Alaska House of Representative Republicans and one Independent reacted with dismay today to the news that the Biden Administration’s Department of the Interior has suspended land transfers to Alaska – including land transfers long promised to Alaska Native veterans of the Vietnam War.
Interior Department Order No. 3395 suspends authorizations for the department’s bureaus and offices to “grant rights of way, easements, or any conveyances of property or interests in property, including land sales or exchanges”. This may include federal allotments to Alaska under the Alaska Statehood Act and the Alaska Native Allotment Act of 1906.
“I am very concerned that our new federal administration is delaying keeping its promises to some who served honorably,” said Rep. David Nelson (R – Anchorage, who serves as an officer in the Alaska Army National Guard). “If the new administration can drag its feet on its promises to veterans, it can do the same to our current servicemen and servicewomen.”
“I have heard of servicemembers who served at the time – some who received their allotment and some who have not – and I know how important land is to our cultural identity as Alaska Natives,” said Rep. Josiah Patkotak (N – Utqiaġvik). “In their service they have missed their rightful claim to land and that isn’t right. The time for resolving this is overdue and shouldn’t be delayed for any reason.”
“No one who serves in our armed forces honorably should be penalized for serving – but to our dismay, that’s exactly what we did to my Alaska Native comrades-in-arms in Vietnam,” said Rep. Laddie Shaw (R – Anchorage), a retired US Navy SEAL and Vietnam War veteran. “Whether for the Alaska Territorial Guard during World War II or Alaska Native servicemembers in the Vietnam War, the federal government has a pattern of giving short-shrift to the contributions of my Alaska Native brother and sister veterans. It’s time to break that pattern and acknowledge them for the heroes they all are.”
“For my entire career, I have fought for our veterans to get all of the benefits they so richly deserve” continued Rep. Shaw, who also previously served as Director of Veterans Affairs under Gov. Tony Knowles. “I’m glad to stand with my caucus as we continue to do so.”
Jerry Ward, of Alaska Native Veterans Council, said the BLM is still accepting applications, but the that Biden Administration has frozen the BLM land. Some have already filed for land on the BLM land, and that Sen. Dan Sullivan is working on the issue.
“It takes legislation to take away the rights of Vietnam-era veterans to apply for it, but this is an administrative action that does not supersede law,” he said.
Thirty Alaska Native veterans met last night in Anchorage to learn more about the problem, and half of them had already filed for their lands. Ward is advising the rest to file for “federal unallocated land.”
Biden can delay it, but he cannot stop it, unless Biden gets the law changed, Ward said. About 200 Alaska Native Vietnam veterans have still not selected their 160 acres.