Provision in public lands bill will enable Alaska Native Vietnam-era veterans to claim promised land allotments
A sweeping public lands bill that was signed into law March 12 by President Donald Trump includes a provision to help Alaska Native veterans of the Vietnam War era select up to 160 acres of land in Alaska. The bill, known as the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act, was introduced by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski. It received bipartisan support and was championed by the three members of Alaska’s congressional delegation—Murkowski, Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young.
In 1906, Congress passed a law authorizing Alaska Native people to acquire 160-acre land allotments. The program was extinguished in 1971 with the establishment of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). Because a number of Alaska Native people were serving in the military—and, specifically, in the Vietnam War— just prior to the passing of ANCSA, many missed the opportunity to apply for and receive their allotments. Congress revived the allotment program in 1980 and revisited Alaska Native allotments again in 1992 and 1998. Nevertheless, a number of allotments remained unfulfilled for Alaska Native Vietnam veterans.
The recent public lands bill authorizes eligibility to include all Alaska Native veterans who served between Aug. 5, 1964, and Dec. 31, 1971. It further authorizes:
- Allotments to be selected from vacant federal lands or lands that have been selected but not conveyed to the State of Alaska or an Alaska Native corporation, if the state or corporation voluntarily relinquishes its selection. (Certain restrictions apply.)
- The personal representative of a deceased eligible veteran may apply for and receive an allotment for the benefit of the veteran’s heirs.
“I will not let our Alaska Native Vietnam veterans be forgotten as we work to make good on this long overdue commitment to provide these veterans with the land allotments they earned and rightfully deserve,” Murkowski tweeted on Feb. 10.
The larger piece of legislation, known as the Natural Resources Management Act of 2019, includes more than 120 public lands, resources, conservation and water-management provisions. Several of the provisions in the bill are specific to Alaska. The legislation received bipartisan support because it both expands environmental protections and increases access to public lands for recreational and hunting purposes.
“The Natural Resources Management Act of 2019 is an important step in righting a longstanding wrong,” said Greg Razo, vice president, CIRI government relations. “This bill helps ensure our Alaska Native servicemen and women will finally receive the land allotments promised to them in exchange for their service to our country.”
More information will become available after the federal government compiles the list of lands available pursuant to this law and regulations are complete, which could take a year or more.