Washington, D.C. – Two bills introduced by Alaska Congressman Don Young received congressional action in the House Natural Resources Committee this week, including one to provide Alaska Native Vietnam veterans an opportunity to select their native allotment if they missed the opportunity to do so during their service and another to transfer 23 acres in Bethel to the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC).
Wednesday, Congressman Young chaired a legislative hearing on H.R. 2387, the Alaska Native Veterans Land Allotment Equity Act, in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs (IIANA) to discuss legislation that would allow approximately 2,800 Alaska Natives who served in Vietnam, and missed an earlier opportunity because of that service, to apply for their Native allotment.
“I introduced this bill last month to provide equitable treatment to Alaska Native Vietnam veterans who did not receive a satisfactory 160 acres allotment of land as promised under the 1906 Alaska Native Allotment Act,” Congressman Don Young said yesterday. “The passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971 ended the process of land allotment to individual Alaska Natives. However, many Alaska Natives who were out of the country serving during the Vietnam War did not have an opportunity to receive their allotment. Congress must fulfill the promise to these Native veterans so that this final chapter can be closed.”
Nelson Angapak, Senior Vice President for the Alaska Federation of Natives and a veteran himself, testified before the Subcommittee in favor of H.R. 2387, saying:
“It is with urgency that we are asking Congress to pass this bill during the [114th] Congress so that there will be equitable treatment of our veterans who served during the whole Vietnam era,” Angapak said. “Again, it is with urgency. Our veterans are dying off. Some of our friends are no longer with us and some are dying, that is why we have the urgent request that you pass this bill.
Towards the end of the IIANA hearing, Congressman Young questioned Bureau of Land Management officials on the specific reasons preventing Alaska Native Vietnam veterans from receiving their 160 acre native land allotment.
“These veterans deserve that land, that’s the whole intent of this bill…,” said Congressman Young. “Why is the Department of Interior so intent in not allowing these veterans to have their land? What’s the big hang up? If it stays in trust, mineral deposits stay in your ownership; this is their cultural land, why can’t you let them have their land?”
The second Young bill addressed by the House Natural Resources Committee was H.R. 521, the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation Land Transfer Act, which the committee unanimously passed today. The legislation would provide a 23 acre land transfer of federal lands in Bethel, Alaska to YKHC for the expansion and improvement of existing health and social programs.
“This commonsense legislation will allow YKHC to significantly grow their operations in the coming years and improve the health and well-being of countless Alaska Natives in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region,” said Congressman Don Young.“Unfortunately, it takes an Act of Congress to complete this needed land transfer, but I’m happy to dig in and do what’s right for the Alaskan people.”
YKHC is a non-profit Alaska Native organization that provides health care services to 11 villages through a self-governance compact with the Indian Health Service (IHS). YKHC’s regional hospital in Bethel operates on 23 acres of land which belongs to the IHS.
The hospital has seen an increase in patient visits in recent years, which has led to a strain on the 30 year old hospital. YKHC plans to build a 130,000 square foot primary care clinic attached to its existing hospital to meet demand in the coming years. In order to finance the expansion, valued at $250 million, YKHC applied for the IHS competitive Joint Venture Construction Program. YKHC’s Participation in the Joint Venture Program requires YKHC’s ownership of the 23 acre parcel of land.
Although both the YKHC and the Department of Health and Human Services are supportive of the land transfer, Congressional action is necessary to convey the federal property.
Congressman Young introduced similar legislation to H.R. 521 during the the 113th Congress.