The following are public statements provided at hearings held in Fairbanks and Anchorage the 17th and 18th of October 1969 prior to the passage of ANCSA. They provide the reader with some of the issues and concerns discussed prior to the passage of ANCSA.
STATEMENT OF IRWIN MITCHELL, ALASKA MINERS ASSOCIATION (spoken)
I am Irvin Mitchell. I reside in the State and have for the past 17 years.
During recent years, when discussing Native claims, a number of separate and sometimes conflicting ideas have been combined into single topics:
"The Natives should receive land in settlement of a question of ownership – the Natives should receive land in order to provide for subsistence."
"The land belongs to the Natives – the Natives have been pushed off the land."
"The Native prefers to live in the village of his ancestors – or three-fourths of them do – the Native wants the trappings and luxuries of the day."
The list goes on. Throughout it all is an emotional strain which camouflages the real needs.
For a number of reasons the basic needs have never been clearly defined, if indeed, they are known to anyone. A need for resources on which to base a village livelihood is certainly indicated. But what resources, and for what type of livelihood? Surely these are subjects of importance. It has been proposed to grant nine townships to a village. In an area where fishing is of greatest importance, such an area may well be far in excess of the need. In another area where hunting on land is the primary subsistence activity, it may be far too small. More particularly, the land areas may not be as important as land routes, riverbanks, game trails, lakeshores. The intervening lands are, of course, necessary for game habitat.
But land and its resources alone in this day and age are insufficient. Where we speak of village subsistence, we do not mean the life that existed a hundred years ago. We are really talking about a rural life, one that has the basics of 20th century amenities, but little of the luxuries. In order to finance those amenities or necessities, something more than land is necessary. Various formulas have been suggested for providing cash. Most appear to be arbitrary in their amounts, so much per person, so much per village, or other arbitrary amount per arbitrary unit.
Another formula is an arbitrary percentage of certain income. None of the formulas appear to be related to the need: The financing of the Native corporations designed to manage the lands to be granted.
The most recent bill designed to settle the question provides for a percentage of all mineral extraction to be paid to the Native fund. In the case of the locatable minerals, this would mean that the small miner would be forced to "cough up" a portion of his take. Very few miners make enough during the short season to carry them through their entire year and most must find other employment during the winter. This, therefore, would appear to work a hardship on the miner, without substantial benefit to the Natives. In fact, it bears some of the earmarks of the "protection" racket during the heyday of the gangsters. One either paid up, receiving nothing, or was put out of business.
But this provision comes close to another trap. In extending a special privilege to one group, another group is discriminated against. If the Alaska natives are to receive large areas of land, it is obvious that they will need money to finance their management. But those finances should not come from a few individuals who happen to be directly connected with the land. Rather it should be levied against the citizenry as a whole. While the miner is the one who removes the mineral, everyone benefits from that removal. Indeed, many benefit directly even more than the miner. It does not, therefore, appear fair or proper to tax only one person for everyone’s "debt". Nor could the miner recoup this loss by raising the price of his product. Prices are set nationwide, in some cases internationally. The local miner has no voice in establishing the price at which he will sell his product. If a sum of money is to be paid the Native group, it should in all equity represent labors of all citizens, not of a tiny minority only. It should, therefore, be paid from the Treasury of the United States.
The point has been made that to tax the Alaska miner for such a purpose would be to discriminate against him and leave his fellow miners in the other public land States in a relatively privileged position. In virtually all States there are or have been Native claim settlements, though generally quite different from that contemplated here. In none of these cases has any individual group of citizens been called upon to finance the settlement. There is no reason why a small group should be "tapped" for a portion of the settlement now.
In spite of the sentiments expressed over the years by the various Native leaders, the present bills, proposing to settle the Native claims, appear to lead to an even more impoverished Native community. Whether or not any substantial part of the land transferred in the settlement will have any substantial values, either real or speculative, remains to be seen. But the intent is to provide for the subsistence of the village Native. Since he will no longer be in competition for the land, there will be little or no reason for him to join in with the rest of the United States. The village people will simply continue living on their lands, a reservation as clearly as if it were so labeled. And this will be sad because these people have contributed too much to our Alaskan way of life and stand to contribute so much more.
There has been a cry from some quarters about the shame of integrating the Native into the "white man’s" culture. Yet the "white man" in Alaska has been eager to adapt from the Native and, where practicable, has done so. But there will be diminished contacts because of Native corporate ownership of large blocks of land, the increasing importance given to subsistence living, although the euphemism "village living" will probably continue, and perhaps an even wider split between the younger Native who attends school and "joins the world" and his parents who prefer to stay in the village. Under such circumstances we can see the possibility of these lands becoming "ghettos" (as the word is currently used) where the residents can’t leave for economic or cultural reasons, and no one else cares to or can move in.
Most miners deplore the transfer of large blocks of land as proposed. We believe that little benefit will come of it. But at this time we can not effectively oppose it. We do oppose the taxation of those who harvest natural resources, the mining industry in particular, to help finance this settlement, while the middlemen and consumers pay nothing. Any such financing should be done by all citizens, through normal taxation, out of the Federal Treasury.
Source: Alaska Native Land Claims Part II, "Hearings before the Subcommittee on Indian Affairs of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, House of Representatives, Ninety-first Congress First Session on H.R. 13142, H.R. 10193, and H.R. 14212, Bills to Provide for the Settlement of Certain Land Claims of Alaska Natives, and for Other Purposes. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1970.