Thomas A. Morehouse
Professor of Political Science
Institute of Social and Economic Research
University of Alaska Anchorage
3211 Providence Drive
Anchorage, Alaska 99508


for presentation at
1987 Annual Meeting of
Western Regional Science Association
Kona, Hawaii
February 19, 1987



Thomas A. Morehouse
Institute of Social and Economic Research
University of Alaska, Anchorage


Native claims movements and settlements are critical episodes in the political development of aboriginal peoples. Native claims deal with rights to land, to subsistence resources, and to self-governance. Positive changes in these and other rights for natives are indicators of their political development. This paper examines relationships between modern native claims and native political development in Alaska and northern Canada.

Below, I suggest that claims settlements can advance native political development when they aim to integrate rather than to assimilate native peoples into the dominant society, and that integration is better advanced through recognition than extinguishment of aboriginal rights. I suggest further that recognition can take a variety of forms, including exclusive native rights to subsistence resources and recognition of native self-government institutions and authority. My view is that native claims are much more than economic transactions involving land and money; they are significant political events in which basic rights are either denied or affirmed. Finally, I conclude that native claims in the U.S. and Canadian north are not literally "settled" or completed by settlement agreements or statutes. These documents mark only a juncture in a continuously changing pattern of relationships between northern native peoples and powerful interests and institutions from the south. Thus, modern native claims settlements in the north are a new and more comprehensive version of the old treaty relationships between aboriginal peoples and intrusive governments, and they mark contemporary stages of native political development.

My approach is as follows: First, I discuss the concept of political development and its applications to native claims movements and settlements. Second, I present a simple typology of settlements that either extinguish or recognize aboriginal title and rights to land. Third, I describe a conceptual model of political change and policymaking that identifies major factors influencing claims processes and policy outcomes. Finally, I apply this analytical framework to six native claims cases in Alaska and Canada.

The overall scope of the analysis, which- is based on a systems approach, is depicted in Figure 1. The analysis focuses on (1) the native claims problem and settlement options, (2) political system and policy process responses, (3) effects on claims settlements and political development, and (4) interaction and feedback among these system components.

Settlements have been reached in three of the cases discussed in this paper: the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 (ANCSA), the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement of 1975 (JBNQA), and the Western Arctic (Inuvialuit) Settlement Act of 1984. The latter is also known as the COPE agreement, for the Committee of original Peoples’ Entitlement, which represented the Inuvialuit. In the three other cases, negotiations continue as of this writing: the Council of Yukon Indians in the Yukon Territory, the Dene Nation in the Mackenzie Valley-western region of the Northwest Territories, and the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut in the eastern Northwest Territories (Map 1).

Figure 1: Native Claims and Political Development: A Conceptual Framework


Map 1. Native Claims Regions


Political Development

A group develops politically as it strengthens its sense of identity and increases its control over resources and decisions that affect its life and well-being (Coleman 1968; Morehouse 1987). Normatively, political development refers to the capacities of human groups to cope, invent, and strive in ways that increase their power and freedom—their capacities to choose and shape their own futures from a widening range of options. Translating this normative perspective into appropriate criteria or indicators of political development in specific cases is the analytical challenge.Three dimensions of political development seem particularly relevant to the case of native claims. These are identity, a sense of group integrity and continuity; distribution, control of and access to material and nonmaterial resources; and legitimacy, recognition by others as having rightful or socially sanctioned claims to certain resources and authority (Riggs 1984).

There clearly are aspects of native claims that correspond to each of these political development concepts: Actions to preserve indigenous cultural patterns—including sharing, consensus decisionmaking, and subsistence living—relate to identity. Claims to land and resources and to financial compensation for losses of land and resources correspond to distribution. Demands for self-governing authority and for participation in decisions that have important effects on the group, as well as recognition by others of the justice of such demands, are matters of legitimacy.Political development is closely associated with conditions of intergroup conflict, for it is under such conditions that issues of group identity, distribution, and legitimacy (among others) most clearly arise. In the north, the most critical issues of political development arise in the conflict between indigenous peoples who seek to protect and enhance their autonomy and welfare and organized interests from the south who seek to control and develop the north's natural resources. This is the conflict that, since the early 1960s, has given new form and urgency to old issues of northern native peoples’ identity, welfare, and legitimacy.1Viewed as occasions of political development, native claims cases yield evidence for assessing both the group processes involved in pursuing collective goals and the outcomes of claims settlements. If the political development of a group is measured by its capacity to control resources and decisions affecting its well-being, then relevant questions about native claims processes include the following: What are the objectives of the parties to the conflict between resource development and native autonomy and welfare? How do they define the problems to be resolved? Whose definitions prevail? What policy alternatives are considered and who has formulated them? What has been the effect of native claims actions in other regions? What have native leaders and government officials learned from these other cases, and how do they use such knowledge?It is also necessary to look at outcomes. Here, we are concerned with political development effects of settlement proposals and provisions. These provisions concern land, subsistence resources, financial arrangements, and political institutions and authority. Each such provision can be assessed in terms of its likely effects on the political values of identity, distribution, and legitimacy.

Settlement Typology

Dating from the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, modern claims settlements in the north can be grouped into two types.2 The first, which is the only kind actually adopted to date, extinguishes aboriginal title and rights to land. Taken together, key provisions of such settlements remove native claims, clear land titles, open the way to resource development and extraction, and may encourage movement of natives into the social and economic mainstream. In their extreme form, such settlements may terminate government-native trust relationships and special service and development programs, and they may aim ultimately to assimilate natives into the dominant society and economy.The second type of settlement has yet to be accomplished in practice. This second type would recognize aboriginal title and rights to land, and it would also recognize natives’ rights to natural resources, to distinctive ways of living, and to control of their own communities. Such rights are best fulfilled over time in response to changing conditions; they evolve. Thus, an open-ended agreement is reached whereby specific rights to land, subsistence resources, and community governance are recognized now, with the understanding that other, yet-to-be-defined rights may be recognized through further negotiation and agreement in the future. According to Hunt (1978:8),

Underlying this approach is a recognition of the dynamic nature of culture, and the necessity of flexibility if changing needs are to be met. By definition, there will be concomitant uncertainty and unpredictability.Thus, new structures and processes are developed for mutually adjusting the interests and needs of natives and those of the larger economy and society. Instead of the termination and assimilation associated with the first type of settlement, we have, in the second, the confirmation of a trust relationship between natives and government authorities. This may include the creation of opportunities for integration without submerging native identities. Cultural and political pluralism take practical, operational forms.Table 1 lists characteristic provisions of the two types of settlement. Although these are hypothetical provisions, they are derived from a review of existing and proposed claims settlements in Alaska and Canada. All of the provisions listed have implications for political development values of identity, distribution, and legitimacy:

Table 1: Hypothetical Provision of Extinguishment and Recognition Types of Settlement


Types of Settlement

Settlement Provisions Extinguishment Recognition

Objectives Clear title
Develop resources
Assimilate Natives
Protect Native cultures and aboriginal rights
Limit Development
Land Specify and limit Surface rights
One-time selections
Confirm Native title
Establish long-term process
Surface and subsurface rights
Subsistence No special rights, protections, or institutions Priority rights
Non-Native lands
Native participation
Finances Ties to development
Taxes on land
Limited payments
Independent of development
Long-term support
Institutions Existing structures
Southern models
Special arrangements
Traditional forms
  1. Objectives—Objectives of the claims settlements may or may not be explicit. If not, they can be inferred from an assessment of substantive provisions and from the historical context and political process of claims bargaining and negotiations. Objectives might refer to different combinations of values: the survival, identity, and legitimacy of remaining native cultures and institutions as well as the development of northern resources and enhancement of regional and national economies.
  2. Native land—These provisions can reduce aboriginal title and rights by specifying limited, surface selections one-time only; in the alternative, they can expand them by confirming title, permitting future as well as present selections, and providing natives with veto powers over development activities that may affect subsistence resources.
  3. Subsistence resources—Provisions can allocate resources on native lands only or on non-native lands as well; they can either establish priority rights and new protective regimes or they can be restricted to existing institutions and procedures.
  4. Finances—Provisions concerning cash compensation can make payments to natives either dependent on or independent of development of resources; tax and other provisions can either add pressures to develop lands or insulate them from such pressures.
  5. Institutions and authority—Provisions can establish special arrangements for native representation, recognize traditional forms, and decentralize controls, or they can insist on conformity with existing structures and authorities.

Whether the extinguishment or recognition settlement type prevails in a given case will be a function of many factors in a unique combination. The next section outlines a conceptual scheme that can be used in explaining how and why settlement processes tend toward either extinguishment or recognition outcomes.

Political Change and Policymaking

Political systems theory and policy process models can assist in explaining the politics of native claims. The broad scope and generality of systems theory corresponds to the scope and generality of the relevant historical, cultural, political, and economic contexts and processes of native claims. In a systems framework, policy is conceived as an output of the political system, which comprises ill of the actors, processes, and institutions involved in making and carrying out public policy. The political system responds to forces in its environment, and systems theory deals primarily with this environment-political system interaction (Easton 1965a, 1965b).Analysis of policymaking—what goes on within the political system—requires a focus on particular policy processes. The policy process model adapted for the present analysis highlights the interaction of problems, policy alternatives, and politics, which produces policy decisions and actions (Kingdon 1984).In this version of the policy process, problems may get attention and definition under conditions such as the following: systematic indicators (e.g., poverty levels, unemployment rates) may point to them; "focusing events" may occur (e.g., a major resource find), or current policies may clearly fail and create new and more urgent problems. The policy proposals that survive meet tests of technical, political, and financial feasibility. The political system will tend to be receptive to a problem-policy set under various combinations of conditions: majority attitudes and opinions may be favorable; there may be significant changes in constitutional-legal systems or political institutions; and interest group resources may effectively be brought to bear.The key to understanding the policy process in this model is not the specific conditions but the coupling of problems, policies, and politics. When compelling problems and favorable political events combine, they create opportunities to generate (or select) and enact policies. Adoption of a policy in one problem area and political arena, moreover, may have spillover effects leading to adoption of similar policies in related problem areas and in other policy arenas.Political system and policy process concepts are brought together in a simplified conceptual model in Figure 2. Like the settlement typology described above, this scheme emphasizes elements derived from review of native claims cases in Alaska and Canada.The main elements of the environment-political system part of this model consist of stakes, diffusion processes, and the political environment:

  1. Stakes—As applied to native claims cases, stakes refer first of all to the fundamental conflict between resource development and native autonomy and rights. They also include the basic political development values of identity, distribution, and legitimacy, which are of particular salience to native groups. These values are either advanced or set back by claims settlement provisions. Such provisions show up as policy alternatives in the figure.
  2. Diffusion processes—These are essentially communication processes that result in the transfer of ideas, experiences, and innovations from one political arena to another (Walker 1969). National and international networks of interest groups, professionals, and public officials are the principal media through which experience with public problems and policies in analogous structures is disseminated. Involved are processes of political learning, emulation, and competition. Each of these processes is at work in the native claims cases. Timing also plays a part when claims movements and settlement actions in one region spill over, influencing parallel events, agendas, and decisions already underway in other regions.
  3. Political environment—This is the broadest category. It includes the "zeitgeist," or spirit of the time, the political culture, and the constitutional-legal regime.

Figure 2: A Model of Political Change and Policymaking for Native Claims Settlements

Stakes, diffusion processes, and political environment interact, and they have important effects on the following policy process elements:

  1. Politics—To be distinguished from the broad environmental factors just mentioned, these are political conditions or factors that impinge directly on specific policy controversies. Included in the case of native claims are such conditions as elite and popular attitudes toward indigenous, ethnic, or minority political movements; specific changes in legislative, administrative, and judicial institutions; the organizational resources and demonstrated power of affected interest groups; and characteristics of the regions involved.
  2. Problems—These are more specific forms of general concerns previously identified as stakes. Definitions of problems become focused matters of dispute among experts as well as interest group members and politicians. In native claims cases, specific terms and conditions of resource development become intertwined with native groups’ demands for various protective, mitigative, and compensatory measures. Further, different parties to the conflict tend to recognize and define problems in ways they consider most favorable to them. This contributes directly to competing formulations of policy alternatives.
  3. Policy alternatives—These are proposed solutions to selected problems. Sometimes in the policy process, instead of problems seeking solutions, solutions seek problems to which they can be attached. For example, one solution that has been. floating about on the assimilationist policy stream for some time is the idea of placing rural natives into roles of urban capitalist entrepreneurs. A version of this solution was adopted as part of ANCSA to help resolve problems of native land claims and of native social welfare. The more usual sequence is for problems to seek out old, new, and revised solutions. The claims settlement typology discussed earlier listed policy alternatives under the headings of land, subsistence, finance, and institutions. These correspond to major provisions of claims settlements.

When political system and policy process factors coalesce in ways that are sufficiently reinforcing of one another, then policies are enacted:

  1. Decisions/actions—This last part of the scheme refers to the content and potential effects of adopted policies. In native claims settlements, these policies take the general forms of extinguishment or recognition. If settlement laws and agreements do not include explicit language either extinguishing or confirming aboriginal rights, then review of specific provisions on land, subsistence, finance, and institutions can provide evidence for assessing likely effects of a settlement. Other evidence for such an assessment can be obtained from studying the political context of and policy .process leading to a settlement.

Native Claims Cases

This section discusses the contexts, the processes, and the provisions of native claims settlements and settlement proposals, using the settlement typology and the conceptual model described above. It is beyond the range of this paper to present detailed analyses of such rich, diverse situations. My limited intent is to test the utility of the conceptual framework and to provide a broad, comparative perspective on modern native claims cases in Alaska and Canada.First I discuss environment-political system elements that apply to all cases. Then I classify the cases chronologically on a continuum between extinguishment and recognition settlement types. Finally, for each case, I briefly review principal settlement provisions or proposals in terms of the settlement typology, sketch some of the main policy process elements involved, and comment on implications for native political development.

Sources and Setting of Native Claims

The system-wide stakes in native claims are control and development of resources versus protection and improvement of native autonomy and welfare. This is essentially a north-south confrontation, although there are often differences among affected groups on either side. For example, to the extent that native groups also have direct economic interests in development through their ownership of subsurface resources, they may be at odds with native communities that place greater weight on subsistence values. The fundamental political development values at stake, however, are identity, distribution, and legitimacy, and these apply to all native groups. Cultural identity, land and money, and self-government are basic elements of most contemporary statements of native claims goals.In Alaska, state land selections and proposed major resource development projects mobilized native groups several years before the Prudhoe Bay oil discovery of 1968. Then Prudhoe Bay oil provided leverage for passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 because the field could only be developed if a pipeline to carry the oil south were built across Alaska, including land claimed by Alaska Natives. Shortly thereafter, a massive hydropower project at James Bay, petroleum development in the Mackenzie Delta and Beaufort Sea, a proposed Alaska-Canada gas pipeline through the Mackenzie Valley, and numerous other resources exploration and development projects stimulated and reinforced native claims movements in the Canadian north.Diffusion processes, the second major system component, focus most concretely on the influence that ANCSA has had on virtually all major claims settlement negotiations of the 1970s and 1980s in the north and elsewhere. ANCSA set standards to be met or surpassed, and it revealed failures and omissions to be avoided. In addition to this kind of cross-regional political learning, claims negotiators in the north have also learned from the experiences of their own countries’ historical dealings with Indian groups in both the north and the south. Governments as well as natives have benefited from this political learning.3 On a broader front is the growth of international native consciousness (and white consciousness of native demands) through the development of native organizational networks, such as the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and the World Council of Indigenous Peoples, and the work of advocates such as Thomas R. Berger.

The third major component at the system level is the political environment, including such elusive factors as the zeitgeist and political cultures as well as constitutional-legal regimes. Morrison (1983:39-40) comments as follows on the spirit of the 1960s and 1970s and the emergence of modern claims movements in the north:

We live in an age when social justice (variously defined) is a goal supported by a wide segment of the population, especially the influential middle class. This is due partly to the spread of liberal ideas through wider education on the part of Native people and non-Natives alike, and partly due to the immediacy of television news reporting, which was of crucial importance in forming the opinions of middle-class North Americans on civil rights issues and the Vietnam War. . . . The middle-class college students studying sociology and the other liberal social sciences over the past two generations have surely changed racial attitudes to some degree for the better, if there is any validity in the efficacy of liberal education.

Similarities and differences in the U.S. and Canadian political cultures contribute further perspective on claims settlements. Both are more or less liberal democracies with capitalist economies, which tells us something about why their national leaders would be responsive to native rights. movements in the first place, and why they would tend, at least initially, to emphasize social welfare problems, the "culture of poverty," and the assimilation of natives into the mainstream.4

Less obvious are differences between U.S. and Canadian political cultures that undoubtedly have had subtle effects on settlement negotiations in the north. At the broadest level is the observation that "The United States was born in revolution and confrontation; Canada was a creature of evolution and compromise" and that, in contrast to citizens of the United States, Canadians display "greater deference to authority, less egalitarianism, and more respect for law . . ." (Drummond 1982:146). It has also been suggested that in Canada the state is perceived as generally more beneficent, protective, and social welfare-oriented than it is in the United States (Westell 1985:246). Another student of political culture comments that "the Canadian tradition of relatively heavy public involvement [in the society and economy] coincides with a power system traditionally more accommodative and less confrontational" (Ostry 1985:262).If such observations suggest political culture characteristics that have influenced the politics of native claims, inferences can be drawn and tested against claims experience in both countries. It does appear that, compared to the case of ANCSA, the process of negotiating claims in northern Canada is relatively less confrontational and adversarial, more managerial, and more under central government direction or influence. In Canada, there has been a federal Office of Native Claims since the mid-1970s; the government "accepts" claims cases for negotiation and it suspends them; federal funds support native as well as government sides of the negotiations; and much attention is given to "constitutional development" processes by all parties and observers.5 From a U.S.-Alaska point of view, these are interesting peculiarities, certainly in some contrast with the free-wheeling, political adversarial process that surrounded ANCSA from beginning to end (Berry 1975).To the extent that claims processes do differ systematically between the two countries, part of the explanation may also be found in structural differences in their constitutional-legal systems. It is a commonplace that Canada’s cabinet-centered parliamentary system permits more central direction and management of the federal policy process than does the divided power system of the United States. Even cursory review of the politics of native claims seems to confirm the influence of this fundamental structural difference on native claims experience in both countries. It is no accident that claims processes in Canada have taken the form of administrative negotiations leading to formal agreements and, as a final step, the ratifying legislation that may be required. In the case of ANCSA, the political process began and stayed in the public arena, with the intensive bargaining among executives, legislators, professional staffs, and interest group representatives ultimately taking place in the hallways and committee rooms of the U.S. Congress.Another important element of Canada’s constitutional system is the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, adopted as part of the Constitution Act of 1982. This is likely to be of increasing importance for native claims in the future. Under the charter and a 1983 amendment, aboriginal and treaty rights (not aboriginal land title), including rights under native claims, of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are constitutionally entrenched. Further, the Constitution Act requires that subsequent conferences of the Prime Minister and the first ministers of the provinces (First Ministers’ conferences) be devoted to defining aboriginal rights and reconciling them with federal and provincial control of nonrenewable resources.There is a great deal that could be said about any one of the items included under the general headings of stakes, diffusion, and political environment. The purpose here, however, is not to show that any one or combination of them has been determinative in any claims case. It is rather to illustrate various strands of inquiry and to suggest how system factors may shape politics, problems, and policies at the level of the policy process.The six claims cases discussed below are arrayed in Figure 3 according to their timing and settlement type. Three extinguishment cases were settled over a thirteen-year period between 1971 and 1984. Three other cases have yet to be resolved; their settlement timing and placement in the figure are hypothetical. The two types of settlement form a continuum with a substantial area of overlap between them. This is because there may be degrees of extinguishment and recognition, and because it is not clear where new settlements will fall or how existing settlements may change in the future.

Figure 3: Types and Timing of Native Claims


Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act6

Provisions: ANCSA, enacted by Congress in 1971, clearly represents an extinguishment-assimilationist extreme among the recent native claims settlements. It extinguished all aboriginal titles and assured that all prior federal conveyances, such as the Prudhoe Bay lands that were selected by the State of Alaska, were valid. ANCSA awarded land and cash payments to regional and village for-profit corporations, making about half of the billion dollar settlement dependent on proceeds from resource development rents, royalties, and bonuses, including those from Prudhoe Bay. Regional and village land selections, which had to be completed quickly, were tied closely to village locations. All subsurface land rights went to the regional corporations, which were under pressure to generate profits, and surface rights generally went to weak village corporations, which were dominated by the regionals. There were no provisions on native subsistence rights. (These were later addressed in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980.) ANCSA provided that, 20 years from its enactment, in 1991, all native lands could be taxed and corporate stock could be conveyed to non-natives. The act explicitly rejected establishment of "any permanent racially defined institutions, rights, privileges, or obligations. . . ."

Policy process: Passage of ANCSA was consistent with the political attitudes and moods of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The black civil rights movement had political and social spillover effects for other minority groups, including Native Americans. Federal anti-poverty programs encouraged and supported minority political organization in Alaska and elsewhere. Concurrently in Alaska, there was strong support, particularly among the white majority, for rapid and large-scale economic development. Prudhoe Bay oil, discovered in 1968, became the key to the state’s economic development and provided the main impetus for settling native claims through an unusual political alliance of natives, oil companies, and the State of Alaska. Because ANCSA also set aside vast new federal land conservation areas, environmental organizations also supported the legislation. There was, by the late 1960s, ample public documentation of the poor health, housing, education, and incomes of Alaska Natives and, therefore, further justification for a claims settlement that was considered generous in its grants of land and money. These interests and events provided the basis for competing definitions of the native claims problem and the law’s purpose: they were matters of (1) clearing title and opening land to development, (2) completing a property rights transaction with natives, (3) meeting native social welfare problems, and (4) providing means of bringing natives into the social and economic mainstream. All of these definitions were blended into the ANCSA compromise, but the extinguishment objective was embodied in the law most explicitly.

Political development: The Alaska Native claims movement of the 1960s represented a major advance in the development of native political consciousness, group identity, political organization and resources, and recognition by majority interests. The 1971 settlement act, on the other hand, represented in many respects a major step backward. It institutionalized and reinforced divisions among native regions and between regions and villages; it limited native lands and placed them in jeopardy by exposing them to alienation, corporate failure, and taxation; and it rejected specifically native or tribal government institutions. ANCSA is clearly an assimilationist law, and it threatened, if it did not aim to terminate, the trust status of Alaska natives under federal authority. These legal, political, and economic problems have led to strong native demands for significant amendments to the law before the twenty-year (1991) deadline, when corporation stock can be sold to non-natives and native lands can be taxed under existing provisions of ANCSA.James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement7

Provisions: Although in the lineage of ANCSA, and containing a provision extinguishing aboriginal land titles and rights, the James Bay agreement of 1975 includes several features that place it toward the middle of the extinguishment-recognition continuum of Figure 3. The agreement cleared title and permitted the James Bay hydroelectric projects to proceed. But it also established exclusive hunting rights for the Inuit and Cree and reinforced them with native participation in game management and an innovative Income Security Program (ISP). The ISP provides cash payment to Cree hunters and their families based on time spent hunting and on income levels. Further supporting native autonomy are provincially prescribed local and regional- governments with special residency requirements in native-majority jurisdictions. On the other hand, the agreement provided only very limited amounts of native-owned lands8 and placed other restrictions (of size, location, and timing) on selections of both fee title and hunting lands. In all cases, public access and existing rights such as mining claims were maintained, and provincial authorities retained controls over resource development on the lands designated for exclusive native harvests. Centralized provincial authorities retained ultimate controls over game management as well as resource development in northern Quebec, with local and regional institutions playing only limited and advisory roles.

Policy process: The James Bay agreement was reached after four years of negotiations involving federal and provincial officials, hydro development companies, and native representatives, who had ANCSA before them as a possible model. The momentum of a massive hydro project put great pressure on the natives, and threats of court-sanctioned delays put pressure on the Quebec goverment as well. In this case, the province was the key governmental player, and it used its authority to innovate institutionally as well as to limit or foreclose any real transfers of power. The native groups were relatively isolated and had few allies; at the same time, their economic and geographic isolation helped preserve a significant measure of autonomy, except for the James Bay hydro project threat. Natives were thus in a position to compromise, even gaining a limited voice in determining certain hydro project modifications. The strong provincial interest in completing the project, together with the native interest in preserving their hunting culture in the face of growing dependence on the cash economy, led to the compromise agreement, which was a complex blend of developmental, native welfare, and native autonomy values.

Political development: In the James Bay agreement, the Inuit and Cree of northern Quebec ceded aboriginal land titles and rights and gained new forms of recognition of distinctive subsistence cultures and local institutions. According to Feit (1982), the agreement helped stabilize the Cree hunting economy and increase the level of native autonomy. Subsequently, these treaty gains were further recognized at least symbolically through entrenchment in the Constitution Act of 1982. Identity and legitimacy values, then, seem clearly to have been advanced, if only to a small degree. In the short run, problems of distribution also seem to have been ameliorated, particularly through the ISP. On the negative side is the fact of extinguishment, the very limited lands in native title, and the weak protection of hunting rights on non-native lands.

COPE Agreement

Provisions: The COPE agreement was ratified by the Western Arctic (Inuvialuit) Settlement Act of 1984. Compared to the James Bay agreement, the COPE settlement appears to be a definite step back toward ANCSA standards of extinguishment. Like ANCSA, it provided surface and subsurface title to land around native communities and a large cash settlement that was substantially tied to revenues from nonrenewable resource development. Also, like ANCSA, it recognized no native political rights, except for native representation on advisory game management boards and land use planning committees. Inuvialuit negotiators, in fact, withdrew initial proposals for a native-controlled regional government. A further ANCSA parallel is the operation of the Inuvialuit Development Corporation, which has entered into several joint ventures with the oil industry in the Mackenzie Delta-Beaufort region. The COPE agreement falls short of ANCSA in that oil and gas resources are excluded from subsurface titles granted to the Inuvialuit. COPE surpassed ANCSA primarily in one respect: the agreement grants surface title to extensive land areas for exclusive subsistence harvesting and other traditional uses.

Policy process: Inuvialuit claims were originally part of the extensive claims of the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC). COPE separated from ITC to pursue the western arctic claims independently. Apparently, there was greater urgency in the west, and more likelihood of an early settlement, because of pressures from oil and gas exploration and development in the Delta-Beaufort region. The parties reached an "agreement in principle" in 1978, but the urgency seems to have waned along with the energy crisis. Negotiations lapsed twice before resulting in a 1984 agreement, which, according to one observer, was reached "without acrimony" (Whittington 1985:87). The end result appears as a relatively straightforward commercial transaction: claims to aboriginal rights and titles were removed as impediments to oil and gas development in exchange for land, cash, and exclusive subsistence harvesting rights.

Political development: In their initial statement of claims, the Inuvialuit sought the goals of cultural identity, political authority, compensation for rights foregone, and protection of subsistence resources and the environment. Insofar as their 1984 agreement is concerned, they settled on economic but not political or cultural terms. It may be that alternative political channels, particularly the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories and the Territories's constitutional forums (see below), will provide further access to the political development goals conceded by the Inuvialuit (e.g., creation of a Western Arctic Regional Municipality).

Council of Yukon Indians

Proposals: A 1973 statement of objectives by the Council of Yukon Indians appeared to make this a "recognition" claim. They sought to affirm native land title, obtain cash and other benefits, win recognition of political rights, and delay major development projects until claims were settled. After more than a decade of negotiations, settlement proposals were reduced to a more standard "extinguishment" package: land selections near villages, exclusive hunting areas, cash and royalty benefits, and no special political rights except for guaranteed representation on advisory bodies. It is not clear that the Yukon Indians will obtain a settlement more favorable than that won by the James Bay Cree. They may, however, be among the first Canadian native groups to have their aboriginal rights, as recognized in the Constitution Act of 1982, incorporated into a settlement agreement and legislation. Since these "rights" will be operationally defined in the political process over the long term, this does not necessarily mean that a Yukon Indian claims settlement will in itself represent an advance over the previous "extinguishment" settlements in Alaska and Canada.

Policy process: The key point to be made about the Yukon claims process is that it is located in the Yukon Territory. As represented in the territorial government, Yukon’s white majority population has definite interests in limiting native gains that may be, or are perceived to be, at white expense. Both the territorial and the federal governments have sought to limit land transfers, and they both have opposed granting any special political rights to Yukon Indians. The Yukon Territory has been especially committed to a "one-government" policy. The availability of an alternative constitutional development process—First Ministers’ Conferences to define aboriginal rights—has helped the government to divert native political rights issues. Competition for land has also provoked divisions among Indian communities in the northern, central, and southern regions of the Yukon. Higher proportions of white settlement in central and southern parts of the territory have meant that less land per capita has been offered to the Indian communities in these subregions. These communities have been holdouts in settlement negotiations The Yukon claims policy process, like the others, was stimulated primarily by resource development activity in traditional native areas. And like the other Canadian claims, its early stages were influenced by the positive example of Alaska Native political activism leading to ANCSA and its immediate benefits.

Political development: The political development implications of the Yukon claims process are clearer than those associated with proposed settlement provisions. There can be little doubt that the process itself represents additional energy and advancement in native political development. More than the details of a given settlement, the changing political economy of the Yukon Territory and white reactions to Indian demands will influence outcomes for Yukon Indian identify, economic security, and self-government.

Dene NationProposals: The claims of the Dene Nation have been the strongest and, until recently, the most uncompromising political claims. The Dene have sought recognition of broad areas of aboriginal rights as well as of aboriginal title to traditional lands, including income from the lands and compensation for past use of the resources of their lands. At one point, they sought virtually sovereign powers as an independent "nation" and distinct people, with such powers including extensive areas of jurisdiction in domestic and even foreign affairs. In recent years, their still-unsettled claims have been moderated, though they appear to remain committed to recognition as a basic settlement objective.

Policy process: The content of the Dene claims and the process of negotiating them have tended to moderate as the energy crisis, the political impetus of the Berger Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, and the Alaska ANCSA experience have faded. Radical Marxist-Maoist, "national liberation" rhetoric and separatist political positions have been largely discarded The Dene now participate actively in a supportive Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly, and they pursue joint ventures with the oil industry through the Denendeh Development Corporation. Also, the Dene have shifted from a demand for recognition of title to a demand for effective controls over land uses and a share in the economic return of development. The federal government has, however, continued to reject demands for a broad recognition of special political status or rights. As in the case of the Yukon Indians, federal negotiators have sought to separate political claims from land claims, diverting political issues to the alternative, less volatile arenas of constitutional forums and the constitutional conferences on aboriginal rights mandated by the Constitution Act of 1982.

Political development: The Dene Nation case most clearly raises the issue of the potentially high costs (to the Dene) of radical political claims. At least until recently, they have made all other settlement benefits contingent on federal recognition not only of their identity as a distinct people but their legitimacy as a "dependent nation." The question is whether the Dene have, possibly in a reversal of the case of the James Bay Cree, sacrificed the substance of a claims settlement to the form of political recognition. This is a calculation that only the Dene can make. It does appear, however, that the federal government is now in position to assimilate their political claims in an indefinite process of constitutional deliberations. This is to question not the legitimacy of this constitutional process, but the effectiveness of Dene strategy. It is, nonetheless, possible that the Dene could effectively use the process to pursue their political goals.

NunavutProposals: The Inuit of the vast east-central Northwest Territories have incorporated their land and political claims in a proposal to create "Nunavut," a new, Inuit-majority territory, carved out of the Northwest Territories, which would eventually become a province. Nunavut would acquire control of subsurface mining as well as surface rights to territorial land, and the federal government would retain control of oil and gas, but Nunavut would share the income. The new territory would also share control of offshore areas involving renewable resources. One of the new territorial institutions, a Nunavut Impact Review Board, would have veto authority over development projects and land and resource management policies. Federal resistance to a Nunavut settlement center on this proposal, which raises the fundamental issue of control over resource development in the north. While the Inuit and government negotiators have reached agreement on a number of secondary matters, the conflict over this issue is unresolved.

Policy process: Unlike the preceding cases, the native claims process in the case of Nunavut is addressed directly as a problem of Canadian constitutional development. A special set of institutions, the Nunavut Constitutional Forum, the Western Constitutional Forum (for the western parts of the Northwest Territories outside of the proposed Nunavut Territory), and the Constitutional Alliance, which joins the first two, have been established as vehicles of negotiation and deliberation. Thus, despite the impasse over control of resource development, other processes continue: discussions of the boundary issue, public education and mobilization, and allocation of other authorities and responsibilities between territorial, regional, and local levels. These constitutional development forums supplement and help focus the First Ministers’ discussions of aboriginal rights under the Constitution Act of 1982.

Political development: Because the political stakes have been raised to a high level, Nunavut, like the Dene Nation, carries relatively high risks of failure as well. Distributional values may be further delayed and reduced in the pursuit of the more elusive values of political legitimacy and identity. On the other hand, the alternative constitutional development processes, reinforced by the recognition of aboriginal rights in the Constitution Act of 1982, provide some assurance of continuing negotiations. This suggests a long-term evolutionary process of institutionalizing native rights.


Native claims movements and settlements are critical episodes in native political development. They arise as conflicts between national interests in northern resources and native interests in security and autonomy. Both the processes and the outcomes of native claims are strongly influenced by the economic and political stakes involved, by diffusion processes and political learning, and by the limits that central governments and majority interests place on the agendas for claims policymaking.

I used a typology of claims settlement provisions to analyze effects of settlement outcomes on the political development values of identity, distribution, and legitimacy. Extinguishment types of settlements represent setbacks to native political development in several respects: They extinguish aboriginal title and rights, restrict native land and resource ownership, link cash compensation to extraction of resources, and impose majority forms of economic and political institutions. At an extreme, they can terminate trust relationships and aim to assimilate natives into the dominant society.

The ANCSA, James Bay, and COPE settlements fall into the extinguishment category. The James Bay settlement’s support of Cree hunting culture through the Income Security Program is, however, an innovative advance beyond ANCSA and COPE. The Council of Yukon Indians’ unresolved claim also seems likely to fall into this category.Recognition types of settlement register advances in native political development to the extent that they recognize native land titles and rights, secure subsistence resources, assure stable sources of income, and sanction native-controlled institutions. Government-to-government and trust relationships between natives and public authorities might also be recognized or confirmed under such settlements. Recognition would promote native integration, not assimilation, into the dominant society and economy. Although past settlements have included some of the elements identified with the recognition type, none has explicitly recognized either aboriginal titles—which would be one of the strongest forms of recognition—or more broadly and ambiguously defined aboriginal rights. In fact, the three completed settlements that I have reviewed include very definite extinguishment provisions.In any of the three pending cases (Yukon, Dene, Nunavut), a provision to recognize aboriginal rights could be adopted; alternatively, negotiations could deliberately avoid any explicit extinguishment provision. Government negotiators are not likely to agree to recognize aboriginal title, since this would require an open-ended commitment of land and resources to natives that no government is ready to make. Recognition of rights, however, might represent an improvement only in form, not substance, over previous agreements. It is the content of rights, not their abstract recognition, that is at issue. This is where Canada’s "constitutional development" processes—including the constitutional forums and the First Ministers’ Conferences—will be important, as will be the native rights policies that emerge from federal, provincial, and territorial governments in the long term.The continuing play of "constitutional development" and the open political processes of representative democratic governments similarly will present opportunities for changes in existing settlements. ANCSA clearly was not a final settlement, as the "1991" controversy in Alaska and in the U.S. Congress shows. Nor were the James Bay and COPE agreements "final" in the sense of being immune to change. In Canada, too, the Constitution Act of 1982 and political processes centering on national and provincial governments will assure the continuing evolution of these agreements, regardless of the extinguishment language they contain. The native groups involved will continue to press their interests and demands in the larger political arena, problem definitions will change, new and revised policy solutions will be presented, and central governments will be politically and morally obligated to respond. Thus, native claims processes themselves can represent advances in native political development, even if the terms of a given settlement do not meet full recognition standards.The claims cases I have reviewed suggest that the same processes that brought them into the policy arena in the first place will likely continue to operate in all native claims cases, whether "settled" or not. Political development opportunities are generated in conflicts between resource development and native rights, in diffusion and political learning, and in the interactions of politics, problems, and policies. Native claims settlements are "episodes"—significant junctures in a continuing process of political development and change—and not "final" political solutions.

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