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Alaska lawmakers advance bill to protect cemetery

·1 min read

JUNEAU, Alaska — The Alaska House of Representatives has advanced a bill that would protect an Alaska Native cemetery at Funter Bay and add about 251 acres (about 102 hectares) of state land.

The Unangax cemetery holds more than 30 graves of people from the state who died at Funter Bay during World War II after the U.S. military forced them from their homes and held them for much of the war at the remote spot, KTOO Public Media reported Friday.

Most of the people who died at Funter Bay were elders or very young children who were left without clean water or basic medical care more than a thousand miles (more than a 1,600 kilometres ) from their homes, the outlet reported.

The bill had been on the road to passing last year before the coronavirus pandemic cut the legislative session short.

This year, a group of Republican state representatives criticized the bill for transferring too much land to the park.

Republican Rep. Kevin McCabe said he supported the intent of the bill but he proposed an amendment that would transfer 90 acres (about 36 hectares) to the park instead of the 251 acres.

Without the amendment, McCabe said, the state would be transferring additional acres, “including an island that’s offshore and not even part of this cemetery — that is unneeded transfer of Alaska’s wealth into a state park.”

Democratic Rep. Sarah Hannan, who is one of the sponsors of the bill, said the Department of Natural Resources had found the land has no commercial value and recommended transferring the entire 251-acre tract because it would streamline management.

McCabe’s amendment failed and the bill advanced without objection.

The bill now heads to the Senate.

The Associated Press