Landless Natives campaign proposes Wrangell area parcels

The Alaska Natives Without Land campaign, working to win congressional approval of a Native corporation for Wrangell, has proposed several parcels near the community for transfer, including 2,146 acres at the Garnet Ledge on the mainland near the Stikine River, 3,168 acres around the Shoemaker Bay overlook and Chichagof Peak south of town, and 3,275 acres along Salamander Creek in the inner portion of Wrangell Island.

The potential selections of U.S. Forest Service land also include 1,457 acres on the eastern side of Wrangell Island on Blake Channel, almost 5,000 acres on the east side of Zarembo Island, almost 2,000 acres around Turn Island Beach and Thoms Lake on the southern end of Wrangell Island, and almost 2,500 acres at Frosty Bay, south of Anan Creek on the mainland.

Five communities in Southeast - Wrangell, Petersburg, Ketchikan, Tenakee and Haines - were not included in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, a 1971 federal law that established regional, urban and village corporations across the state, granting 44 million acres of land to the Native corporations.

The debate over the exclusion of the five Southeast communities has endured for decades - known as the "Landless Natives" - with several legislative attempts to amend federal law so that the communities could create Native corporations and receive land entitlements.

Alaska's three-member congressional delegation last fall introduced legislation to remedy the shortcoming for the five communities. However, the measure died when Congress adjourned, just as every other attempt has failed over the years.

The Wrangell Borough Assembly met in a workshop with representatives of Alaska Natives Without Land and other Native organizations on Feb. 23 to discuss the potential formation of an urban Native corporation for Wrangell and its proposed land selections.

The assembly discussed what the land transfers could mean for access to recreation areas, land development and federal revenues to Wrangell.

Creating the five new Native corporations would provide not only new opportunities for Native shareholders, but the wider community as a whole, according to the Alaska Natives Without Land campaign.

Wrangell's municipal government has supported the land-claim campaign in the past.

Maintaining access to recreational areas is something a Wrangell Native corporation and the city could work together on, Richard Rinehart, chief executive officer for the Tlingit and Haida Tribal Business Corp., told assembly members.

Easements could be granted for trails, he said, or maybe the corporation could change its proposed land selections to work even better for all concerned, such as leaving under federal ownership the 40 acres around the Forest Service cabin at Frosty Bay, south of Anan Creek on the mainland, and selecting 40 acres on the other side of the parcel.

Mayor Steve Prysunka proposed another alternative, a "win-win" scenario, he said. If Alaska Natives Without Land really wanted the Frosty Bay cabin and that area, he suggested that perhaps they and the city could negotiate with the Forest Service to build a new cabin on Wrangell Island as a replacement. This would provide a newer, and closer, recreation opportunity for the town, he said.

Assembly Member Anne Morrison asked what kind of potential development might occur on the lands if they are turned over to a Native corporation.

Rinehart said that was not something he could answer with certainty. If development were to occur, he said it would be many years in the future. In addition to requiring congressional action, the corporation and its board would need to be established, the land conveyed, and planning studies conducted before anything could begin.

"Types of things that I think you could do would be small-scale tourism," he said. "You could have aquaculture type of things, perhaps even agriculture type of things. Just different ideas I see sprouting up around Southeast Alaska for economic development. I'm sure they'd be open to any really good ideas."

Assembly members also asked how transferring the land from the Forest Service to a Native corporation might reduce federal funding to Wrangell.

The municipality receives payment in lieu of property taxes and schools funding based on the federal acreage within Wrangell's boundaries. The federal payments are intended to offset lost tax revenue or growth opportunities. If land is taken from the Forest Service, it would no longer count toward calculating the annual payments to Wrangell.

Rinehart said tax revenue on developed urban corporation land could offset these losses, but Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen reminded the assembly that such development would be many years down the line.

Prysunka added that the city could not afford to lose any money, given the economic situation.

Von Bargen said the city was looking for more information on possible revenue numbers.

As this was an assembly work session, no formal action was taken. More information about Alaska Natives Without land is at


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