Leisnoi, Inc. v. Stratman
Citation: 29 ELR 20084
No. 97-35775, 154 F.3d 1062/(9th Cir., 09/08/1998)
The court holds that under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) a native regional corporation need not obtain the consent of a native village corporation to mine on lands that are patented to the village but located outside the village's boundaries. The court first holds that the boundaries of the native village do not include all lands patented to the village corporation. The ANCSA expressly contemplates two distinct concepts: lands patented to the village corporation, and lands within the boundaries of the native village. The land within the native village is a subset of the total patented lands. Hence, ANCSA § 4(f) does not require consent for mining in all patented lands, only on those lands within the boundaries of a native village. Next, the court holds that the boundaries of a native village are defined by occupancy, not historical use. The Secretary of the Interior's view that boundaries of a native village are determined by reference to physical evidence of occupancy is reasonable. ANCSA's definition of "native village" is not evidence of congressional intent to determine boundaries by means of historical use. Moreover, the commonly understood meaning of the word "location" as used in ANCSA for the identification of a native village is enough to render the Secretary's regulation a permissible construction of the statute. Although the court's conclusion may lead to perceived unfairness in a few rare situations, perfection is not to be expected from a statutory scheme such as ANCSA. Moreover, an agency's interpretation of a statute need not be flawless to be reasonable. In addition, the court reject's the village corporation's argument that the Secretary's interpretation is inconsistent with legislative history. The legislative history is unclear, thus, it cannot displace the Secretary's understanding of the text of the statute. Likewise, the court rejects the village corporation's argument that the Secretary's interpretation is in tension with the congressional policy of fostering economic growth. Last, the court holds that the native village has not demonstrated evidence of occupancy on the patented land where the regional corporation seeks to engage in mining activities.
Counsel for Plaintiff
Robert L. Breckberg
E.P. Boyko & Associates
711 H St., Ste. 510, Anchorage AK 99501
Counsel for Defendant
Michael J. Schneider
Law Offices of Michael J. Schneider
880 N St., Ste. 202, Anchorage AK 99501
Before Farris and Hawkins, JJ.