State hopes database will speed up Native land claims

The State of Alaska has created a database with more than 8 million acres of land listed in it to speed up the process of Alaska Native Allotment Act claims. The database, which will be shared with the Bureau of Land Management, is expected to help Alaska Natives whose claims have not been fulfilled because the federal land they selected was transferred to the state.

The Alaska Native Allotment Act was passed by Congress in 1906 and gave Alaska Natives the chance to acquire up to 160 acres of land. The act was discontinued in 1971 with the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, but claims filed before 1971 remain open until settled.

Marty Parsons, deputy director of mining, land and water at the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, said that the database would allow applicants with claims to state land to select new parcels. Many applicants have waited decades to have their land claim fulfilled because the land they selected is subject to a lengthy review process by the state.

“With a state-owned piece of land where we didn’t know there was an allotment in place, there may have been a land sale on the property or a legislatively designated claim placed on the property for some kind of research in the area,” Parsons said. “Those things make it more difficult for the state to reconvey it (to the federal government).”

To reconvey such a piece of property back to the federal government would require the state to research the land, allow public comment on the reconveyance, and eventually make a determination whether giving up the land is in the state’s best interest.

“We have to go through a ‘best interest finding’ like we would for the disposal of any state asset,” Parsons said. “In this instance, the state basically relinquishes its selection of selected lands, makes a notice to the public that it’s done so and that will allow (the Bureau of Land Management) to move forward with the certification.”

Applicants, or their heirs, are not required to select a new parcel of land to complete their claims.

The Department of Natural Resources is currently processing 102 pending allotment claims. Another 330 applications remain pending.