who are Alaska Native, Dunleavy has decided to make state lands available.

It’s likely a better deal for Native veterans because the state lands would be more accessible than the lands made available under the federal program now on hold. The federal lands were in remote parts of the state, including in Northwest Alaska and the Seward Peninsula.

The governor has proposed an amendment to his state lands legislation, SB 97 and HB 120, now pending in the Legislature, that would make state lands available to veterans.

“For decades the Alaska Native Vietnam Veterans’ land allotment was left unresolved. At long last, the federal government did the right thing in 2019 by giving Alaska Native Vietnam Veterans who were fighting for their country during the original application period a second chance to apply for a land allotment” Dunleavy said in his announcement. “Unfortunately, at the same time, the federal government limited these vets to selecting allotments from small areas hundreds of miles from their homes. When the federal government does not stand up for our vets, I will.”

The governor’s proposal uses state land to fulfill a promised land allotment to Alaska Natives who missed the opportunity while serving in the Vietnam War. Currently, 1,957 veterans or their next of kin remain eligible for a land allotment.

“What the governor and the state of Alaska are proposing today to actually help Alaska Native Vietnam-era veterans stands in stark contrast to the Biden administration’s shameful recent decisions to hurt these deserving Alaska heroes,” said Alaska U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan.

“It’s clear that the governor and his team are thinking creatively and proposing solutions to bring justice to Alaska Native veterans that has eluded them for decades.”

Haaland’s recent decision took 28 million acres of federal land off the table for the veterans to choose from by imposing a two-year stay in publishing several previously-approved public land orders in Alaska. “Secretary Haaland personally committed to me to help these Alaska Native Vietnam-era veterans,” Sullivan continued. “The fact that the Department of the Interior recently put the interests of radical green environmental groups over the interests of these American Vietnam-era veterans and countless other Alaskans is shameful.” 

In 1906 Congress established the Alaska Native Allotment Act, promising Alaska Natives tracts of “vacant, unappropriated, and unreserved non-mineral” land of up to 160 acres if they could prove “continuous use and occupancy” of the land for five years.

The program’s original restrictions prevented many Alaska Natives from applying until the 1960s, just as many of today’s veterans were deployed to the Vietnam War. About 13,000 land allotments were awarded in the 1960s. However, the program was ended following the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971, before many of the 3,000 Alaska Native veterans returned from deployment in Vietnam.

Congress passed the Alaska Native Vietnam Veteran Allotment Act in 1998, allowing 255 Alaska Native Vietnam Veterans to apply for 160 acres of land. In 2019, President Donald Trump signed the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act, which allowed any Alaska Native Vietnam Veteran who served from Aug. 5, 1964 through Dec. 31, 1971, and who previously did not receive a Native allotment, to apply for up to 160 acres of federal land.

On April 16, 2021, the Biden Administration took action to delay the release of 28 million acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in Alaska for two years, leaving only 1.5 million acres of mostly unusable and undesirable land open for selection for qualified applicants, the governor said

“An Alaska Native Vietnam Veteran from Southeast Alaska should have been allowed to select an allotment from the 19 million acres of federal land in the Tongass National Forest. Just as an Alaska Native Vietnam Veteran from the North Slope region should be able to select from the millions of acres the Trump Administration made available for selection,” Dunleavy said.“The Biden Administration’s recent decision to withdraw those lands is disrespectful to our veterans… This amendment serves as a solution to give our valued vets the chance to finally receive their promised allotment and exchange it for land near their home region.”

SB 97 and HB 120 were introduced in March. SB 97 has been heard and passed out of the Senate Resources Committee, and is currently in the Senate Finance Committee. The House companion bill, HB 120, is in House Resources Committee.

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