"Aspinall Cools Claims Work: Personality Clashes May be Reason AFN Closes Its Washington Office"

Tundra Times, July 14, 1971, p.1.


Washington D.C. (July 10) — The Alaska Federation of Natives will close its office here on Monday. AFN president Don Wright reports that the reason for that action is lack of money.

The organization, which represents Alaska Natives in seeking a land claims settlement, will be without funds by July 31, Wright said.

Since it was founded in 1966, the AFN has financed its operation from foundation grants, contributions, and loans from Indian tribes.

During a meeting of the AFN board last month in Barrow, the Tlingit and Haida Central Council indicated that it may be willing to guarantee a loan to provide operating funds. That loan has not yet been finalized.

The closing of the Washington office comes during a lull in congressional action on the land claims question.

Action now rests with the Subcommittee on Indian Affairs of the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee. The subcommittee eventually will make its recommendations to the full Interior committee, which will report out a bill for action by the House.

The Indian Affairs Subcommittee has met in executive session several times in recent weeks to mark up claims legislation, but there have been no further meetings scheduled for Native land claims.

All sixteen members of the subcommittee were on hand for last Wednesday's session. They met for two hours and, although significant progress had been anticipated, little was accomplished.

The subcommittee started mark-up proceedings on H.R. 7432, which is the Nixon Administration's proposal to settle the claims.

The administration bill provides for 40 million acres of land, $500 million in cash, and $500 million in mineral revenues for Alaska Natives.

None of these issues came under discussion. The bill was reviewed only to section three, defining the terms of the proposed act.

Rep. Lloyd Meeds (D-Wash) won close votes to amend definitions of Native and Native Village to bring them more in line with what was desired by the AFN.

Sources indicate that Interior Committee Chairman Wayne Aspinall (D-Colo) was angered by Meeds' action, viewing it as a threat to his control over the subcommittee.

AFN president Don Wright indicated that, while the AFN is not pleased that further meetings aren't scheduled, the definition amendments may have been test votes reflecting favorably on the Native position.

Generally, there is increasing dissatisfaction among many committee members, Native leaders, and AFN proponents because of the veteran legislator from Colorado and inaction on Native land claims.

Little of this surfaces publicly, however, because of fear that Chairman Aspinall may react to such criticism by obstructing the land claims bill altogether.

In spite of an intensified lobbying effort by Natives, oil interests, and the administration, the willingness of Chairman Aspinall to sanction progress on the claims bill is still widely questioned.

Younger members of the subcommittee, such as Rep. Meeds, Rep. Patsy Mink (D-Hawaii), and Alaska Congressman Nick Begich believe the issue to be one of life and death for Alaska Natives and attach the highest priority for rapid action to settle the claims.

Some committee members are reported to fear that national scandal may result from continued inaction.

Native proponents warn that suffering and death plague Alaska villages while the Indian Affairs Subcommittee meets behind closed doors to engage in personality clashes, or doesn't meet at all.

Prior to Wednesday's session, optimism was at its highest level in the history of the land claims fight.

Chairman Aspinall was hinting discreetly that he would no longer consider his own proposals, but was willing to proceed using the administration bill as the mark-up vehicle.

The administration was being credited with maintaining a vigorous effort to encourage Republican members of the committee to bring the Alaska Native land claims closer to a legislative settlement.

Oil company representatives here in Washington were calling their home offices with the good news that progress was about to be made on native claims.

The optimism has abated, but that in itself isn't really new. Observers recall that, when House action was anticipated on Alaska Native land claims during the last congress, Chairman Aspinall took his new bride on a European holiday.

Some sources report that Chairman Aspinall is retreating to figure out how to keep the claims from turning into a Republican victory for the Nixon Administration; or that his tactics are directed toward the preservation of his leadership on this issue; or that he simply will retire and let someone else inherit the question.

If the Alaska Native land claims bill ever gets moving again this year, Chairman Aspinall will still have the responsibility of shepherding a bill through the floor of the House and, perhaps, a joint conference committee.

For this reason, and for the time being, Natives and the proponents on the Indian Affairs Subcommittee appear content to play the waiting game, until the threat of inaction becomes more serious.

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