02.13.24

Sullivan, Murkowski Renew Effort to Deliver Alaska Native Vietnam-Era Veterans Their Rightful Land Allotments

U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski (both R-Alaska) have introduced legislation to extend the Alaska Native Vietnam Veteran Land Allotment Program for another five years before its expiration in December 2025. The program was established by a Sullivan-authored provision that became law in 2019, which enabled several thousand Alaska Native veterans to apply for their congressionally-promised Native land allotments—an opportunity many originally missed due to their military service during the Vietnam War era. Sullivan and Murkowski’s legislation would also make eligible for conveyance lands identified in 2020 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFS) as eligible for selection, and require USFS to identify additional lands for selection and conveyance to eligible veterans.

“Alaska Native Vietnam-era veterans were on track under the previous administration to attain the land allotments that are their birthright thanks to Interior Secretary Bernhardt’s faithful and timely implementation of our hard-won legislation. But under the Biden administration, all of that progress came to a halt with endless delays and legal hurdles,” said Sen. Sullivan. “For three years, Secretary Haaland has bowed to the demands of Lower 48 eco-colonialists, betrayed these courageous veterans who sacrificed greatly on behalf of our country, and violated commitments she made to me during her confirmation process. Now, we face the looming expiration of this vital program with just 18 of more than 2,000 eligible veterans having received their allotment. Eighteen—that is all in three years! Sadly, many of these courageous veterans, who fought for our country and suffered discrimination thereafter, will likely not live to receive the land our federal government promised them. This is a national disgrace that cannot be allowed to stand. Senator Murkowski and I are urging our colleagues to stand with our veterans, extend this vital program, make available the lands already identified by career federal officials, and finally correct this historic injustice.”

“After passage of the Dingell Act, Alaska Native Vietnam veterans were finally eligible to select the land allotments that they had missed out on while serving their country—but due to partisan objections on the lands available for selection, far too many have been unable to select allotments in their region. My bill with Senator Sullivan will extend the selection program by another five years, ensuring that as many eligible veterans and families as possible have the time to make their selections. It also opens more lands for selection so that these Alaska Native Vietnam veterans have the ability to hunt, fish, and live on their ancestral lands. Senator Sullivan and I remain firmly committed to ensuring the government fulfills its commitment to our veterans,” said Sen. Murkowski.  

Below is a timeline of the Alaska Native Vietnam-era veteran land allotment issue.

  • In 1906, Congress passed a law allowing Alaska Native individuals to acquire 160-acre parcels of land.
  • In 1971, at a time when many Alaska Native men were serving in the military during the Vietnam War, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) extinguished the 1906 allotment rights.
  • In 1998, the Alaska congressional delegation secured legislation to partially fix the injustice of Alaska Native veterans who missed the chance to apply for an allotment. However, due to certain restrictions, only about 500 veterans ultimately applied out more than 3,000 who were eligible.
  • On February 12, 2019, the Senate passed Sen. Murkowski’s S.47, the National Resources Management Act, including a Sullivan provision to establish the Alaska Native Vietnam Veteran Land Allotment Program. The late Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska) shepherded the legislation through the House.
  • On March 12, 2019, President Donald Trump signed S.47, and the Trump administration began working on its implementation.
  • In January 2021, then-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed the revocation of 11 outdated public land orders (PLOs) issued in 1972 and 1973 that were put in place to allow Alaska Native Corporations to select lands promised to them by Congress 50 years ago. This important step allowed for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to revoke the PLOs.
  • In February 2021, members of the Alaska congressional delegation condemned the Biden administration Department of the Interior’s (DOI) action to postpone the revocation of PLOs signed by former Interior Secretary Bernhardt.
  • In April 2021, in a unilateral and unnecessary action, the BLM postponed the PLO revocations, requiring further environmental analysis on five public land orders with a two-year stay on the implementation of the PLO revocations.
  • On May 7, 2021, Sen. Sullivan and Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R-Alaska) penned an op-ed in the Juneau Empire outlining the State of Alaska’s legislative effort to make state lands available to eligible Alaska Native veterans.
  • In June 2021, Sens. Sullivan and Murkowski introduced legislation to amend the Alaska Native Vietnam Veteran Land Allotment Program and make an additional 3.7 million acres of federal land in the National Wildlife Refuge System available for selection.
  • On April 18, 2022, Sens. Sullivan and Murkowski sent a letter to Secretary Haaland urging her to lift the PLOs that would make over 28 million acres of federal land available for selection by eligible veterans or their heirs.
  • On April 21, 2022, Sen. Sullivan disputed Secretary Haaland’s claim that she is “[moving] expeditiously to deliver on [her] promise” to Alaska Native Vietnam-era veterans as she accepted a “Finding of No Significant Impact” (FONSI) from the acting Alaska BLM director on the Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Alaska Native Vietnam Veteran Land Allotment Program.
  • In February 2023, Sens. Murkowski and Sullivan reintroduced S.175, legislation to codify the revocation of the five PLOs signed during the Trump administration and undoing the Biden administration’s efforts to unfairly halt access to federal public lands in Alaska.
  • In April 2023, Sen. Sullivan condemned Secretary Haaland’s decision to order a new full environmental impact statement (EIS), which delays the implementation of the allotment program even further.
  • On August 10, 2023, Sen. Sullivan criticized Secretary Haaland’s announcement of a PLO to open about 812,000 additional acres of public lands managed by BLM Alaska for selection, noting that the “new” land has already been spoken for by the state, and the decision will result in more delays and legal hurdles for eligible veterans.