(photo from theSealaska Shareholder's Underground)In a recent Letter to the Editor in the Sitka Sentinel, the President and CEO of Sealaska Corporation attempted to waylay our fears that the public would not be allowed on landstransferredto the corporation's private ownership by the Sealaska Bill. He also stated that Sealaska does "not post 'NoTrespassing in any form on [Sealaska Corp.] lands," and goes on to state that "Sealaska stands on its history, having allowed access to its lands forresponsibleuse."
Update: See our full response, published May 10th in theSitka Sentinelat the bottom of the post.
The mission of the Sitka Conservation Society is to protect the public lands of the Tongass National Forest. As public lands, they belong to all Americans as National Patrimony. Although lands in public hands are not always managed how we want, the process exists for citizens to have their voices heard and give input on how the lands are managed. Most importantly, public access is guaranteed and not restricted in anyway. If important sites on the Tongass like Redoubt Lake are privatized and owned by Sealaska Corporation, they are no longer part of all our national patrimony and the public does not have a say in how they are managed. Sealaska Corporation says that they will allow "unprecedented access." Whatever that is, it is nothing compared to current access on these lands that all of us currently own as American citizens.
Our greatest fears concerning the potential in-holding parcels that the Sealaska Corporation wants to own is not what may happen in the next few years, but what will happen 10, 20, or 30 years from now. We understand that Sealaska will make many promises now when they want support for their legislation. But we can't predict what future Sealaska Corporate boards might decide to do with the land and who may or may-not be allowed to use them. These fears are what unsettles us the most about the Sealaska legislation.
Below is the current Sealaska policy for access to its lands which clearly states access is per their discretion:Click here to download the entire report.)
Letter to the Editor, published in theSitka SentinelMay 10th, 2013.
Dear Editor: Recently the Sealaska Corporation's President and Corporate Executive Officer (CEO), Chris McNeil called out the Sitka Conservation Society in a letter to the editor and called us out for causing "anxiety, anger, and opposition" to Sealaska's actions. I would respond to Mr. McNeil that we are not causing this reaction, we are responding to it as it is what most of us in the community feel when we think of public lands like Redoubt Falls, Port Banks, Jamboree Bay, Kalinin Bay, and places in Hoonah Sound being taking out of public hands and put into corporate ownership. We did put graphics with cartoon police tape over a photo of SItkans subsistence dip-net fishing at Redoubt falls. They can be seen on our website at www.sitkawild.org. These graphics represent our greatest fears: that a place that all of us use and depend on, and that is owned by all Americans (native and non-native), will have limitations put on it under private ownership or will be managed in a way where members of the public have no voice or input. Our fears come from past Sealaska actions. We also put photos on our website of Sealaska logging on Dall Island and around Hoonah; and we linked to the story of Hoonah residents who asked that logging not be so extensive and target their treasured places but were logged anyway. The case in those areas is that the corporate mandate to make a profit superseded what community members wanted. We are scared of what corporate management of these important places around Sitka will mean on-the-ground and we will continue to speak out to protect our public lands. Mr. McNeil Jr. paints the issue as native vs. non-native and accuses SCS of wanting to "put natives in a box." For us, the issue is about distrust of corporations without public accountability, not ethnicity. Mr. McNeil has an annual compensation package that is far greater than the entire SCS budget. He is flanked by lawyers who can write legal language and policy that we cannot begin to understand the implications of. Even in their different versions of the House and Senate legislation, the access policy is very different, confusing, and ultimately subject to Sealaska's whims. As SCS, we are speaking out against a corporation owning the public lands where publicly owned resources are concentrated on the Tongass. Sealaska's legislation is not good for Sitka if it means that more places like Redoubt Falls could be taken out of public hands and transferred to a corporation. Sincerely, Andrew Thoms