Feds will visit Western Alaska to offer Native Vietnam-era veterans land

a veteran
BLM land law examiner Mike Everett (left) helps Florentino Barril and his wife Davina fill out an application for the Alaska Native Vietnam-era Veterans Land Allotment Program in Tulalip, Wash. on April 4, 2023. (BLM photo by Lisa Hart)

A group of U.S. government officials will visit Bethel later this month, to help Alaska Natives who served in the military during the Vietnam War select federal land parcels to which they are entitled.

In 2022, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced that it had completed the final step to begin processing applications from eligible Alaska Native Vietnam-era veterans for Native allotments to be selected from approximately 27 million acres of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). All told, there are now about 29.5 million acres available.

This is the third time federally managed land has been offered to Alaska Native Vietnam veterans, who did not have the chance to meet an earlier deadline to select land allotments because they were serving during the war.

Candy Grimes is BLM’s Native allotment coordinator. She has worked on Native allotments for 20 years.

“We’re the ones who convey the lands and process the applications. And it does take a couple of years to process,” Grimes said.

Grimes said that the program will allow applications through Dec. 29, 2025.

“This is for Alaska Natives who served at some time during a portion of the Vietnam era. And even if the allottee, the Alaska Native is deceased, the heirs of the allottee can choose a member of the family or someone to represent the estate of the deceased veteran and apply on behalf of the estate for the land,” Grimes said.

Those eligible are allowed up to 160 acres. As part of an outreach program, a federal team will be at the Association of Village Council Presidents in Bethel from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 20 to the Alaska Native Vietnam-era veterans and their descendants. The team will consist of Bureau of Indian Affairs staff, Grimes and two land law examiners. Staff won’t be able to accept applications that day. Those are required to be mailed or hand-delivered to the bureau’s Anchorage office.

“We are available to help them with selecting their lands, explaining the application and the map to them. Also BIA service providers are available for such help,” Grimes said.

Grimes said that the team will bring laptops with them to view maps online. Because there are more than 29 million acres to look at, they won’t be able to produce the number of maps needed to give a close look at each parcel or each area.

“So they could see the lands close enough to make a good indication of which lands they want. That’s why it’s online. And we’re doing this outreach to different villages to help those who may not have computer access, or in such a case so that we can help them look at the maps and explain how to fill out the applications,” Grimes said.

The Alaska Native Vietnam-era Veterans Land Allotment Program website has tutorial videos to help people better understand the process, how to use the map software, and how to fill out the applications. If you’re a predetermined eligible individual not much is required; more work is required for many descendants.

“If they are descendants of a deceased veteran, they will need to have a court appointment to be the personal rep of this estate. If they’re not a predetermined eligible individual, we will need to have a copy of their certificate degree of Indian blood, proving that they are Alaska Native, and a (Defense Department Form 214) showing their dates of active service and their character discharge. This is for the veterans themselves,” said Grimes.

Grimes also said veterans who have not been predetermined and do not have a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood can also provide a letter from their tribe stating they are a member of that tribe. If the veteran was killed in action, there won’t be a Form 214 detailing separation from the military, but there will be a letter of service or a document from the Department of Defense that the family member can request in order to verify the veteran’s dates of service and character of service.

This process can take up to two years. Grimes said that there are many reasons why it could take this long. Oftentimes, applicants change their minds about the land they selected. When this happens, the process starts over and it does significantly extend the time it takes to process the application. The records must be updated each time there is an amendment to an application.

“If they select land that is selected by the state of Alaska or an ANCSA corporation, we will ask the selectee to relinquish their selection. The state and the corporations are not required to relinquish their selections,” Grimes said.

Grimes also wants people to keep an eye on the BLM website for the latest information. They will also post events or deadlines as well. She said that there are still some eligible veterans her office hasn’t been able to reach, and asks anyone who knows an Alaska Native veteran who served during the Vietnam War era to encourage them to get in touch with the team.

Previous articleA deep dive into the Yukon River’s ancient history could result in a new name for a rock formation
Next articleGood Medicine exhibit at Anchorage Museum features Indigenous healers and medicine people