"State Lease Sale $900 Million While Few Natives Protested"

By Thomas Richards, Jr.

Staff Writer

Tundra Times, September 12, 1969, p.1.


The contrast was remarkable. Inside the Sidney Lawrence Auditorium, the Governor of the State of Alaska said, "Let us manage our birthright."

Meanwhile, as the Twenty-third Alaska Oil and Gas Lease Sale began Wednesday, a handful of young natives picketed and distributed leaflets under the watchful eyes of police.

Organized by native land rights advocate Charlie Edwardsen, the young Eskimo and Indian protestors quietly proclaimed, "We are once again being cheated and robbed of our lands."

Inside the auditorium, oil-born Commissioner of Natural Resources Tom Kelly said, "Those of us who live in Alaska . . . have a feeling for our lands."

As he is called in some circles, "Bard of the North" Larry Beck recited a tribute to the oil industry dressed in freshly-laundered parky.

Governor Miller stated of the lease sale, "Alaska will never be the same."

Outside, the young natives displayed slogans reading $2 Billion Native Land Robbery" or "Eskimos Own North Slope" and "Bad Deal at Tom Kelly's Trading Post."

At 10:30 a.m. the reading of the bids started. Frenzied with the oil happening, the audience cheered wildly as British Petroleum took an easy lead with bids of 15 and 20 and 30 millions of dollars.

The Gulf-BP-BP of Alaska group captured the first six tracts near the mouth of the Colville River with bonus bids totaling $79 million. After hearing several of the huge figures, the observers would no longer be amazed.

Two bids on tract 57, near Prudhoe Bay, renewed their surprise with a frantic uproar. Phillips, Mobil, and Standard of California bid an unprecedented $72.1 million only to be outdone by the Amerada-Hess-Louisiana Land Marathon-Getty-Hunt combination, with a bid of $72,227,133.

An average of $28,233.25 per acre, this was the most ever paid in any sale in the history of the nation.

Pacing the sidewalk outside, the young natives called the sale "economic genocide on a native minority."

The top overall bidder, the Amerada-Hess group paid $272 million during the sale. Union Oil of California and Pan American Petroleum followed with $163 million.

Gulf and British Petroleum, despite early indications, lagged in third with $97 million. The Standard Cal-Phillips-Mobil alliance was close behind with $96 million.

Pennzoil-Newmont-Colorado Oil-Aquitane finished fifth with $47 million. In sixth place with a mere $32 million, Atlantic Richfield came last among the high bidders.

On the outside, the young natives stated, "We propose that today's sales of leases allow and require the imposition of a constructive trust of all the receipts on behalf of the real and true owners of the land."

At 5:15 p.m., as the sale concluded, the state had amassed $900,220,590.21 in bonuses. Speculation passed, and with checks on their way to New York banks, one question remained: What do we do now?

All parties do not fully agree on the answer to this question. In the native position, the dispute is basically one of tactics. All native interests unify behind the position that there should be some compensation.

The young native group drawn together by Charlie Edwardsen would like to seek support, with public protests and demands, to enjoin the funds into a trust for native use.

The North Slope Native Association is quietly exploring the legal implications of pushing for an injunction until the question of ownership is resolved in the courts. It still may pursue this course.

The prevailing native opinion is that which is advocated by the native leadership and the majority of native organizations. They believe that Congress should now be influenced by the magnitude of the sale, to agree to more state responsibility in the native claims settlement.

John Borbridge, First Vice President of the Alaska Federation of Natives, said the sale ". . . will clearly demonstrate that the demands of the natives are not out of line.

"It also places the state in a very difficult position. It can no longer continue to minimize the substantive rights of the natives," Borbridge stated.

Borbridge said that it would be extremely difficult for Governor Miller and others who have become a focus for conservative opposition to argue against oil and gas rights, just land grants, and revenue sharing for Alaskan Natives.

The one significant conclusion drawn from the sale is that native demands do not wildly overshadow the state's ability to meet them, and to participate more fully in the land settlement.

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