CIRI received its culturally important land conveyance with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on May 31 for lands around the confluence of the Russian and Kenai rivers. The conveyance includes two parcels of land and the ownership of the cultural resources associated with an additional 513 acres in the area. The conveyances are within the Sqilantnu Archeological District. The lands of the Sqilantnu Archeological District have been an important gathering place for Alaska Native people, including the Dena’ina, for thousands of years. Some features are believed to be 10,000 years old. In modern times, Alaskans and visitors are drawn to the confluence of the Russian and Kenai rivers by the annual run of red salmon.
In 1976, CIRI selected the lands at Russian River for its cultural and historical significance under provisions set out in Section 14(h)(1) of ANCSA. Since the selected land experiences high public use when the red salmon are running, the federal land managing agencies desired to retain ownership of the area. This led to prolonged negotiations among CIRI, and the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service. In 2002, the agreement reached by the parties was codified in federal law with the passage of the Russian River Land Act (Act). The Act resolved long-standing issues of land ownership and land entitlement. It provided for the conveyance of, and interests in, land to CIRI for cultural preservation and economic benefit, continued public use of the most popular salmon fishing site in the State of Alaska and continued federal management of the natural resources of the area.
“With more than 35 years of involvement with Russian River land selection and management issues, it is very fulfilling for me to witness the completion of conveyances to CIRI,” said CIRI President and CEO Margie Brown.
The Russian River Land Act also instructs the parties to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among CIRI, Kenaitze Indian Tribe (KIT), U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The MOU, finalized last year, outlines the ongoing management of the natural and cultural resources within the Sqilantnu Archeological District. Representatives of KIT attended the conveyance ceremony.
The MOU is intended to create more opportunities for CIRI shareholders and KIT members to become involved in cultural research and management activities in and outside of the Sqilantnu Archeological District.
“I now look forward to hearing about successes associated with other parts of the agreement, including the ongoing success of the cooperative management framework established by the agreement,” said CIRI President and CEO Margie Brown.
CIRI and KIT also hope to increase the understanding of and respect for the significant cultural history and resources within the Sqilantnu Archeological District. Reflecting on the significance of the conveyance, Margie Brown said, “When people are standing shoulder to shoulder fishing at Russian River, I would like them to know that they are participating in a 10,000-year continuum of human use of the fishing resource. 10,000 years ago, people of Southcentral Alaska waited in anticipation of the return of the red salmon – not unlike today. The confluence of the Russian and Kenai Rivers remains a very special place.”