Canyon Village Stands Alone
Together with Canyon Village, Doyon, Limited has spent time and resources over the last 30 years seeking an opportunity that would allow Canyon Village to receive their ANCSA land selections. Currently, Canyon Village is the only Native group in the region without either a conveyance or a pending conveyance arranged by special legislation or negotiation. Essentially, every other village within the Doyon region has opted out of ANCSA or has already received their ANCSA village corporation lands.
Under ANCSA, village corporations selected their lands first, and then Doyon and other Alaska Native regional corporations were required to select their lands around those selections. Doyon receives the subsurface estate of lands selected by village corporations.
In 1976, Canyon Village filed their selections for lands located on the banks of the Porcupine River. In 1983, the Bureau of Indian Affairs officially certified Kian Tr’ee, the village corporation for Canyon Village, as eligible to receive lands under ANCSA.
Unfortunately, what followed was a chain of events that would continually delay and deny Canyon Village land conveyances. It was not until 1985 that Canyon Village was finally officially notified that their selections were ineligible due to the classification of over 8.9 million acres of land withdrawals for the Rampart Dam project. But by the time Canyon Village was made aware in 1985, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act had already passed and the Alaska National Wildlife Reservation had been established. Due to this, Canyon Village lands officially became a part of the refuge, making them federally protected lands.
The lifting of the Rampart Dam withdrawals was the last administrative action that would have allowed Canyon Village to receive their lands without legislation. When the withdrawals for Rampart Dam were finally lifted in 1990, no provision was adopted allowing Canyon Village their selections. With the establishment of the refuge, Canyon Village was permanently foreclosed on receiving their selected lands, unless Congress specifically authorizes, or approves, these selections.
To compound the problems faced by Canyon Village, on February 22, 1976, the Townsite Trustee, a federal agent representing the U.S. government, officially amended the Canyon Village townsite. In the amendment, one of the two townsite tracts was deleted in the mistaken belief that it would be conveyed to Canyon Village under ANCSA. The outcome of this action was a net loss of 30 acres of land.
It has been the position of the federal government that either Congress can pass legislation allowing Canyon Village to receive their selected lands, or lands somewhere else could be conveyed to Canyon Village. The alternate selections available to Canyon Village were in a mountainous area and the lands proposed were also selected by the State of Alaska. If Canyon Village wants to remain at their traditional home site, Congress would need to approve any selections within the refuge.
For a number of years, Doyon committed time and resources to advance legislation in Washington D.C. to resolve these long-acknowledged errors. After much education and advocacy efforts, three bills were introduced to authorize conveyance.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced S.1481 – the ANCSA Improvement Act of 2017. Section 8 of the bill amends Section 14(h) of ANCSA to make specific conveyances to Canyon Village – directing the Secretary of Interior to convey 6,400 acres of surface estate to Kian Tr’ee Corporation, for the Native Village of Canyon Village, with the subsurface estate conveyed to Doyon, Limited.
Sen. Murkowski also introduced a standalone bill S.1487 – ANCSA Kaktovik and Canyon Village Land Conveyance Settlement Act of 2017 if the full ANCSA Improvement Act of 2017 has issues passing.
On the House side, Congressman Don Young introduced HR 231 – the Canyon Village Land Conveyance Act.
Doyon continues to work with the Congressional Delegation to ensure the bill language is exactly the same in both Houses so that when the bill is finally passed it can be signed into law.
Doyon also helped to raise awareness for Canyon Village. In 2017, Doyon and Canyon Village presented a resolution to the Tanana Chiefs Conference to support Canyon Village’s selection of land for conveyance. The Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments, the Alaska Native Village Corporation Association, the Alaska Federation of Natives, and the ANCSA Regional Association reviewed the proposed legislation and voiced support for Canyon Village. In addition, the Department of Interior has made efforts over many years to address the Canyon Village land issues and has most recently supported the introduced legislation. This support is a critical step forward for resolution.
With continued effort and positive support, Canyon Village may finally get their due. It is possible for the bill to pass with continued support by Alaska Natives. The original lands selected by Canyon Village in 1976 remain, to this day, of significant cultural and historic relevance. They are important to the original founders and to the descendants, who now with this legislation have a hope for the future of their village.
Canyon Village Timeline
1962: Canyon Village School opens
1963: BLM approves townsite allotment for Canyon Village for 60 acres
1965: PLO 3520 Rampart powersite withdrawal of over 8,900,000 acres
1971: ANCSA is passed
1976: Canyon Village filed their ANCSA selections at their village site
1977: Canyon Village townsite is relinquished – in the mistaken belief that the land would be included in ANCSA selections
1980: ANILCA is passed establishing ANWR
1981: Canyon Village receives 29.86 acres under the Townsite Act
1983: Canyon Village certified as eligible to receive lands under ANCSA, but all lands are now reserved
1985: BLM explains to Canyon village that their land selections were invalid due to the Rampart Dam powersite classification, and furthermore, after the revocation of the Rampart Dam withdrawals, their lands would still be unavailable because they lie within ANWR
1990: Rampart powersite is finally revoked
1999: BLM requests adjudication of Canyon Village by offering Canyon Village elsewhere OR recommending Congressional action
2016 and 2017: Bills introduced to authorize Kian Tr’ee, the village corporation for Canyon Village, to select 6,400 acres of land at their historic site
Clifton Jonas and others work to build a bridge in Canyon Village in March 2003. Photo courtesy of Delma Fields