By Joe Bovee, VP of Land & Resources
This is the second installment of a two-part series on Ahtna lands. The first installment can be read in the Spring 2020 issue of the Kanas.
In the spring issue of the Kanas, we discussed land entitlement to the Village Corporations based on populations in 1971, and Regional Corporation selections based on common heritage and common interests as a group. The land selection process was a completely new concept to both the Village and Regional Corporation members. Land ownership, or land tenure, as outlined in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) based the ownership of land on European laws and regulations versus the traditional stewardship and uses of the land by indigenous people.
Ahtna shareholders and Tribal members used lands for customary and traditional purposes, but they were not allowed to select those lands due to the requirement of even/odd townships for the Regional Corporation and the selection of certain required lands adjacent to the Villages. Hampered by those requirements, Ahtna prioritized selection of lands high in subsistence resource value and to a lesser degree lands with natural resource potential. Ahtna then worked to compact those lands with the Village Corporations into larger land ownership blocks.
In ANCSA, the Regional and Village Corporations were given preference for land selections over the State of Alaska and were required to rank their ANCSA selections as one, two and three based on their priorities. The process refers to these lands as being in “Selected” status with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The State could not receive ownership of the Selected lands, but it was allowed to select the same lands, or “top file,” on the chance the Native Corporation would not receive the lands for some reason. The “Selected” land is still under Federal government ownership and no development can occur without the Native Corporation’s approval.
During the “Selected” land status phase, the BLM goes through a process of adjudication to make certain those selected ANCSA lands have a clear land title and/or identify any land encumbrances such as federal homesteads, homesites, trade and manufacturing sites, easements, allotments, rights-of-way, mining claims, navigable waterways, etc. These types of encumbrances must have been legally issued to individuals or groups prior to 1969.
After the selection phase is completed, the BLM issues the Native Corporation an Interim Land Conveyance document which identifies the land legal descriptions, encumbrances and total acreage. With the issuance of the Interim Conveyance, the Native Corporation becomes the legal owner of the selected lands.
Land Patent Status
Once the Interim-Conveyance phase is complete, the BLM finalizes adjudication and solicits surveying of the land prior to issuing a final Land Patent.
Over Selection Lands
Through vigorous research, adjudication and final survey by the BLM, it is fairly common to receive less acreage than selected. This is primarily due to navigable waterways changing their course, islands within the waterways being eroded, or surveying errors. In these cases, ANCSA allows for selection of other lands in equal proportion to those that no longer exist from the selection phase. The ranking system mentioned above becomes a part of the over selection phase, resulting in the number two, or three, priority being conveyed. The amount of acreage Ahtna will be entitled to receive through the over selection process is estimated to be 10,000 – 20,000 acres.
The land selection, interim-conveyance and patent process is tedious, complicated and time consuming, as there is no hard schedule for the BLM to adhere to and limited Congressional funding. Ahtna selected specific lands in the 1990s that are still only in the selection phase. At this point, the land entitlement of Ahtna and the Village Corporations is at 1.65 million acres of Interim-Conveyed and Patented land ownership with another 120,000 acres in the selection phase remaining to be transferred.