Alaska Native Vietnam vets, heirs would receive state land under Gov. Dunleavy proposal

An Alaska Native person speaks at a podium in front of Tlingit motifs
Army veteran George Bennett of Sitka speaks at the announcement of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposal to provide state land to Alaska Native veterans of the Vietnam era on Wednesday in Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Walter Soboleff Building. (Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

Alaska Native veterans of the Vietnam War era would be able to receive state land under a proposal Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced on Wednesday. 

Dunleavy said many veterans or their heirs would be able to receive land that’s closer to their homes than they would receive under a federal program

A 2019 federal law would allow Alaska Native veterans to receive 160-acre allotments of government land. It took until late in the Trump administration to write the rules to put the program into effect. The Biden administration recently delayed a Trump administration order to increase the land eligible to become allotments under the program.

Dunleavy’s proposal would allow veterans to exchange their federal allotments for state land of equivalent value.  

Army veteran George Bennett of Sitka welcomed the proposal. He said veterans were dealing with trauma at the time they could have applied for land during the Vietnam era. 

“In the first several years that we came home, most of us didn’t want to be bothered, because we were dealing with some demons that had returned with us from Vietnam,” he said.

Bennett attended Dunleavy’s announcement at Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Walter Soboleff Building in Juneau. 

Alaska Natives were able to file claims for 160-acre allotments from 1906 until  1971 when the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act repealed the allotment law. They could file claims for land that they had used continuously. 

Relatively few claims for allotments were filed until the two years before ANCSA repealed the allotment law. But in that two-year period — when thousands of claims were filed — some Alaska Natives were unable to apply because they were serving in Southeast Asia, while others had recently returned and were not focused on claiming allotments. 

The 2019 federal law is the second time Congress passed a law aimed at helping these veterans. But few veterans took advantage of the earlier lawpassed in 1998.

The 2019 federal law doesn’t require the veterans to have used the land, so they could file claims for any available federal land. 

And it allows heirs to file claims — the only heirs allowed to file claims under the 1998 law were those of soldiers who were killed in action or who died while prisoners of war or from wounds they received in the war. 

Dunleavy said the veterans had to fight the federal bureaucracy to be heard. 

“I’m actually proud today to stand with our veterans,” he said. “I believe it is a moral imperative. This is not a political maneuver at all. These folks have fought hard for decades and decades and decades.”

Dunleavy’s proposal is included in an amendment to proposed measures, Senate Bill 97 and House Bill 120,  the Legislature already was considering. 

Note: This story has been corrected to reflect the fact that the federal program was not halted or delayed. A Trump administration order to add land to the program has been delayed.

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