Sealaska Debate Heats Up in DC

Congressman Don Young is known for his hot temper, but at a hearing Thursday on the Sealaska Lands Bill, his words were directed at a visiting Alaskan.

The controversial bill would let the Sealaska Native Corporation select lands from within the Tongass National Forest in Southeast.  Young has reintroduced his version of the bill despite hearing community concerns.  Senator Lisa Murkowski has taken a different approach and altered her bill to try and come to compromises; her legislation was heard Wednesday by a Senate committee.

Young, at today’s meeting of the Indian Affairs Subcommittee, chastised Craig resident Bob Claus, the Forest Program Director with the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.  He accused Claus and his conservationist colleagues of ruining the timber industry, and now trying to harm the Alaska Native community.

Claus says his opposition to the Sealaska bill is shared by some of his Alaska Native neighbors, but Congressman Young verbally attacked him and said he “gets concerned” when a quote, “white guy talks about what the Natives are saying.”

After the hearing Claus defended his words, and said he didn’t speak for Alaska Natives, which he says would be inappropriate.

Young’s colleagues on the Indian Affairs Subcommittee joined him in supporting the Sealaska bill, both Republicans and Democrats, even though the Obama Administration is opposed to Young’s version.  The two House Democrats who attended the hearing said the legislation is an issue of Native rights.  But Bob Claus says it seems they don’t understand the difference between a corporation like Sealaska which has shareholders, and a tribe, which has members.

The Alaska Native leaders called on to testify represented the Sealaska Corporation, like board member Byron Mallott, who says they will be good stewards.

Both those for and against the bill say their approach will save jobs.

The executive director of the pro-timber group the Alaska Forest Association, Owen Graham, got supportive questioning from Congressman Young.

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