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Land claims at the grass roots:
1966 letters and village newsletters




            Representatives of eight Kotzebue area communities met at the BIA school in Kotzebue last Saturday and Sunday, August 20th and 21st. The public was invited and about 80 people were present. Communities represented were: Kiana, Kotzebue, Noorvik, Selawik, Kivalina, Noatak, Buckland, and Point Hope. The purpose of the meeting was to organize the Northwest Alaska Native Association (NANA). Last week’s meeting was the second time this year that people in the Kotzebue area have met for the purpose of organizing a native association. The first meeting was held in June. At that time temporary officers were chosen to serve while the organization is getting started. The temporary officers are: President, Johnny Shaeffer; Vice President, Richard Curtis; Secretary, Mark Russell; Historian, Ernest Norton (to collect and file news releases). The Board of Directors is composed of Percy Apollock, and Ron Brown. One place remains on the board to be filled by someone from the communities outside of Kotzebue. Willie Hensley is the Executive Director.

            The representatives at the meeting decided to allow temporary officers to prepare suggestions for a constitution and bylaws for NANA. These would be submitted to ALL of the Kotzebue area communities. The suggestions will be revised by the community representatives. After the revised constitution is submitted to all interested communities, voting will be done to accept the constitution and to choose new officers and representatives.


            At the first meeting held in Kotzebue there were six villages present. At that time the land claims for this area were made. One of the first aims of NANA is to complete work on the claim. More exact locations of old fish camps and hunting areas will have to be obtained. Each village representative will do that work for his village. Then the officers of NANA will include the information in the evidence for the claim.

            Another important aim of NANA is to increase communication of problems to the officials in Washington and Juneau. NANA would collect requests and ideas from village representatives. Then the organization would speak with one voice for the whole area. Some of the important problems brought up by village representatives were 24-hour electricity, sanitation, and improved housing. Johnny Shaffer pointed out that NANA could work to help villages find out the facts about government programs. The Arctic Slope Native Association (ASNA) is now doing that for the people in the Barrow area. Shaffer said that the people with strong organizations like ASNA and Cook’s Inlet [sic] are getting a bigger share of federal money for economic improvement.

            Representatives and officers were also interested in what NANA could do to lower food prices in the Kobuk River area. The officers decided to investigate the possibility of getting a native store warehouse in Kotzebue. They felt the warehouse should be large enough to supply the whole area. This would solve the problems of food shortage in existing native stores like Noorvik. At the same time, new native stores could open in other communities. With a warehouse in Kotzebue, native store prices could be low enough to provide competition for Kotzebue and Kobuk Valley stores.

*(see below for corrections)
*Additions:             Harvey Vestal – 1st Vice President

                              Johen Nelson – Treasurer

Correction:             Margret Russell, Secretary



            It’s good to be back home again, after being away from home. When we left Kotzebue on the 5th day of June, there was snow and ice on the ground. I was so cold some of us war our boots and coats to Fairbanks. We left 3:00 PM and got there to Fairbanks at 6:00 P.M., and was it hot that evening; we just about smother. Grasses and trees were already turning green. We didn’t get settle down to our apartments till 10:00 p.m. in the evening.

            Next day on the 6th of June was our first day at meeting. Days went on by fast after of few days of training. First days we all get mixed up; course we were divided into five groups. When we all got used to our groups we know where to go then.

            Me for myself, I have learned a lot of things I never study in BIA school or hear before. Our training this summer at the University of Alaska was real interesting. I’ll never forget the wonderful people I’ve met there. We had nice teachers; every one treated us like they knew us before.

            Later five weeks after training we start practice teaching in four different nurseries and kindergarten schools. Laura Ramath and me go out practice teaching twice a week to Hunter School and either Tot Haven, College Nursery, or College Day Inn. We enjoy teaching and learning at the same time. How a child can understand and learn by feeling and doing.

            We also didn’t study only about teaching. We’ve learned a lot of things us parents should help our kids to grow up in a better way. Think of the nice jobs they’d get if the continued school from the start. Us Headstart teachers will be glad to help your child if we can have your help. You mothers that have a child in the school are welcome to visit the school any day you feel like coming. You don’t have to ask us to come. Come if you want to know what your child is getting and learning. We will try our best to do anything for your child.



            Friday was the last day of work for the boys and girls in Kiana’s Neighborhood Youth Corps. During the summer work period the young people have had a good opportunity to earn some money for school expenses while they also contributed to the neatness and good appearance of Kiana.

            The girls spent a lot of time painting and cutting weeds. The painting was done at the school and in the community building which will be used for the new pre-school program. The girls cut weeds and willows along the sides of the airport so that the runway will remain as good as possible for landing in all kinds of weather. Cutting the willows prevents snow from drifting over the runway and blocking the strip in winter. Lots of cut willows were taken to the work site on the bluff where they were pruned and planted. We hope that they will grow and hold the soil on the bluff.

            The boys’ work contributed to the good appearance of Kiana too. Probably their biggest project was the construction of the stairway leading up the hill near the school. It is hoped that people going to the clinic will appreciate the new stairs and stone path above it. Another work project that will benefit all of Kiana’s small children and some bigger people too, was the improvement of the playground area new the school. New swings and see-saws were added and the volley ball [sic] net was strengthened.

            On the last days of work the N.Y.C. held a can collection day. They tried to tell everyone on the day before the project. People were informed that empty cans would be collected and hauled to the dump at the end of the airport. In addition the yard around the community building was cleared of old shingles and paper that had collected there. We hope the community will appreciate the good efforts of the young people to keep Kiana looking neat.

            Kiana should be proud that so many older people volunteered to help in the N.Y.C. program. The adults in the community worked every day taking turns as supervisors for the workers. This shows that Kiana people are willing and ready to work together for the benefit of the whole community. Kiana publicly thanks the OEO officials, Governor Egan, and Terry Mclean for getting the NYC program back to Kiana this year. The people express their appreciation for the program. The feel it contributed good in many ways. A summer job and income was supplied for the high school students and we will all benefit from the many good works done by the N.Y.C.


            Willie Allen, the new N.Y.C. co-ordinator who is replacing Terry Mclean, visited Kiana on Tuesday, election day. Willy met with Esther Curtis, Ray Blastervold, and the BIA teachers to discuss the future plans for N.Y.C. in Kiana. They discussed the possibility of having an ‘in-school’ N.Y.C. program for the two or three young people who will be old enough for Youth Corps work in Kiana this winter. Some of the possibilities for an “In-school” N.Y.C. might be kitchen help and other work after school. Willie said he would have to visit again before final plans could be made. However, he did say that the workers could do work for the community outside the school building. Such work would include projects that would benefit the town and might be sponsored by some organization in the community.


            Kiana is very lucky to be one of the villages that will have a funded Headstart program this winter. School will start on Monday October 3 and will meet five hours a day, Monday through Friday.

            A meeting of the Community Action committee was held on August 16th at the Community Building, with 12 voting members present. The committee is the official sponsor of the Headstart program in Kiana. The following people were elected for staff jobs:

            instructional aides: Cora Gooden and Christine Westlake

            janitor – Teddy Johnson

            bookkeeper – Myrtle Henry

At an earlier meeting, Dora Henry was elected to be head teacher and Lillian Westlanke to be cook. Dora has just completed an excellent 3 week training course at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. She was one of 49 Headstart teachers from all over Alaska. We are very glad the children will have such a fine staff working with them! We are glad too that the Headstart program has created these six new jobs in the community.

            The children will be comfortable and warm in the newly remodelled community building. The N.Y.C. girls have done a service to the community by doing such a good job of painting the classroom. It now looks bright, cheerful, and clean, with its new color scheme of light green and yellow. The men are busy working to repair the building in the back of the community center, which will be used as a kitchen. It has been insulated, and a connecting passageway will also be built, to be used for storage. A cooking stove will be moved down from the BIA school. Kiana is surely lucky that the children will have classes in such a good building!

            The teachers hope to keep the enrollment to a limit of twenty children, mainly because of the size of the building. Children who are 5 years old and will be going to the BIA school next year will be given the first choice for going to pre-school; next the children who will be 4 years old by October 3rd, when school starts. If there is still room, boys and girls who will turn 4 soon after school starts will be admitted.

            The budget for Kiana will be about $16,000! This includes: salaries for the staff, repairs on the building, stove oil, food for the hot lunches ($1.00 for each child each day), toys, and other equipment. Many supplies are already ordered, paid for by Headstart, and on their way to us by mail. This includes a record player and movie projector. The movies shown to the pre-school children, will also be shown later to the school children and adults, free of charge. About $40.00 worth of children’s records have been ordered and $80.00 worth of children’s books. Also about $500.00 worth of equipment and supplies will arrive soon, including paper, crayons, paints, dolls, puzzles, blocks, and many other kinds of toys.

            There will be a general meeting on Monday, September 26th, at 7:00 P.M. in the Community building. At this meeting, the teachers will meet with parents of the children, but the meeting is open to everyone, whether they will have children in the pre-school program or not. We hope everyone will come so that we can all discuss plans together. Come with your questions and your suggestions! Let’s all work together to make Kiana’s Headstart the best possible!


            This winter we want our pre-school children to eat the best possible hot lunches. We also want to spread the money from the Headstart budget around the community. So... this winter Headstart will be buying some of its food directly from people in the village. The kitchen can buy things like fresh baked bread or pies, mean, dried fish, or berries. COME TO THE MEETING ON SEPTEMBER 26TH AND FIND OUT ALL ABOUT IT! (7:00 P.M. in the Community building).


            Don Perkins, OEO Co-ordinator for this area, spoke at the NANA meeting on August 20th in Kotzebue. He strongly supported the formation of NANA. “NANA is a legal organization...and it may be the best thing that could happen in this area,” he said. Perkins agreed with Johnny Shaffer, NANA president, when he said that most government money goes where the people have had strong organization. Perkins encouraged the work on land claims. He stated that the people are acting within their rights to ask that the government decide the land question. concerning the eland claim petitions, Perkins said, “There are many laws on the books to protect you and the land, but many times these laws were not enforced. Quite often the way to get to use a law is to request its use. When a group gets together to make a request, they always get more attention then when only one person makes the request.” Perkins repeated again that the people in Alaska who have had strong organizations live better and have more jobs. He mentioned the canneries in the South East. There, he said, people were able to get together and work together to create jobs to benefit everyone. Perkins told the meeting that O.E.O. wants to work with village organizations and groups like NANA. His purpose is to ask what people want and need. “We don’t try to tell people what is best for you, or let’s do this and this and this.” He emphasized what most O.E.O. programs are working in areas where people have shown an interest by forming organizations.

            Perkins complimented Gene Geffy and the fine Community Action Committee in Kiana. The new Headstart program in Kiana is sponsored by the committee.




            William Hensley speaking at the NANA meeting in Kotzebue outlined the laws concerning native land in Alaska. Hensley’s main point is that the land claims are based on use and occupancy. Furthermore, the U.S. government has promised to settle the land question for 100 years. So far this has not been done.

            Three legal documents were cited to explain the general right of Alaskan Natives to claim the land they have used for thousands of years. In 1867 the Treaty of Cession placed the natives in a different category from other U.S. citizens. This was because the question of land title was not settled. The solving of the land problem would in effect end this “special category” for Alaskan natives. The Organic Act of 1884 again put off the question of the land title ‘until future legislation is made.” Furthermore the Organic Act said “the Natives will not be disturbed in the use and occupation of the land.” Hensley declared, “We have not been protected in our use of the land. Furthermore we have not seen any legislation to settle the question.” Hensley then stated that the writers of the Alaskan State Constitution recognized the Native claims by disclaiming title to any Native land.

            Hensley feels that the settlement of the land claim will benefit both Natives and the entire state. “We are no longer allowing the decision to ride along; Natives should have a voice in the development of their land.” As an example of the good results of Native controlled development, Hensley told about the Tyonek oil lands. There the people have a reserve similar to Noorvik. Oil was discovered there. The money from the oil stayed in the community because the Natives controlled the land. “Today the Natives in the Tionic area have 60 new homes at an average cost of $25,000 and they are building a new store and other community improvements,” he said.

EDITORIAL – By David Richards

            Most of the newspaper was used to tell about the Northwest Alaska Native Association meeting in Kotzebue. Gene Geffy and I attended the meeting together. I was there to observe so that I could report to you about the meeting. Gene felt that it was his duty to let Kiana know the facts about NANA and the land claims. He suggested that we should hold a general meeting when everyone is home, so we could tell more about NANA. If people are interested in such a meeting I will be glad to speak at that time. I have a tape recording of the entire Kotzebue meeting. If you are interested, we will play the tape.

Alaskool note: We would be very interested in putting the tape recording or transcript of this NANA general meeting in Kotzebue, if someone would like to make it available to us. -- Thanks.