Alaska Native veterans who served in the Vietnam War are facing yet another setback in their efforts to secure land allotments. While their fellow Alaska Natives had been able to claim land under a long-standing federal agreement, those who served in Vietnam were excluded.
The announcement was made on a Good Friday, when Alaska’s delegation was traveling home for the Easter weekend.
“Secretary Haaland has once again betrayed our Alaska Native Vietnam-era veterans, further delaying another public land order and limiting the lands available to these American heroes for their congressionally-mandated land allotments. Sadly, many of these veterans may not live long enough to receive their allotments, thanks to the Secretary’s action today and a long line of other needless delays,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan. “This latest betrayal, which constitutes the 49th executive action from the Biden administration targeting our state, should settle any doubts about whether the Biden administration will ever prioritize the voices and interests of indigenous Alaskans over their Lower 48 eco-colonialist allies.”
Despite years of work by the Alaska delegation to address this injustice, and despite significant progress under President Donald Trump, progress ground to a halt under the Biden administration. Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland has announced that a significant amount of land in the Kobuk-Seward Planning Area will be excluded from the selection process while an environmental impact study is conducted.
This situation has its roots in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, which extinguished the 160-acre land allotment rights granted to Alaska Natives in 1906. While there were last-minute allotments made, Alaska Natives serving overseas during the Vietnam War were unable to claim their land.
The Alaska Native Veterans Act of 1988 aimed to address this issue, but fewer than 500 Alaska Native Vietnam-era veterans applied due to restrictions in the law. Around 2,800 veterans still await their allotments.
In 2019, a bill sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Congressman Don Young gave Alaska Native veterans who served during the Vietnam era the opportunity to apply for their promised land allotments. That bill, S. 47, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, was signed into law by President Trump.
However, in April 2021, the Biden administration imposed a two-year moratorium on several new Public Land Orders in Alaska, including the allotment program.
Secretary Haaland has now ordered a full environmental impact statement, delaying the program even further and taking out 27 million acres of land from consideration. This means that most of the land originally available for selection has been excluded.