May 18, 2015

The Alaska Native Allotment Act on May 17, 1906

On May 17, 1906 the Secretary of the Interior gave the opportunity for Alaska Natives to acquire parcels of land in sizes not to exceed 160 acres in size. This acreage was to be vacant of inhabitants,"unappropriated" to others, as well as being "unreserved non mineral land," and then could go to any "Indian, Aleut or Eskimo of full or mixed blood" male in Alaska who was 21 years old or older. (34 Stat. 197) These tracks of land were inalienable and non-taxable. Administrative interpretations of the law, however, would limit the number of Natives (adult head of family) qualifying for the land for nearly three-quarters of a century.

Unlike the recognition of Native title to lands, the Allotment Act created parcels of land to individual Native (male adult) applicants. Scholars David Case and David Voluck argue that the Act created significant legal burdens to land "distribution" for statehood and for the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971. They write

             Many Allotment application were originally denied without hearings and removed from                      federal land records, which permitted others to select and even receive title to to the same                    lands originally applied for as allotments. (113)

From these flagrant injustices, they note, came many lawsuits that established a legal due process for Alaska Natives in US courts, concerning land rights. 

Allotment map of Pine Ridge

Unlike the General Allotment Act of 1887, the Alaska Native Allotment Act didn't break up reservational land holdings as it did for American Indians in the contiguous part of the nation. They both did however seek to individualize landownership. Whereby the division of American Indian reserved lands for individual Indian and non-Indian ownership in part sought to unravel indigenous national (tribal) sovereignty, but without the history of clarifying such indigenous possession of land allotment in Alaska seemed to be asserted as a way develop Alaska without confronting the issue of collective Native land rights.

The act was amended in 1956 with many statutes, one important one being that Natives could acquire lands in national forests. Legal actions concerning Tlingit and Haida individual ownership of land in the Tongass National Forest do remain in process today. I recently read that there were approximately 900 individual applications for parcels in the Forest.

Congress repealed the Alaska Native Allotment Act with Alaska Native Claim Settlement Act (43 U.S.C. Sec. 1617,) with a savings clause for applications that were pending on the date of the law's passage on in 1971 in 43 U.S.C. Sec. 1617(a).

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