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Mineral Development on Native Lands: The Alaska Perspective

Stephen F. Sorensen, Natural Resources Development and Environmental Regulation in Indian Country (1999)

This paper addresses mineral development on Native lands in Alaska owned by the Native regional corporations and, to some extent, by the Native village corporations.1 These Native corporations were created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (“ANCSA”), which was enacted almost 30 years ago.2 As a result of ANCSA, more than 40 million acres of land are, and will be, in Native ownership.

By making available large tracts of land for mineral exploration and development, ANCSA has presented mining companies a unique opportunity for mineral exploration and development on Native lands without the federal oversight typical of other Indian owned lands. Because these are private Native lands, mining companies and Native corporations are free to negotiate their own deals without federal intervention. This status permits mining companies to acquire a land tenure position that cannot be found on state or federal lands.

Mineral development on Alaska Native lands is not without its own set of complications and procedures. For example, of the 44 million acres conveyed to the Native corporations, the surface estate to 22 million acres will ultimately belong to village corporations, while the regional corporations own the subsurface estate. Thus, in many instances, the mineral development will require negotiations with the regional corporation for subsurface rights an