06/10/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 06/10/2021 15:16
WASHINGTON-U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) have introduced legislation to amend the Alaska Native Vietnam-era Veterans Land Allotment program, making an additional 3.7 million acres of federal land in the National Wildlife Refuge System available for selection. The legislation was developed based on a recommendation from then-Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and will help to further rectify a longstanding injustice that has impacted Alaska Native veterans that served during the Vietnam War.
'In 2017, after years of hard work and advocacy, primarily from Alaska's Native veteran leaders, we were finally able to secure the opportunity for thousands of Alaska Native veterans to apply for the land allotments they had missed because of their service during the Vietnam War,' said Senator Sullivan. 'Unfortunately, one frustrating injustice has remained-the inability of some veterans or their heirs to select lands from the region in which they live. My original bill made all federal lands available but, sadly, certain Democratic members would not allow it in the final Dingell Act. In spite of the setback, I promised Alaska Native veteran leaders that we would not give up that fight, which is why Senator Murkowski and I introduced this legislation to make additional lands available in the National Wildlife Refuge System. I hope my colleagues will join us in enabling more of those who served and sacrificed on our behalf to select the lands they deserve in their own region, another step in correcting this historic inequity.'
'I worked hard to ensure that our Alaska Native Vietnam veterans were able again to select land through my Dingell Act. Unfortunately, due to opposition from some of our colleagues in the lower 48, much of the land that was made available was undesirable - it was far away from population centers, and difficult to access, often only by plane and boat. We recognized the selections would be tough, which is why we asked the Secretary of the Interior to study whether additional lands should be made available and to make a recommendation to Congress,' said Senator Murkowski. 'We should not place such an expensive and unnecessary burden on them to access lands that they are owed. The lands opened by this new legislation will mean more options and selections could be made closer to where the veterans lived or traditionally hunted. These veterans deserve no less.'
Dating back to the early 20th Century, various programs existed to grant Alaska Natives parcels of land, up to 160 acres in size. Over time, the program was closed and reopened. One brief reopening occurred during the Vietnam War, which meant that Alaska Native servicemen and women serving overseas and away from home missed out on the ability to apply for these land allotments. The program closed following the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971 and was officially reopened with Senator Murkowski's comprehensive lands package, the Dingell Act, being signed into law in March 2019. The bill contained a provision sponsored by Senator Sullivan and cosponsored by Senator Murkowski to establish the Alaska Native Vietnam-era Veterans Land Allotment program, which required the Department of the Interior to study whether additional refuge lands should be made available.
The additional land opened up in this new legislation was identified by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service as suitable for selection. Further, the secretary of the interior recommended that Congress open the lands to be included in the allotment program. This study and recommendation can be accessed here.
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