"Natives Hit Egan on Claims Stand"

by Allan Frank

Anchorage Daily News, November 12, 1971, p.1


Alaska Federation of Natives President Donald R. Wright Thursday threatened "open warfare" with the state of Alaska unless Gov. William A. Egan endorses AFN desires for a generous land claims bill.

Wright told The Daily News, "if the state doesn't support Alaska Native land claims (as seen by the AFN) it is asking for terrible trouble."

He wants Gov. William A. Egan to endorse the U.S. Senate provision which would allow Natives to select 30 million acres contiguous to their villages and 10 million acres anywhere before either the state or federal government has made any land selections.

Another option before the joint House-Senate conference committee would defer much of the Native’s land selection rights until the state and federal governments have selected their lands.

The conference committee, which some of Alaska’s congressional leadership predicted would convene by the middle of November, may not meet until after the elected government bodies recess for Thanksgiving, according to AFN sources.

"The conference committee delay is due to the state’s inability to make its position clear. The Chamber of Commerce and the miners don’t make any difference, but the state’s position is crucial," Wright added.

"It is the AFN opinion that to delay selection rights would ultimately result in the biggest conflict between Native and non-Native the state has even seen," Wright said.

The Natives believe that if they have selection rights which follow the state’s right to choose land, homesteaders and miners will over-run lands which Natives historically have claimed.

"If the state permits newcomers, miners or homesteaders to select lands before the Natives, we will defend the land like the Indians did in the Black Hills years ago," Wright said.

"Congress should shoulder its responsibility and settle land claims. They should not create a potential civil war," he said.

Wright promised that Natives would protect their lands from encroachment with "guns." He added that the Natives were prepared to file lawsuits "on the individual, village, regional and state basis" if the AFN does not receive the right to select lands before anyone else.

"There will be man to man combat for lands," Wright said.

He says the Native land claims bill will be stalled in joint House-Senate conference unless "the state of Alaska makes its position clear."

"The governor better wake up and start talking for our position, which is in the best interests of the state," Wright said.

He warned that the AFN will file lawsuits against the claims bill if the U.S. House version of a settlement, which would give Natives between 14-18 million acres in fee simple title, is adopted.

"The lawsuits will be filed before the bill is signed into law," Wright promised.

"It could be that Gov. Egan has made a commitment to Haley (James A., D–Fla., chairman: House Indian Affairs subcommittee) and Aspinall (Wayne N., D–Colo., chairman: House Interior and Insular Affairs Committees) to support the House bill," Wright said.

"That may be the reason Egan hasn't made any statement to the conference committee," Wright said.

The governor could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.

"If he doesn't analyze the consequences of delayed land selection (for Natives) it will result in total chaos for the state," he added.

Wright also said that the majority of state senators and representatives, who signed a petition early this year endorsing a 60 million acre land settlement, should "stand up and be counted."

"I ask the senators and representatives to swear off their position if they don’t back us," he said.

"The signatures are on the petition and you can have a photostat if you want. I'll bet even Ron Rettig (a Republican senator from Anchorage) will stay with us," he said.

Earlier Thursday, the AFN executive board debated formulas which would effect "a marriage" between the House and Senate land claims bill in the conference committee.

While major action regarding land provisions is expected today, the executive board has not yet decided whether to endorse the concept of one statewide corporation for administration of settlement funds.

The state corporation, contained in the Senate bill, may be watered down for the 65 per cent of the settlement capital as written in the Senate bill to 10 per cent of the settlement proceeds.

The sentiment, though no vote has been taken, seemed to favor 12 regional corporations which would administer the majority of the settlement funds.

AFN leaders want the regional corporations to have considerable assets which can be invested in profit-making corporations.

They fear that a single state AFN corporation would be hedged by trust obligations to individual Natives and social health and welfare contracts the government would force them to fulfill.


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