"Wright, Haley Spar during Hearing on Native Claims"

by Chris Carlson of our Washington Bureau

Anchorage Daily News, May 7, 1971, p.1

Washington — Don Wright, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, charged here Thursday that Congress did not know what it was doing when it created some of its vast federal land reserves in Alaska.

Wright’s comment came in testimony before the Indian Affairs Subcommittee of the House Interior Committee, hearing testimony for the fourth straight day on the Alaska Native land claims. Friday is expected to be the last day of testimony.

Wright told subcommittee chairman Rep. James Haley, D–Fla., "I’m not sure Congress knew what it was doing when it created those reserves at the expense of Native rights." (Haley, in questioning, was trying to get Wright to admit that the Natives, as citizens of Alaska and the U.S., had just as much right to the federal domains as anyone else.)

Haley’s questions provoked Wright. The AFN leader lashed out at the idea that Natives had an equal right to the land. He told Haley that state lands were "poorly managed," and he charged that the state, with little regard for Native sentiment, had put Native lands up for sale at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair.

He also charged that the oil companies, when they first came to Prudhoe Bay, had run roughshod over the Natives. He cited both examples as "inhuman" treatment, and asked Haley if he really thought "that was justice."

He told Haley the only justice which could now be provided to the Natives would be to recognize the AFN demands for 60 million acres and the perpetual oil royalty.

During the course of the session, Rep. Haley several times expressed personal opinions, indicating that he, like Rep. Wayne Aspinall, D–Colo., is not receptive to the AFN position.

At various times during the session, Haley said such things as, "I don’t have too much faith in some court’s decisions," and that he was "being influenced by many letters against the AFN’s bill."

Committee counsel, Lewis Ziegler took exception to several statements of AFN attorney Ed Weinberg. In one line of questioning he got Weinberg to admit that the federal government, if it recognized the AFN claim, still would be paying only a fraction of the worth or actual value of the claims.

He questioned if such settlement would legally be "fair and honorable," under the terms of the Indian claims commission act. He was seeking to point out that at some future time the Natives might turn to the courts on the grounds the settlement they wanted presently really hadn’t been "fair and honorable."

Ziegler also had Wright state for the record that the $500 million the Natives sought in cash was to cover projected needs over the next nine years, and was not related to what they valued the lands they were giving up to be.


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