Remembering the Cook Inlet Land Exchange

“The Cook Inlet Land Exchange was pivotal to CIRI’s history,” reflected Margie Brown, CIRI president and CEO. “ANCSA held the promise that Alaska Native people would retain lands of like and similar character to lands traditionally used. But in CIRI’s case, ANCSA could easily have been an empty promise.”

After the passage of the landmark Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971, CIRI was to receive 1.25 million acres of surface estate and 2.25 million acres of subsurface estate within the Southcentral Alaska region. Situated in the most populated part of the state, CIRI was faced with the reality that much of the land in the region was already in private hands, set aside for the state, military or was off-limits for parks and wildlife, leaving glaciers and mountaintops for land entitlement selections.

CIRI leaders refused to accept what would have been deficient selections and began a battle to obtain resource-rich lands in the Southcentral region. The vision and perseverance of CIRI leaders helped the Company negotiate a deal, the Cook Inlet Land Exchange, a hard-won, three-way land exchange between CIRI, the state of Alaska and the federal government that helped lay the foundation for CIRI’s future successes, including a solid financial grounding. The Land Exchange remains one of the largest land swaps in U.S. history.

Among those early visionaries was Margie Brown. After studying oil and gas lease laws, she saw to it that CIRI selected in-state lands adjacent to oil and gas producing areas, which meant CIRI would get a share of the royalties under section 14(g) of ANCSA. Under ANCSA’s 7(i) revenue-sharing provision, CIRI was also able to throw a life ring to other Alaska Native corporations that were struggling at the time.

“CIRI’s early leaders, those who negotiated the Cook Inlet Land Exchange, saw the need to move quickly and courageously,” said Margie Brown. “CIRI’s mission was, and is, to generate revenue to improve the social and economic status of its shareholders for generations to come. The actions CIRI leaders took remain embedded in the Company’s culture today.”