FILE - In this April 23, 2021 photo, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland speaks during a news briefing at the White House in Washington. Secretary Haaland vowed on her first day on the job to ensure Native American tribes have opportunities to speak with her and the agencies she oversees. Native American and Alaska Native groups are seeing change under Haaland but some remain frustrated with the pace of action. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

FILE - In this April 23, 2021 photo, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland speaks during a news briefing at the White House in Washington. Secretary Haaland vowed on her first day on the job to ensure Native American tribes have opportunities to speak with her and the agencies she oversees. Native American and Alaska Native groups are seeing change under Haaland but some remain frustrated with the pace of action. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Haaland announces land transfers for Alaska Native veterans

Interior Secretary is meeting groups across Alaska

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland — the first Indigenous person to hold a cabinet office — is visiting Alaska this week to promote the president’s infrastructure bill and to meet with local leaders.

At a news conference in Anchorage Thursday, Haaland announced an additional 27 million acres of land will be made available to Alaska Native veterans of the Vietnam War era.

“We have a sacred obligation to our veterans,” Haaland said. “I am grateful to the veterans we met with today for their patience.”

In his address to the Alaska State Legislature on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan was deeply critical of Haaland and the Biden administration’s environmental policies that limit the production of oil and for what he said were unnecessary delays in transferring lands to veterans. But on Thursday, Haaland said that proper environmental reviews needed to be done before lands could be approved for transfer.

Haaland met with a group of Alaska Native veterans Thursday, one of whom — Nelson Angapak — said at the news conference he felt the secretary understood their issues more than previous officials had.

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“She understood where we were coming from, she understands who were are,” Angapak said. “We are grateful the land base for our veterans has expanded.”

Haaland also highlighted the more than $138 million in infrastructure spending coming to the state through the bipartisan infrastructure law. Alaska will receive more than $75 million for clean up of orphaned oil wells, $10 million to reduce wildfire risk and $4.2 million to revitalize abandoned mine lands.

“These investments will not only address lingering effects of legacy pollution, they will also create jobs,” Haaland said.

On Wednesday Haaland traveled with U.S. Sen Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican, to King Cove on the Alaska Peninsula. King Cove has been trying for decades to have a road constructed across a national wildlife refuge that residents say would provide critical access to a nearby airport. During a news conference with reporters Thursday, Haaland said she hadn’t made a decision regarding the road.

During the news conference,Haaland stressed the importance of environmental resilience and said the administration was working to stem the effects of a worsening climate crisis.

On Friday, Haaland will travel to Fairbanks and will remain in the state until Sunday.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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