Sealaska says it’s the better party to take ownership of Redoubt Falls.
Sheldon Jackson College trustees announced Monday that they were advancing their claim to 160 acres in the area, including the falls, the west end of Redoubt Lake and part of a nearby bay. The much-used fishing area is about a 15-mile skiff ride south of Sitka.
The trustees’ attorney said he had documented ownership and sale of the property since the Russians left Alaska. He said the most recent transfer, in 1981, put the property in the college’s hands.
Sealaska claimed a smaller part of Redoubt in the mid-1970s as part of its Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act land selections. It’s the last of about 95 cultural and historic sites the regional Native corporation requested under the act.
Sealaska Executive Vice President Rick Harris says the trustees’ claims address long-gone buildings, not land.
“Plus, it ignores the historic Tlingit use before Russian occupancy, during Russian occupancy and then even after Russian occupancy,” he says.
Harris says Sealaska can prove Redoubt is a Native cultural and historic site eligible for selection under the settlement act. (Read Sealaska’s statement on the issue.)
He also says the federal Bureau of Land Management, which determines such claims, was close to conveying the land when the trustees filed their claim.
Harris says Sealaska has been negotiating a management and use agreement with Sitka’s municipal and tribal government, as well as the Forest Service.
“The Sitka tribe was very clear in its expectation that this site would be one that all of the community would be able to use for subsistence purposes and that the fisheries enhancement projects that are currently on the site are ongoing,” Harris says.
The tribe, which supports the takeover, would manage the area.
Critics have worried Sealaska might lose Redoubt, as well as other lands, if it failed and went bankrupt.
Harris says Sealaska is financially secure. And residents should worry more about a possible Sheldon Jackson takeover.
“They’re an organization that is, I will say, a defunct institution and it has creditors. We don’t understand what their relationship is. And if Sheldon Jackson actually receives title, I’m not certain how they could guarantee that the property will not be transferred to another entity,” he says.
The college trustees updated their claim with more ownership information earlier this month. It did not include the actual Russian deed of sale, which they say can’t be found.
Sealaska has until early September to file its response.
The corporation has taken no position on the 150 or so acres of the trustees’ claim that is outside Sealaska’s land selection.