Following the settlement of the continental United States by Europeans, new land laws were created. By contrast, Russia did not settle Alaska. Russia already had a large land base and was mainly interested in harvesting natural resources. In 1867, Russia sold its claim to occupy Alaska to the United States. In the Treaty of Cession, the United States and Russia agreed that Natives were subject to laws and regulations of the United States.
The first Alaska land law, the 1884 Organic Act, Section 8, states in part “. . .the Indians or other persons in said district shall not be disturbed in the possession of any lands actually in their use or occupation or now claimed by them but the terms under which such persons may acquire title to such lands is reserved for future legislation by Congress . . . .” The Act established the difference between Native land policies in Alaska and the lower 48 states. The United States did not move Alaska Natives to reservations.
Congress also adopted the 1862 Homestead Act and 1906 Native Allotment Act. These Acts established land ownership for individual Natives and non-Natives. The Native claims mentioned in the Organic Act remained unsettled.
State land selections and increased use of natural resources, including those initiated by the discovery of oil on the North Slope, followed statehood in 1959. Congress adopted the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971 to provide clear ownership of the land needed for the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. With the adoption of ANCSA, the land claims of the Alaska Natives, established more than 100 years earlier, were finally settled.
ANCSA provided for the creation of regional Native corporations and individual village corporations within each region to accept surface and subsurface land title based upon the number of Native residents present in the Native village. The Act also provided for conveyance of land to a Native group under certain circumstances where there were not 25 Native residents in the village. Individual village residents still did not have titles to the lands their homes were on, and few village governments owned the lands used for public purposes.
Congress recognized the need for land title for occupants of village lands. To meet this need, ANCSA provided that village corporations get ownership (interim conveyance or patent) to the available lands. Under ANCSA Section 14(c), the village corporation then reconveys the title for parcels used by qualifying individuals and organizations.
ANCSA Subsection 14(c)(3) spells out the land to be reconveyed to the municipal corporation or state in trust (if the community is unincorporated) for community purposes. According to ANCSA Subsection 14(c)(3), “. . . title to the remaining surface estate of the improved land on which the Native village is located and as much additional land as is necessary for community expansion, appropriate rights-of-way for public use, and other foreseeable community needs. . . . Provided further, that any net revenue derived from the sale of resources harvested . . . shall be paid to the Village Corporation.”
Improved land may be defined as “the land conveyed under ANCSA to village corporations which is so changed from its natural state through valuable additions made to the land or through regular use by the residents of the village,” as provided in the Municipal Trust Land regulations in the Alaska Administrative Code at 3 AAC 190.990(5).
The following are examples of changes that create improved lands:
- Community buildings,
- Sewage lagoons,
- Water storage tanks, and
- Similar public uses.
Sometimes village corporations propose to include post-1971 homes as a part of the remaining improvements that are to be conveyed to the municipality or state in trust. Because these homes do not qualify for 14(c)(1) conveyances, the municipality or the state in trust may be in a better position to transfer this land to the homeowner. Title 29 and Municipal Trust Land regulations have provisions that allow for the transfer of land where an equitable interest exists.
Next, consider the phrase “as much additional land as is necessary for community expansion.”
Communities need land for future projects and activities. As a community grows, it will require land for public use.
ANCSA does not specifically define “community expansion.” The municipality can propose land needed for community expansion and negotiate with the village corporation for that land. For example, although an existing housing project may provide for current residents, many young people in the community will need new housing in the future. The municipality may propose a future housing project site and a road right-of-way as 14(c)(3) land.
Understanding the phrase “appropriate rights-of-way for public use” first requires an explanation of rights-of-way.
A right-of-way is a right of passage over another landowner’s ground. Types of right-of-way include:
- Utility pole,
- Sewer and water line, and
- Other public use.
Rights-of-way should include existing roads and trails and may include future roads and trails. Refer to Village Land Reconveyance Planning: A Handbook on ANCSA Section 14(c) for more information on rights-of-way.
The phrase “other foreseeable community needs” describes community needs that can be seen or known in advance. Such needs are identified by the municipality and may be agreed to by the corporation. For example, the community may recognize that a landfill will be needed. A suitable site can be identified as a foreseeable need.
The next phrase quoted above from 14(c)(3) is “provided further, that any net revenues derived from the sale of resources harvested...”
The intent of this language is to state that if the municipality sells the timber or harvests other surface resources from land received under ANCSA Subsection 14(c)(3), profits from the sale must go to the village corporation. Timber or other surface resources may be used for public purposes (to build a community hall, for example) without payment to the village corporation. Remember, the regional corporation owns the gravel and other subsurface resources and the municipality has no right to these resources for any purpose without the owner’s consent.
Why 14(c) Decisions Are Important and Require Careful Consideration
Here are several reasons why these decisions must be carefully made:
Land ownership boundaries are established. Ownership boundaries identify the location of land that will be owned by individuals, nonprofits, businesses, and communities.
Corporations and municipalities prepare and review management and land plans. These organizations usually define their goals and purposes to determine land needs for 14(c)(3). They then make plans to reach their goals. Structures, landfills, and other projects involving land are important parts of the plans they will make.
A community plans for its future. People have a chance to “design” their future community and plan for what the community will be like.
How to Accomplish 14(c)(3) Reconveyance
Before you start the 14(c) process, keep four important points in mind:
1. Section 14(c) is federal law. It cannot be taken lightly. Village corporation lands remain subject to its provisions until the 14(c) claims are satisfied.
2. ANCSA allowed the individuals enrolled to villages to incorporate as either profit or nonprofit corporations. Villages incorporated as profit corporations. Therefore, according to state law, each village corporation has a duty to make a profit for its shareholders. This duty may be incentive for the village corporation to keep land that has commercial potential in the municipality or village.
3. Only land selected and conveyed by patent, or interim conveyance, to the village corporation is subject to 14(c). These are the only lands where 14(c) claims can exist.
4. Before the municipality acquires or disposes of land, it must have a land ordinance in place. Alaska Statute (AS) 29.35.090 states: “The governing body shall by ordinance establish a formal procedure for acquisition and disposal of land and interests in land by the municipality.”
This law requires that the municipality must, before receiving or disposing of 14(c) lands, develop a land acquisition and disposal ordinance.
Meeting Community Needs
Community members should know the powers and purposes of municipalities and village corporations to understand their roles in the 14(c)(3) reconveyance process. Both entities serve local needs and interests. By understanding the powers and purposes of each, the community can decide which can best meet the various needs of the community. For example, the municipality needs land for public purposes, such as a fire hall or public utility. On the other hand, the corporation needs land for its businesses, such as a retail store, that a municipality is not normally designed to own and operate. The municipality and the village corporation each need land: the municipality for its fire hall; the village corporation for its store.
The status of land ownership after land decisions are made is another major factor in deciding which lands should be transferred. The village corporation is a private organization and may restrict use of its lands. The municipality must generally allow public access to lands and facilities.
Planning for 14(c)(3) Reconveyance
Staff time and other resources will be needed to complete the tasks of 14(c)(3) reconveyance. In some cases, existing staff can do the job. In other cases, additional help will be needed. Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development (DCCED) can provide sample documents, base maps for use in mapping boundaries, and some technical assistance in getting you started on the 14(c)(3) settlement process.
To make a 14(c)(3) proposal, the municipality needs to know its land needs and match them with the land available for 14(c). Land ownership, land suitability, current land use, and plans for community expansion (future land use) must be examined. The best way to understand the relationship between these factors is to plot the information on a base map. The explanation below describes how to create a base map and add the information describing each factor.
Base map: Start with a base map to plot information on. A rectified aerial photo base map is good to use since most residents will quickly understand the location of existing structures and terrain features. DCCED can provide maps for most communities. While these maps are quite useful, since they usually display existing surveyed boundaries, utilities, and land use on a rectified aerial photo, they may not be up to date. Be sure to check the completion date in the map notes and be prepared to gather additional land information that may have occurred in the interim.
Draw information on the map or on clear plastic sheets that lie on top of the base map (overlays). The use of separate layers allows comparison of several types of information. Plot information on land ownership, current land use, land suitability, and future land use as discussed below.
Land ownership: Only land received by the village corporation under ANCSA is available for selection by the municipality under 14(c)(3). Within these boundaries, the following types of land ownership parcels, which are not available for selection, might be found:
- Private land holdings such as Native allotments,
- Patented mining claims, and
- Federal townsite land.
Current land use: Identify current land uses, including public buildings, residences, businesses, public use areas, roads and trails, and utilities.
Land suitability: Identify land suitable for development. Consider such things as:
- Type of soil,
- Accessibility (how you get to it),
- Land that is in a floodplain or subject to erosion, and
- Site characteristics suitable for projects with special requirements, such as landfills.
Future land use: Determine future land needs of the community and identify areas to meet those needs. Show all planned development, private and public. Consider these types of development:
- New housing areas,
- Commercial activities,
- Community projects, and
- Roads and trails.
By using map layers that show future land use, you can develop a 14(c)(3) proposal. It should identify three types of land: right-of-way, community-used land, and expansion land. Specific requirements for these lands are described below.
Right-of-way: Include existing roads and trails as well as roads to serve future development. Identify proposed and existing utility lines.
Community land: Include land used for public buildings and public uses.
Expansion land: Include land for future public buildings, facilities, and services. Include land for future housing if this has been identified as a need that the municipality will meet.
Make sure the 14(c)(3) proposal does not include 14(c)(1) or 14(c)(2) claims or other private land.
14(c)(3) Requires Mutual Agreement
Ideally, the corporation and the municipality agree to a jointly planned 14(c)(3) reconveyance. When the municipality or state in trust and the village corporation work together on the reconveyance, each benefits from shared information on plans and capabilities.
Each party in the process can influence the final decision. The corporation does not proceed until it is satisfied with the 14(c)(3) proposal. The municipality or state in trust can influence the agreement because the law requires that any conveyance of less than 1,280 acres be agreed to in writing by the municipality or state in trust. Furthermore, any claimant not satisfied with the proposed 14(c) conveyance can file suit within one year from the date when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) accepts the map of boundaries. Obviously, the 14(c)(3) process works best if the municipality or state in trust and corporation agree. This avoids delay in transfer of 14(c) land.
Written Agreement Is Advised
A 14(c)(3) agreement, which describes the land and the terms of the contract, should be in writing. The law requires any agreement for less than 1,280 acres to be in writing. A written agreement preserves the negotiated results until the lands are deeded, which reduces the likelihood of confusion for new board members, council members, or staff. Once the parties have agreed on the lands to be conveyed, the land often is not deeded until it is surveyed. The agreement allows land to be used between the time of the agreement and when the land is deeded.
Map of Boundaries
The map of boundaries is an important piece of the process. It is essentially a picture of the 14(c)(3) proposal. It also displays the 14(c)(1), (2), and (4) claims. It is prepared by the village corporation and submitted to BLM. BLM requires the village corporation to sign a statement that all conflicts concerning property lines shown on the map have been resolved.
Notice of Filing Map of Boundaries
BLM publishes a notice in the newspaper when the village corporation files a map of boundaries. If 14(c) claimants are not satisfied, Section 902(b) of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) allows them up to one year from the date specified in the notice to file a legal action. BLM's responsibility is to survey the 14(c) lands from the instructions given on the map. BLM does not intercede for or against the 14(c) claimants. It is very important that the municipality or state in trust examine the map of boundaries to be sure that the 14(c)(3) claim is accurately shown.
Section 902(b) of ANILCA
“(b) Decisions made by a Village Corporation to reconvey land under section 14(c) of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act shall not be subject to judicial review unless such action is initiated before a court of competent jurisdiction within one year after the date of the filing of the map of boundaries as provided for in regulations promulgated by the Secretary.”
Plan of Survey
When BLM accepts the map of boundaries it becomes a plan of survey. The map is usually signed after the one-year period expires and no conflicts have been recorded in the courts. For more information, read the BLM policy on maps of boundaries. A copy can be obtained from BLM or DCCED.
Survey and Deeds
After the survey has been done and the survey plat approved by BLM and recorded at the District Recorder's Office, the village corporation can issue deeds. The issuance of deeds completes the 14(c) process. The deeds should also be recorded at the appropriate District Recorder’s Office.