Published April 2020
By Joe Bovee, VP of Land & Resources
This is the first installment of a two-part series on Ahtna lands.
Congress passed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in December 1971, establishing twelve Regional Corporations and 220 Village Corporations across the State. Ahtna is one of the 12 Regional Corporations. In 1980, seven of the eight Village Corporations in the Ahtna Region merged with Ahtna.
Through the passage of ANCSA, Regional and Village Corporations were entitled to select lands. Some lands were not available for selection, including National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, National Defense Sites (except for surface lands within the National Petroleum Reserve), National Parks, and patented private and State lands – all prior to 1971 and the 1969 Federal “Land Freeze.” Because of these limitations, some Village and Regional Corporations were allowed to select land outside of their regions to make up the deficiency.
Village Corporations were entitled to select land based solely on population, except in southeast Alaska where Village Corporations were allowed to select only one township (23,040 acres) due to the Tlingit-Haida Settlement. Based on Native Village populations in 1971, the land entitlements for the Village Corporations in the Ahtna Region were as follows:
- 25-99 enrollees = 3 Townships – 69,120 acres (Cantwell, Chistochina, Gakona, Mentasta)
- 100-199 enrollees = 4 Townships – 92,160 acres (Gulkana, Tazlina)
- 200-399 enrollees = 5 Townships – 115,200 acres (Chitina, Copper Center)
There were several Villages in the Ahtna Region which did not meet the minimum enrollee requirements and were not entitled to select any Village land.
The initial Village Corporation land selection was required to be the core village township – the land directly surrounding each native village, as well as two concentric township rings around it. The villages were required to select land in the core township first, then the surrounding townships until their land entitlement was satisfied. The Village Corporations had first right on land selections over the Regional Corporations. The Village Corporation lands are referenced as ANCSA 12(a) lands. On March 11, 1974, Tazlina submitted the first land selection to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and on June 29, 1979, Gulkana received the first interim conveyance in the Ahtna Region.
After the Village Corporation land selections were satisfied, the Regional Corporations selected lands to satisfy their entitlements from whatever lands were left in their regions. The Regional Corporation lands are referenced as ANCSA 12(c) lands. The Regional Corporation land selection was not based on population, but total land area within their respective regions established by Congress. The Regional Corporations were also limited to odd/odd and even/even townships to prevent them from taking over giant blocks of land, hence the checkerboard land pattern we now see.
The priority of Village Corporation land selections over Regional selections and the amount of acreage available created a complicated formula referred to as the “Land-Loss Distribution Formula” to allow land entitlements to be fulfilled as equally as possible. This is apparent in western Alaska where the Village Corporations own more surface land proportionally than the Regional Corporation. The Land-Loss Formula was determined through a “proof of ownership” by “common heritage and common interests.” Due to the Land-Loss Formula, Ahtna is the smallest Regional Corporation by population, but is near the top when it comes to ANCSA land ownership.
During the ANCSA Congressional process, it became apparent that the Village 12(a) and Regional 12(c) land selections would not allow sufficient land entitlement selections for historical, cultural and traditional sites. Congress allowed for up to 2 million acres for the preservation of cemeteries and historical sites, identified as 14(h)(1) land, outside the 12(a) and 12(c) selections.
Similar to the 14(h)(1) cultural and historical sites, Congress also allowed Regional Corporations to make selections based on the unappropriated 2-million-acre entitlement identified as 14(h)(8) lands, which ironically was based on shareholder population and lands not conveyed through 12(a) or 12(c). Unlike the 14(h)(1) land, the 14(h)(8) lands have no restrictions on development.
Ahtna’s land selections formally began in 1974 and continued to final submission to the Bureau of Land Management in December, 2007. Of the 1.7-million-acre entitlement, including Village Corporation selections, 1.65 million acres have been conveyed to Ahtna to date.