"General Agreement Among Native Leaders with Emil Notti"

Tundra Times, February 13, 1970, p.1.


Rep. William L. Hensley

Eben Hopson

Alfred Ketzler

John Borbridge

Emil Notti's Speech at Tacoma


[text missing from original article] . . . directors of the AFN to create a separate Indian nation in the western half of Alaska if Congress fails to pass a "fair" land claims bill.

Notti made the statement at the gathering of some 750 representatives of the Small Tribes of Western Washington.

The AFN president said that the western half of Alaska was populated by 90 per cent native anyway and would not likely be settled by non-natives until there was something discovered that can be exploited.

Reflecting on the shoddy treatment of the Indians throughout the United States as a whole, Notti declared:

"I will only say that it happened in Israel for a persecuted people. Why not here for a people who have lost a whole continent."


Speaking from Juneau, Rep. William L. (Willie) Hensley said he was going along with Emil Notti.

"After all, he is our leader," said Hensley. "I think his statement reflected the natives' frustration at not really having gotten a settlement after several years of intense activity.

"At the same time, we have the state administration that is essentially fighting our proposal and not in the least sympathetic with us.

"Much of our response in terms of that particular statement of Emil's would be dependent on the success we have in getting a favorable bill through the Senate, and also what kind of reception we have in the House of Representatives in Washington.

"After all, when will we be equal citizens of Alaska? If we had our own country we would be equal in the sense that we wouldn't expect some people to meet certain standards of life."

Hensley said, however, that this might be an impossibility, but that if people won't accept the native people as they are, the leadership was hoping that in a period of time the natives will be able to maintain their own communities and self-respect.

He stated that this would be dependent on whether or not the AFN was successful in obtaining a favorable land settlement that will allow the people to do things for themselves.

"We want to feel," Hensley concluded, "that we can become a part of the state, but are we ever really going to be? We may not have any other choice but to do what Emil says."


Eben Hopson, executive director of the Arctic Slope Native Association, when notified about Amil Notti's statement, at first joked mildly about it.

"What does he mean by the western half of Alaska?" he asked. "Maybe he's just excluding southeast Alaska. In that case, it will be the Eskimo nation!"

"I really don't know," he continued, "Just how to react to that, but I'm sure whether we endorse Emil Notti's system of forming an Indian nation in Alaska—I'm sure there will be some type of reaction from all quarters of Alaska."

Hopson said he had already indicated the strong feeling of the Arctic Slope to the AFN general counsel in Washington, D.C., and also to Sen. Henry M. Jackson on meeting him in Seattle.

"If the provisions of the AFN bill were cut up too badly, as far as trying to get a settlement through Congress is concerned, the native leadership is going to switch to a more radical, militant type leadership."

Hopson thinks that the present leadership is capable of becoming more positive and strong in making statements. He said that although the leadership doesn't like expressing desire to become violent, there is bound to be some reaction that will have to be faced "if we fail too badly in Congress."

Hopson said of Emil Notti:

"It took him a long time to express himself in this manner, after a couple of years of advocating a settlement, and my own feeling is that they took all this time to perhaps fall into the same line that the Arctic Slope Native Association has been advocating all the time."


Alfred Ketzler, deputy director of the AFN and president of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, mainly dwelt on the Anchorage Times editorial, "A Bad Comparison," which appeared last Monday.

"I agree with Emil," was the initial reaction of Ketzler.

The Anchorage Times has in the past consistently opposed the AFN proposal for native land claims settlement editorially and through the writings of W.C. Arnold.

Last Monday's editorial said in part:

". . . There is much in favor of the native cause. But Mr. Notti's speech Saturday to an Indian gathering in Washington state impaired the bright hopes we all share in behalf of our native citizens."

"I don't agree with their line of reasoning," stated Ketzler. "They can't seem to remember from one day to the next what their position is.

"Emil was speaking for the federation. As leader of the organization, he speaks with the authority of AFN.

"I think the statement was designed to shake them up and I think it has done a good job. It made the Anchorage Times change their stand. Before, they were saying we were trying for a terrible settlement. Now it's a just settlement and Emil is off."


John Borbridge, first vice president of the AFN and president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indians, said he doesn't fully agree with Notti's statement.

". . . But I can appreciate his reasons and very frankly, in my mind, Emil has accomplished part of his objective—he has everybody talking about the land claims and the concern of the natives. From that viewpoint—objective accomplished," he observed.

"My reaction," Borbridge continued, "basically is that Mr. Notti's statement was made to dramatize the deep concern of the Alaska natives relative to their desire to have the Congress of the United States treat us with justice and equity.

"I think that in making it, Mr. Notti was in effect utilizing the form which was available to him in Tacoma to, perhaps, dramatically focus not only on the need for justice, but perhaps the irony that in some ways it might be easier for a foreign nation to borrow money from the United States than it might be for the aboriginees, the first Alaskans, and in effect the first citizens of the United States to have justice and equity done to them."

Borbridge said that too often justice for the natives has been measured in terms of what it might cost the United States and what it might cost all of us if justice is not done.

"I feel compelled," he went on, "at the same time to say that I'm fully cognizant of the fact that we have many, many long time Alaskans who have stood firmly by us as others learn of the basic background of the claims and as they slowly, and perhaps reluctantly, acknowledge that there is indeed a valid claim that can stand up either in court or in any other form.

"These Alaskans are gradually rallying to the cause. For this reason, while I recognize the motivation for focusing on the land claims, I think that inadvertently it does an injustice to many of our good friends in Alaska who are going to be right in there giving us their support, and their understanding as the land claims reaches fruition through the passage of the bill in the Congress.

"I would conclude with this . . . I think that for many people it would be easier, perhaps, if the natives would consider withdrawing in separatism. But I personally don't want to give either our fellow Alaskans or our fellow citizens in the United States an easy out.

"I intend, as a representative of our people to stay in this fight and to compel our fellow citizens to look squarely at this issue, and to have them realize that we are not going to back off—that we are going to stay firmly in this battle to receive acknowledgment from them. This is a cause that deserves their support.

"The fact is, it isn't just the natives who need justice but it is the non-natives who need a strong sense that when they were tested they stood firm and asked for justice for their fellow citizens, the first Alaskans.

"I think it's good for elements of the population to realize that we can differ—differ in a philosophical sense, but I do not differ on the objectives which bind Mr. Notti, myself, and the rest of the leadership very closely. In other words, we are not talking about whether we agree on the land claims or the objectives."


Before Small Tribes of Western Washington

Delivered February 7, 1970

Mr. Chairman, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, friends, brothers all, I am happy to be here to tell you of some of the events of the struggle for our land, what has happened, where we are today, and what it looks like in the near future.

I know of and appreciate the concern of the Small Tribes that are represented here today. You will play a major role by giving us your support. Realistically speaking, how much impact can 55,000 Alaska natives—when I say native I mean Eskimo, Indian, and Aleut—how much impact can 55,000 natives have on national political settlements all by ourselves when we are a minority in a state with 3 electoral votes—very little—that is why our concern of supporting our struggles to get a fair settlement is vital.

I have heard arguments that if Congress treated us fairly that other Indian tribes would get mad—I don't believe that—I urge you to write your Senators and Congressmen and tell them of your support.

Most of Alaska has no defined tribal groups or government. Therefore, in 1962, there started to appear native associations patterned after the old Alaska Native Brotherhood of southeastern Alaska. These associations were concerned with the low health standards, the neglect by state government of rural educational needs, and the high unemployment rate and a multitude of social ills.

Then came a major concern directly affecting the villages and their way of life. The state started to select land around villages without regard to use and occupancy by individuals and by villages.

Regional associations consisting of from 14 to 44 villages started to file claim. In effect saying we have rights in this land before you carve it up and grant title to the state or individuals you had better consider and define what our rights are.

In October of 1966 we held a statewide meeting of native people in Anchorage with 300 people attending. We agreed at that meeting to form a statewide organization. As a result of that meeting, the AFN was formed six months later. At the meeting in 1966 we took our first position on land and adopted our first bill which was to become in April of 1967, S-2020. That bill would have put us into the court of claims, would have given the court the right to declare free title ownership to all lands we could prove use and occupancy on.

I am convinced that if that bill had been passed we would have been the full owners of 95 per cent of Alaska. Of course, the bill did not get serious consideration, but it got the ball rolling by our own initiative for a settlement.

The Attorney General of Alaska said in January 1967 that we had no legal claim to Alaska and he would dispense with the whole problem within six months.

Because we have never sold our land, never negotiated a treaty ceding any land, and have never been conquered in war we still own the land. Congress knows that. The Congress agreed in the treaty of cession with Russia that when they bought the Russian trading post, and the right to rule Alaska, that they would not interfere with the use of the land by its owners, and Congress has always held that it would determine our title would be conferred on its owners. That principle was reiterated in the Organic Act of 1884, and again in the Statehood Act of 1958, where the state and its people forever disclaimed any right or title to the land used and occupied or claimed by Indians.

After our initial bill, S-2020, was found unacceptable to anybody, we started working with state government to find a mutually acceptable solution. Forty-four members of a land claims task force, appointed by then Governor Hickel, met with state attorney general and a representative of Secretary Udall to work out a compromised bill. We started at 80 million acres, we came down to 40 million acres, on the promise that the state would support us at congressional hearings. Our aim was to present a unified front, arm-in-arm with the state. We only got qualified support from Governor Hickel before the House Interior committee in 1968.

The present state administration claims that they are not bound by what other administrations did and the Governor has therefore not supported any part of our bill except $500 million, and of course, that is a federal appropriation, anyway. The state has cared very little about claims by Indian villages. The most flagrant case of bulldozing the rights of Indians is what is happening at Tanacross now. The state selected lands, including burial grounds, and tried to sell wilderness estates at the New York World's Fair. They quit after the village protested. In spite of their public utterances that they will work with us to protect Indian land, nothing in their action gives us any real hope of that happening.

On the North Slope the state gave an oil company a use permit on land that was the traditional home of a lady I know. On this site are eight graves, some of the lady's own children. The state has shown no interest or concern for her rights. In fact the state has shown no concern for land used and occupied by native people.

The state administration has shown little concern with the fact that we are dealing with the birthright of 55,000 people, that the decisions made will divest people of their ownership of land. To me, that is a profound responsibility that will affect many generations. Our state administration, as appears the policy of many states, would extinguish Indian rights by expropriation without concern for the people of a minority of its citizens.

Fortunately, the state legislature in Alaska has a more enlightened and humane view. The trouble with the state administration is that it is composed only of outsiders who have moved to Alaska. They bring with them the popular television mentality of pushing the Indian off his land.

There is a growing feeling of desperation and anger in the villages as it becomes clear that they will lose their land. Their way of life will be lost, the development will come, and further, that they will not participate in that development.

Since we took the initiative in 1966, and have been working toward a legislative settlement, we have worked quietly without making a fuss. We have testified many times before Congress. We have sought and acquired the services of one of America's outstanding lawyers, former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg. We have met with Interior Department people and state people to keep them informed, and to try to reach agreement on a settlement before getting in front of congressional committees with conflicting points of view. We have considered carefully the impact on Alaska of our bill, and have been careful not to interfere with any existing rights in land.

Our position has been a moderate one. We have compromised with the state and have been influenced by government agencies to reach our position. Yet, every time we get into a meeting, we are asked to come down on our demands. We did that and found ourselves bargaining from our compromised position. Now we are being intractable, uncompromising, and inflexible, but that is a matter of a person's perspective. The governor has recently reaffirmed his position several times. His position has followed the position of the Department of the Interior, where his former boss is, and he has not been willing to budge from there.

Recently on a statewide television interview in Alaska, Secretary Hickel said he thought if our demands exceeded the national administration's position, he thought we would hurt our chances of getting a bill.

What would a settlement mean? I'll tell you what it won't mean. It will not create a group of rich Indians because it is not that generous. It will mean that our native people in Alaska will have an opportunity to become full citizens in Alaska sharing in the wealth and development of Alaska. We will have the opportunity to correct the miserable housing conditions that exist in the harsh environment in the remote areas of Alaska. We can increase the average age of death from 34 years to something more acceptable. We can get better education and training to do more about the 80 per cent unemployment rate. We can prevent our children from having to go 3,000 miles to get an education. It will mean that we will become equal citizens for giving up our birthright to 375 million acres of land, and that seems to me to be a reasonable demand.

Like in all things, time runs out. Time is running against us to get a fair settlement. Secretary Udall imposes a land freeze to prevent the acquiring of Indian lands until Congress has had a chance to deal with the problem. But that land freeze will end December 31 of this year. Our concern is that we know that the state has its selections already mapped and will file from th[ose] areas as soon as the freeze is lifted; and we know how they deal with Indians. They isolate villages and sell land around them.

Since the land freeze was imposed, we have been nice guys concerned with the overall picture of what is happening in Alaska, and we have not objected to exception to the land freeze. But we have waited for 86 years for Congress to solve this problem and now think that whatever development is pending in Alaska can wait one more year. I therefore demand that no more exceptions be granted to the land freeze for any reason. We either have a freeze to protect Indian lands, or we have a pretense of a freeze where anyone who requests an exception gets it. I therefore say it is time to hold the line to protect Indian land.

We have worked since 1966 for a fair settlement. We have worked out a bill that is a balance between what we consider a minimum amount of land and money and a continuing interest in the yield of the land. We have been modest and fair in our demands. Now as it looks like we are near a settlement, we are told more frequently that we will not get our bill through in its present form. I don't doubt that at all, but our bill contains several elements in balance. If any of these elements are adjusted downward, then something else will have to be adjusted upward to compensate for the loss. When the committees put out their bill, shortly we hope, we will have some decisions to make whether we will be satisfied with the bill. We will face that when the time comes.

If Congress cannot pass a bill that we think is fair, then I will recommend a course of action to our statewide board of directors that we petition Congress and the United States to set up a separate Indian Nation in the western half of Alaska. That area is 90 per cent native anyway, and will not get any non-native settlers until there is something discovered that can be exploited. A justification for setting up an independent Indian nation in Alaska could be the central theme for an hour-long talk by itself. I will only say here that it happened in Israel for a persecuted people; why not here for a people who have lost a whole continent.

So that this does not appear to be a litany of sins against us, there are some bright spots. The National Council of Churches, representing 46 million people, unanimously endorsed our position. Walter Reuther's UAW has endorsed our bill. Churches, particularly in the state of Washington, have contributed funds for us to carry on our fight. I think, by and large, fair-minded Americans would support us if they heard our story. Both the Senate and the House committees have strong support for our position. In particular, Senator Jackson is concerned with time running out on the land freeze and he is determined to get a fair bill out of his committee. We appreciate that, but if it is to happen this year, it must immediately become a priority piece of legislation.

Let me just finish by saying that a fair settlement will reflect well on all Americans. It will help build a better society in Alaska, and will benefit us all, including those living in Washington state. From a national point of view, it is a chance for Congress to write a happy last chapter as we close the book on the acquiring of Indian lands for American expansion.

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