"Natives Grab the Ball"

Editorials . . . Comment

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, April 7, 1971

Our Natives have grabbed the land claims bill and are running with it, and if the Egan administration does not make its position clear immediately we may live to regret it. Two facts are clear: the Natives are demanding too much land and too much money, and they are doing a tremendous selling job in the Congress and national administration.

As far as we can determine, Gov. William A. Egan is still sitting on the fence on the land question. We have seen nothing indicating that he—and the state—favor any specific amount of acreage in the settlement.

Straddling the fence was Mr. Egan's official position all through the primary and general election campaigns, although he did say at one point that 40 million acres of land is too much. If, by his silence, he is supporting the Natives' new claim for 60 million acres he should say so. It would at least give the majority of Alaskans, the non-Natives, the right to protest or approve.

Where up to last year we found it almost impossible to get a bill introduced to settle the century-old claims, now claims measures are beginning to pile up in the House. One is the Alaska Federation of Natives' bill sponsored by 23 House members, including Alaska's Rep. Nick Begich. It would award the Natives a settlement of 60 million acres of land, $500 million in cash from the federal treasury, and a 2 per cent overriding royalty on mineral resources "in perpetuity."

We were not surprised to see it introduced by a non-Alaska, Rep. Lloyd Meeds of Washington, or supported by such persons as Brock Adams of Washington; Les Aspin of Wisconsin; William Hathaway of Maine and Robert Nix of Pennsylvania. It isn't their land they are distributing; taking away from their states. It is our land.

We were not particularly surprised to see our only U.S. Representative, Nick Begich, support the AFN proposal. On the only two major issues confronting him since his election, the supersonic transport and the Native claims, he has yet to take the side of a majority of Alaskans.

We are opposed to the 60 million acres because it is too much, and particularly so if the Natives are given first selection of the land. The state was promised 104 million acres under the statehood act, but if the Natives select first we'll end up with what is left—mountain tops, swamps, and lakes.

We are opposed to the 2 per cent overriding royalty in perpetuity. If a limit of $500 million were placed on it, as provided in the Senate bill, it would be more acceptable and equitable. We have no right to bind our children and their children and their children for all time to give a part of Alaska's resources to any special group.

Apparently there are those who forget, or did not know, just how the Natives arrived at the figure of 60 million acres. It was not an action of the Natives generally, by vote or by agreement among the various races. Originally, the Natives demanded 40 million acres as a starting point for negotiations.

A maverick organization representing a comparatively small number of Eskimos, the Arctic Slope Native Association, bolted the AFN until their demands for the 60 million were met. In order to achieve solidarity, the AFN adopted the proposal.

It is too high a price for all Alaskans to have to pay for Native solidarity. However, the Natives are doing an amazing selling job among the members of the Congress and the Nixon administration in convincing them that 60 million acres constitutes a fair and equitable settlement. They have heard nothing to the contrary from official state sources.

The Natives believe, and with some justification, that we are boxed in because of our need for a trans-Alaska oil pipeline. They believe we will not rock the boat; do anything to disrupt the proceedings to settle the claims.

Non-Natives have rights, too. Those rights are supposed to be protected by our governor—the governor of all Alaskans. He should say what the state believes is a fair and equitable settlement of the old claims.

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