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Acquiring Mineral Rights to Alaska Native Lands

Stephen F. Sorensen, Land and Permitting (1994)

This paper addresses the acquisition of mineral rights 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 over 20 years ago.2 As a result of ANCSA, more than 40 million acres of land are, and will be, in Native ownership. The Native corporations own vast tracts of land; some holdings exceed the size of several states.3

By making available large tracts of land for mineral exploration contracts, ANCSA has presented mining companies an unusual opportunity for mineral exploration and development. Because these are private Native lands, there is no federal oversight normally associated with Indian 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. Further, in light of the expected changes to the mining law, these lands may represent the last great “safe haven” for mineral exploration and development.