Haida Corp. poised to take 63 acres near Sitka

Posted: Tuesday, September 17, 2002

SITKA (AP) -- A Native village corporation on Price of Wales Island is about to receive about 63 acres of national forest land in Sitka Sound, the U.S. Forest Service said.

The Haida Corp. requested the land on Siginaka Islands and the Silver Point and Cobb Island areas as part of the Haida Land Exchange Act of 1986.

Sitka native organizations objected to the land transfer citing the land as important cultural and hunting grounds. The Bureau of Land Management suspended the transfer while the Haida Corp. and Forest Service worked on an alternative land selection, according to a story published in The Daily Sentinel in Sitka.

Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Susan Lavin said her agency was notified that the Haida Corp. was no longer seeking alternative lands.

The Haida Corp. is based in Hydaburg, 150 miles south of Sitka on Prince of Wales Island. The corporation has about 700 shareholders and has land and timber holdings in Southeast Alaska and operates several businesses.

Sitka native organizations and some local residents had protested that the land would go into ownership from a distant corporation.

''It's a tough pill to swallow for Sitka, but we have to implement the law and respect the rights of the Haida Corporation,'' said Scott Fitzwilliams, Forest Service recreation, lands and mineral staff officer for the Tongass National Forest.

Sitka Tribes of Alaska proposed in a letter to seek an extension from Congress to allow the Haida Corp. to pick land elsewhere, said its chairman Woody Widmark.

Widmark said that tribal leaders were relieved that the Haida Corp. did not choose lands that the tribe planned to use to repatriate cremated remains and funerary objects.

The Haida Corp. expects to issue a letter to the Sitka Tribe later this week, said Haida chief executive officer Russell Weller Jr.

Weller said it is unclear when the land transfer could be complete. The land was picked because of its timber value and because of traditional or cultural value, Weller said.

The act allowed the Haida tribe to select land anywhere where the tribe had historically traveled by canoe, he said.

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