WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. Department of Interior has dropped earlier objections to a bill giving 50,000 acres to the Elim Village Corp., clearing the way for the settlement of a 70-year-old dispute over the village's former reservation lands.
On April 14 Congress voted to give 50,000 acres to the Elim corporation to compensate for what the village considers a questionable land raid in 1929.
Marilyn Heiman, the Interior department's top Alaska official, objected not only to the land grant but also to several unrelated provisions in draft versions of the bill during testimony last fall.
But the Interior Department is now recommending that President Clinton sign the measure after Congress made what Heiman called ''significant changes'' to the bill.
Elim, a community of about 300 people 100 miles east of Nome, is one of just a few villages in Alaska that were granted reservations by the federal government in the first half of the century.
The village secured its 350,000 acres of land in 1917. In 1929, mining and fur-farming interests convinced the federal administration under President Herbert Hoover to lop off 50,000 acres.
The legislation approved this month would give Elim's corporation land equivalent to that it lost.
Robert Keith, vice president of the Elim corporation, said the village has been working to reclaim the old reservation lands since 1986, but got nowhere, in part because of opposition from the federal Department of Interior.
Last year, the group hired Roy Jones, a Washington, D.C., attorney with whose experience with Alaska lands dates back to his work on the subcommittee that wrote much of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. Keith said Jones was able to dig up facts that may have overcome at least some of the objections to restoring Elim's land.
Jones found a June 1, 1929, letter from Territorial Delegate Dan Sutherland to the Secretary of the Interior asking that the reservation be reduced.
''I understand that white men would desire to engage in fur farming,'' Sutherland wrote. Then in a July 2 letter, the U.S. Bureau of Education's chief in Alaska said the original reservation was ''more than is needed to protect the rights of the natives or prevent the intrusion of white people. Also, ... white men desire to engage in fur farming on portions of this reserve.''
President Hoover signed the revocation order on Oct. 12, 1929.
Heiman says the administration now supports the bill primarily because it no longer indicates that the long-ago actions of her department were illegal.
Jones, the attorney, said Hoover chopped of the east end of Elim's reservation despite a 1927 law saying only Congress could change reservation boundaries. The Interior department disputes that interpretation of the law.
Heiman said the original measure included unrelated amendments, opposed by the Interior Department, that would have:
--exempted some Native corporation contractors from some federal minority hiring rules
--allowed Native Vietnam veterans to apply for 160-acre allotments even if their service time was entirely after ANCSA ended the allotment program in 1971
--exempted Native corporation land in ''old'' national wildlife refuges from refuge rules even though the corporations knew those rules would apply when they selected the land.
Those provisions were eliminated in the bill approved by Congress.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.