Excerpts from
HISTORY OF EVENTS LEADING
TO THE PASSAGE OF THE
ALASKA NATIVE CLAIMS SETTLEMENT ACT

"History of Events Leading to the Passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act," Kornelia Grabinska, Tanana Chiefs Conference, Inc., January 1983 use with permission of Tanana Chiefs Conference, for educational purposes only.

by

Kornelia Grabinska
Tanana Chiefs Conference, Inc.

January 1983

This report has been prepared by:

Tanana Chiefs Conference, Inc.
201 First Avenue
Fairbanks, Alaska 99701

William C. Williams, President

Project Advisory Board:

Mary Jane Fate, President
Alfred Ketzler, Vice President
Georgianna Lincoln, Member
Morris Thompson, Member
Don Wright, Member
Sam Kito, Member

Project Staff:

Raymond L. Kent, Project Director
Abby Arnold, Principal Writer
Kornelia Grabinska, Principal Writer
George Tobuk, Principal Writer
Margurite Cornwall, Librarian
Judy McReynolds, Editing
Tom Alton, Editing
Norma Williams, Clerical Support
Marcia Hauger, Clerical Support
Roxanne Chee, Clerical Support
Beth Allman, Researcher
Jerry Domnick, Researcher
Robert Smith, Jr., Researcher
Mike Bradley, Researcher

Consultants:

Mike Walleri, Legal
Art Patterson, Demographic
Sigrid Khera, Ph.D., Native Culture

With a grant from the Administration for Native Americans

March 1983

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

      PAGE
INTRODUCTION   1
SECTION I   4
A. Protohistoric Period to About 1800   4
B. Russian Exploration, Fur Trade, and Mission Period 1741-1867   8
C. American Gold Rush, Fur Trade and Mission Period 1867-1910   14
D. American Period of Stabilization 1910-1940   19
E. The Modern Era 1940-1958   22
       
SECTION II   27
A. Early Campaigns 1958-1966   27
B. Campaigns in the Congress 1967-1971   38
       
FOOTNOTES   49
       
APPENDICES    
  1. Table of events in chronological order 1960-1971   59
  2. Statement of Donald R. Wright, President of Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) on occasion of meeting with President Richard M. Nixon at the White House, April 6, 1971.   66
  3. Review of Alaska Natives’ Status Under Federal Regulations.   66
  4. Transcript from a conference with the Tanana Chiefs, 1915, excerpted from Alaska Journal, Spring 1971.   69
  5. Interior Meetings 1962.   81
 

a. Alaska Native Rights Association, Report on the Nenana Meeting of Chiefs, March 10-11, 1962.

115
 

b. Nenana Meeting of Chiefs, Official Minutes, March 1962.

118
 

c. Chiefs’ Conferenence, Tanana, June 1962, Dena' Nena' Henash (Our Land Speaks)

133
  6. Example of tables developed to popularize the idea of land claims settlements among Alaskans. Courtesy of Stephen Haycox.   146
  7. Table of Cases.   147
       
BIBLIOGRAPHY   153
       

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Full credit is due Michael P. Bradley for the authorship of Section I dealing with the history of events that took place in the days of pre-contact with the western culture, during first contact, and during the American period through the 1950s. With only minor editorial changes, his work is the same as when first submitted.

I owe a special debt of gratitude to history Professor Stephen Haycox of the University of Alaska, Anchorage, for sharing with me his valuable insights and knowledge in the field of the Alaska Native history.

During the course of my research, I have also interviewed several individuals who have been part of the "history" and generously shared -with me their recollections of past events. I am especially indebted to Edgar Paul Boyko, attorney and former attorney general; Keith Miller, former governor; and Donald Wright, former president of the Alaska Federation of Natives.

Kornelia Grabinska

 

E. The Modern Era 1940-1958

The Modern Era is one of intensifying contact. It is characterized by increasing economic ties, greater contact with federal agencies, increased knowledge of new social and political institutions and awareness of international events and relations.

The succeeding format outlines the following discussion: description of historical events, economic development, analysis of federal legislation (as it applies to the land rights and aboriginal claims issue), linguistic and educational developments, and socio-political trends.

World War II brought major changes to Alaska, including influx of military troops, induction of Alaska Natives, formation of all Native Territorial Guard Units, construction of military facilities, population relocations in the Aleutians, and generally increased economic growth. Completion of the Alaska-Canadian Highway opened Alaska to the "outside," stimulated the freight industry and attracted newcomers and tourists.

Major military installations were located at Umiat, Barrow, Pt. Hope, Kotzebue, Nome, Unalakleet, McGrath, Ruby, Galena, Tanana, Nenana, Big Delta, Bethel, llliamna, and Cold Bay. Several of these became permanent bases.

Three all-Native military units were organized, including the Alaska Territorial Guard (20,000 members, including women and children), the lst Special Services, and the Alaska Scouts.

Special "Alaskan" military projects included the construction of the Alcan Highway (1942-43), the Nome Airlift (June 1942), the Seabee Expedition (July 1944), and the Russian Lend-Lease and training programs.

These projects, along with the maintenance needs of the ATG, drew thousands of tons of war material to Alaska.

The largest and most severe impact was to the Aleuts (as a result of relocations). The entire Native population was affected through general mobilization into the ATG. Never before had Natives been organized to defend such a large, abstract, political entity as the United States. (The above statistical information on the Alaskan war effort is extracted from Cohen.)78

Increasing federal contact, particularly with government service agencies, characterized the entire period. Dependence on income maintenance, health and welfare services, various subsidies, and loan and development agencies also increased.

Technological advancements, particularly the use of outboard motors, snowmachines, chainsaws, television, and radio affected economic endeavors and increased awareness of world events. Use of the snowmachine decreased the use of sled dogs for trapping, which decreased fish harvests for dog food. Outboards and snowmachines increased efficiency of travel and fur trapping. Television and radio encouraged the use of English as a first language.

Extractive industries, such as fishing, timber, mining, and petroleum developed through this period.

The Kutchin (as well as others) were affected by fluctuating fur prices with a decline during the 1950s.79

Air Force communications facilities were built during the 1940s and 1950s at Bettles, Galena, Indian Mountain, and Tanana affecting the Koyukon and Tanana peoples.

Village councils were formalized into modern political institutions at Nikolai, Telida, and Minto (1937) (as well as other settlements) drawing Kolchan80 and Tanana81 Indians further into western socio/political institutional relationships.

During the 1940s, populations concentrated at Tyonek and Nondalton in the Tanaina region.82

Economic development continued to benefit from various legislation, such as the IRA (1934) and the Reinder Act (1937). The IRA permitted organization of both village businesses and cooperative associations.83

The controversy between recognition of "property rights" versus "aboriginal" title (claims) continued through the 1940s and 1950s. The Organic Act (1884) and subsequent judicial interpretations had established definite property rights contingent upon proof of "use and occupancy." Two court decisions are relevant to this issue for the period. A case involving the Tillamooks in Oregon (U.S. vs. Alcea Band of Tillamooks et. al. 1946)84 recognized the aboriginal claims to the land of these Indians as a judicable issue. The court ruled that:

". . . tribes which successfully identify themselves as entitled to sue . . , prove their original Indian title to designated lands, and demonstrate their interest in such lands was taken without their consent and without compensation, are entitled to recover compensation, therefore, without showing the original Indian title ever was formally recognized by the United States."85 (author's emphasis)

The Court of Claims heard a similar request from the Tee Hit Tons (Tlingit) of southeast Alaska. In Tee Hit Tons vs. U.S. (1955)86 the court concluded that the plaintiffs had no legally established right to sue for compensation concerning lands within the Tongass National Forest. The Supreme Court reviewed the case in 195587 and differentiated between the above cases. It concluded that recognition pre-supposed congressional or statutory direction. This was established in the Tillamook case, but not in Tee Hit Ton. The dissenting opinion of the Supreme Court ruling was significant in that it recognized that the Organic Act (1884) Sec. 8 had in fact recognized the claims of Natives.88 As a result of these conclusions, it became apparent to many that the "aboriginal claims/rights" issue was clearly open to interpretation by the courts and, presumably, Congress.

Native languages continued to move toward moribundity. The following statistics reflect calculations based on a 1980 study by Michael Krauss.89 Total speakers of Tanaina number about 250 out of a population of 900 with most remaining speakers living at Nondalton and Lime Village. Only four or five speakers are children. Seven hundred out of a total population of 2,200 Koyukon continue to speak the language regularly. The youngest speakers are in their twenties. About 140 out of 150 Kolchans are speakers including children at Nikolai and Telida. About 100 out of 350 Tanana Indians speak the Minto-Nenana dialect. No children or young adults speak the language fluently. The total Kutchin population in Canada and Alaska is about 2,400 and about half remain fluent speakers. Krauss predicts that by the mid-21st century all but five of the present 20 Alaska Native languages will become extinct unless major revitalization efforts occur. These five include Kutchin, Western Aleut, Inupiaq, Central and Siberian Yupik.

Educational developments included increased literacy rates and educational levels as well as a decrease in missionary control of schools and replacement by BIA control. The latter was true, particularly after 1931. However, until statehood, school control fluctuated between the BIA and the territorial government. This was principally a result of the territory’s inability to appropriate adequate funding.

The socio-political trends (i.e., linguistic moribundity, increased sedentariness, intermarriage and ethnic mixing, exposure to new economic relationships, enlargement of salient socio-political entities, and subjection to new religious and legal conceptualizations) generally continued through the period resulting in (1) significant changes in subsistence patterns, (2) formalization of traditional political and legal structures, (3) assimilation into the capitalist/ competitive/cash economy, and (4) legal and procedural formalization of the Federal-Native relationship.

 

SECTION II

A. Early Campaigns 1958-1966

State land selection under the Statehood Act was perhaps the major catalyst of the Claims Act.90 A territory-wide Constitutional Convention met Feb. 5, 1956, to draft the "Constitution of the State of Alaska." Delegates proposed to grant each Aleut, Eskimo and Indian fee title to 160 acres of hunting and fishing grounds. The convention rejected that proposal, and adopted a disclaimer regarding Native lands. Participants in the convention were concerned about interfering with the federal responsibility for safeguarding and compensating aboriginal rights and raised doubts about the state’s ability to implement a disposal program. Protection of lands used and occupied by Natives was addressed briefly in the Statehood Act. The language paralleled the wording of the First Organic Act of 1884.

Section 4 of the Statehood Act required the new state to disclaim all rights and title to:

"any lands or other property (including fishing rights), the right or title to which may be held by any Indians, Eskimos, or Aleuts (hereinafter called Natives) or is held by the United States in trust for said Natives; that all such lands or other property belonging to the United States or which may belong to said Natives, shall be and remain under the absolute jurisdiction and control of the United States until disposed of under its authority, except to such extent as the Congress has prescribed or may hereafter prescribe, and except when held by individual Natives in fee without restrictions on alienation: Provided, That nothing contained in this Act shall recognize, deny, enlarge, impair, or otherwise affect any claim against the United States, and any such claim shall be governed by the laws of the United States applicable thereto; and nothing in this Act is intended or shall be construed as a finding, interpretation or construction by Congress that any law applicable thereto authorizes, establishes, recognizes, or confirms the validity or invalidity or any such claim, and the determination of the applicability or effect of any law to any such claim shall be unaffected by anything in this Act: And provided further, That no taxes shall be imposed by said State upon any lands or other property now owned or hereafter acquired by the United States or which, as hereinabove set forth, may belong to said Natives, except to such extent as the Congress has prescribed or may hereafter prescribe, and except when held by individual Natives in fee without restrictions on alienation."

This section, according to the Native viewpoint, held aboriginal claims in status quo. The Act failed to define Native "right or title," leaving that action to Congress or the courts.

After the passage of the Statehood Act, Natives began to see more clearly the problems facing their claims to land. The new state needed base for its economic development and support, but it was not until the land "freeze" and the discovery of oil and gas that Native claims began to occupy the forefront of Alaska’s politics.

The Native community not only faced the prospect of the state selecting land they considered theirs, but it also had to deal with projects of the federal government. The first specific governmental threat to Native lands, Project Chariot, began in 1958. The Atomic Energy Commission planned to set up a chain reaction of five atomic explosions to blast out an artificial harbor at Cape Thompson near the village of Point Hope. The harbor was to become a seaport to handle expected coal, oil and gas production in the area. The Eskimos of Kivalina and Point Hope were to be temporarily resettled in newly constructed villages near Kotzebue and Nome.

During 1960-61, the Eskimo learned about the danger of atomic fallout to flora and fauna. Meetings were held and petitions against the project sent, but to no visible effect. Late in 1962, the Atomic Energy Commission announced its decision to abandon Project Chariot. It was reported, however, that the commission seemed to have abandoned the project "principally because of possible international reaction, not because of village protests; but the villagers did not know this and rejoiced in their supposed effectiveness."91

Actions of that sort bolstered the Natives’ awareness of their need for organization and unified action.

In the early 1960s, after 100 years of American influence and dominance, most small Native communities outside the sphere of Anchorage, Juneau, and Fairbanks were still not subject to the impacts of urbanization, westernization, and frequent contacts with non-Natives. Yet, by 1960, Alaska Natives constituted less than one-fifth of the state’s population.92

Gerald McBeath and Tom Morehouse say the following about the Natives of that period:

"Most Natives at the time of statehood were unprepared for the demands of life in a modern cash economy. Many did not speak English fluently; few had adjusted to the demands of time and the achievement orientation characteristics of the dominant cultural group in American society. . . ."93

"In short, at the time of statehood, the vast majority of Alaska Natives in rural areas had not adapted to western society or to new roles within it.94

"To the extent that there was any ‘leadership’ in predominantly Native villages, it was likely to be traditionalistic and parochial. Leaders tended to be older men who ruled for the most part as family heads, not political leaders; limited in their ability to communicate in English, they were not natural foci for the statewide organization of Native communities. At the time of statehood, few Natives participated in either the representation of their communities at the territorial level or in the administration of programs designed to benefit them."95

In the spring of 1961, two Eskimos were arrested in Barrow for shooting ducks out of season. More than 100 Eskimos shot ducks in protest and demanded to be arrested. They argued that they were entitled to aboriginal rights to hunt, especially during the short time when the ducks were present on the coast. The unprecedented unity and determination of the Eskimo received wide, sympathetic coverage in the state and national press. In October, 1961, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced that the 140 Eskimo hunters would not be prosecuted.

At that time, an East Coast organization, established by non-Natives to further the Native cause, became interested in the Eskimo’s case. The Executive Director of the Association on American Indian Affairs, LaVerne Madigan, visited some of the Eskimo villages and, until her death in 1962, provided much needed organizational expertise.

In 1961, the state selected about 1.7 million acres, some in the Wood River area near Fairbanks. The result was a massive filing by four Native villages of Minto, Northway, Tanacross and Lake Alegnagik for land claims. The claims in the area eventually totaled over 5,860,000 acres, conflicting with the 1,750,000 acres of state selections.96

In November, 1961, the first meeting of the Northern Eskimo leaders was called. The Inupiat Paitot (Peoples’ Heritage) meeting was organized with financial help from the Association on American Indian Affairs.

The Fairbanks Native Association was established in 1960. In March, 1962, the first meeting since 191397 of Indian Chiefs of Interior Alaska was convened in Nenana to address land claims questions. The meeting was sponsored by Nenana’s Chief, Alphonse Demientieff, and the Nenana Native Council. Delegates from Beaver, Copper Center, Gulkana, Minto, Nenana, Northway, Tanacross, Tanana and Tetlin were present. Also present were the Alaska Native Rights Association and the Alaska Native Brotherhood (represented by the Grand Vice President, the Nenana Camp delegate, and the Copper Center Camp delegate).

The second meeting, Dena' Nena' Henash (Our Land Speaks), was called in Tanana in June, 1962. Delegates from 17 villages, Nenana, Minto, Tanacross, Copper Center, Fort Yukon, Hughes, Huslia, Northway, Metlakatla, Dot Lake, Mentasta, Gulkana, Bettles, Beaver, Rampart, Tanana and Kaltag, participated. In a statement closing the Chiefs’ conference, the participants said, "Our homes are no longer our own and often the children are hungry. The time has come again that we must decide how to help our people. . . . We are no longer secure on the land which has been ours for centuries."98 As an outcome of those meetings, the Tanana Chiefs Conference was reactivated. The Tanana Chiefs meeting was held again the following June; delegates from 23 villages were present.

In the Yukon-Kuskokwim deltas area, village leaders formed the Village Council Presidents Conference.

These grassroot organizations gave the Native communities both the opportunity to act and react in their own behalf and a new feeling of effectiveness in influencing the course of their own affairs. This is not to diminish the importance of the movement that began almost 50 years before and was concentrated mostly in southeast Alaska. The Alaska Native Brotherhood and the Alaska Native Sisterhood were the only organizations of Alaska Natives during that span of time. They are examples of modern inter-tribal organizations concerned about furthering "acculturation among the Indians."99

It was resolved at the A.N.B annual convention in 1951 that delegates should be sent to the Indians of southwest Alaska to organize new camps. An active camp was reported in operation at Dillingham in the early 1950s. In southeast Alaska, the A.N.B. became a symbol of Indian solidarity.100 That has not been the case, however, in northwest Alaska, except perhaps in the Nome area on the Seward peninsula.101 In the 1960s, there were active A.N.B. camps in Copper Center, Nenana and other villages.

During initial meetings of Inupiat Paitot, a decision was reached to form a statewide newspaper that would represent the interests of Alaska Natives. Dr. Milton Forbes of Waldon, Massachusetts, initially helped with financing the paper and Howard Rock of Point Hope became the editor. Tundra Times began publishing in 1962, giving the Native movement new strength and opportunity to communicate throughout the state. Howard Rock described this grassroot movement in these words:

"The reason for the formation of these groups, of course, was that we had begun to realize that we, as Native people of Alaska, had many problems. We also found that by speaking as a group, we were heard."102

Another conflict arose in 1963 when Minto residents were threatened again by a state proposal to select nearby lands for recreational purposes. Led by Chief Richard Frank, the village residents protested the state action.

Still another controversy was precipitated by the state’s proposition to build the Rampart Dam in the Upper Yukon Valley. The project required the flooding of 9,000 acres and the displacement of several Indian villages. It was not pursued for economic and ecological reasons. The Rampart Dam Project created a renewed sense of uncertainty and vulnerability among the Native people.

As the number of Native land claims filed with the BLM multiplied, the Tanana Chiefs Conference petitioned Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall to "freeze" state selections. Secretary Udall eventually recognized the protests of Native groups against the disposition of lands claimed by Natives, and in 1966 imposed a land "freeze."

Technically, there are three determinations for freezing land transfers:

1. As a result of the obligation and authority of the federal courts, under terms of the Organic Act of 1884 and of the Alaska Statehood Act, to preserve the status quo wherever a Native claim is likely.

2. As a result of a refusal of the Bureau of Land Management to process mineral lease offers or land transfers in the face of Native protests, pending determination on the merits of those protests.

3. As a result of public land order issued by the Secretary of the Interior (such an order was issued by Secretary Udall in 1969,103 withdrawing all public lands in Alaska from most forms of appropriation until the end of 1970 or until Congress enacted a claims settlement.)

A land-related issue arose on the Tyonek reservation when oil was discovered there. A 1963 federal court order declared that the Tyonek Indians have land rights and the oil leases are to be transferred to the people of the reservation. Between 1963 and 1976 the Tyonek tribe (about 150 people) received 13 million dollars from oil operations. The previously impoverished villagers invested their money wisely through the Tyonek Management Corporation, setting aside a portion of the reservation for industrial use.

In recognition of the growing importance of the Alaska lands issue, Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall appointed the Alaska Task Force on Native Affairs in 1963. The Task Force recommended that Congress define the Native entitlement promptly. Three other recommendations were made:

1. granting of up to 160 acres to each Native individual for homesites, fish camps and hunting camps;

2. withdrawal of small acreages for villages; and

3. designation of acreage for Native food gathering activities.

The Alaska Natives opposed the Task Force recommendations.

In June, 1964, the Conference of Native Organizations was held in Fairbanks. The conference was organized by Howard Rock and sponsored by the Association on American Indian Affairs. The conference was attended by leaders of seven Native organizations and delegates from five villages. The conference report said the conference

"will be remembered as a beginning of understanding between the Indian, Eskimo and Aleut people; an understanding that will have far reaching results. It will be remembered for the beginning of Native political responsibility that has not been given proper emphasis heretofore."104

The need to unite the political activities of Native groups was the leading theme. The report stated:

"Each Native community is urged to take an active part in politics by joining existing political organizations. Where these organizations do not now exist in the villages, these villages are encouraged to initiate them."105

A unification was not reached at that time, but the seed planted was to bear fruit in 1966.

The Native groups agreed that four ways to proceed were:

1. To establish reserves.

2. To resolve claims in the federal court.

3. To obtain legislation at state level to protect their land rights.

4. To win a congressional settlement.

October, 1966, was the culmination of the unification efforts of the Native groups: 300 Native leaders—representatives of 17 organizations including eight regional corporations (four Eskimo, one Aleut, three Indian)—met in Anchorage. The meeting was called by Cook Inlet Native Association President Emil Notti with the financial backing of the Tyonek reservation. The meeting was called because the Commissioner of Indian Affairs had reportedly announced that the Indian Bureau would recommend to Congress the contents of a land settlement. According to some observers, the statement angered Emil Notti because it was made without consultation with Alaskans.106 Transcending regional rivalries, the delegates agreed to unify the Native effort and establish a common front through the Alaska Federation of Natives, which they organized. Emil Notti was elected president and he held that office until he resigned in the fall of 1970. Contrary to the widely quoted belief, AFN was not formally incorporated under state law until April 1967.107

The preamble to AFN’s Constitution stated the aim of the organization:

"We, the Native people of Alaska, in order to secure to ourselves and our descendants the rights and benefits to which we are entitled under the laws of the United States and the State of Alaska; to enlighten the public toward a better understanding of the Native people; to preserve the Native cultural values; to seek an equitable adjustment of Native affairs and Native claims; to seek, secure, and to preserve our rights under existing law of the United States; to promote the common welfare of the Natives of Alaska and to foster the continued loyalty and allegiance of the Natives of Alaska to the flag of the United States and the State of Alaska do establish this organization. . . .108 (author’s emphasis).

The AFN annual meeting was composed of one delegate from every regional Native association (plus an additional delegate for every 100 active members over the first 50) and one from each village not participating in any association.

Between annual meetings, the authority to make decisions belonged to the elected Board of Directors.

From 1966 to the Spring of 1968, AFN financing came from membership dues, contractual work for other organizations, donations and raffles.109

From the moment of incorporation through the long process of negotiations, there were some inherent centrifugal tendencies within AFN, some of them were caused by:

1. Differing ethnic affiliations; frequent meetings of the AFN board of directors; the slow process of finding mutually agreeable proposals; the difficulty of establishing working rules of order compatible with Native values.

2. The hiring of Arthur Goldburg. Lawyers from several regional associations were opposed to his employment complaining that Goldburg would concentrate on human and social reasons for a claim settlement without establishing the legal basis for land claims, and that he snubbed attorneys who had been representing Native interests for years.

3. The 1970 secession of Arctic Slope Native Association, which was seeking a title to 58 million acres. AFN proposed splitting the land on a per capita basis, giving land to regions with more people. A compromise formula was reached, and the Arctic Slope Native Association returned to the AFN.

While AFN was being established, the Office of Economic Opportunity was attempting to make government more responsive to Native input through the RurAL CAP program, which provided Natives with funds to define their own needs. Loosely organized regional Native associations began to incorporate as nonprofit service corporations contracting with the government.

Soon, the Alaska Federation of Natives formed a land claims settlement committee, with Willie Hensely as chairman. The committee recommended that:

1. An immediate land freeze be imposed by the Secretary of Interior.

2. Congress enact legislation to settle the claims.

3. Substantial consultations with Natives take place before any legislative action take place.

A large area of land on the North Slope of the Brooks Range was scheduled for oil and gas lease sales in September, 1966. Native groups protested and shortly afterward Secretary Udall imposed an informal land freeze, suspending issuance of leases and all other proceedings under any of the public land laws under the jurisdiction of the Interior Department.

The number of land claims filed with BLM accelerated in the fall of 1966 and by April 1, 1968, 40 recorded protests covered 296,600,000 acres.

Alaska’s governor-elect, Republican Walter Hickel, threatened a lawsuit calling Udall’s action illegal.

The state filed a civil action in 1967 in the Federal District Court, seeking a court order directing the Secretary of the Interior to proceed with recognition of the state’s selection. The new administration not only considered Udall’s action illegal, but also felt the land freeze was enacted "totally for political reasons."110 After three years of litigation, in 1970 the U.S. Supreme Court supported the land freeze, holding that the state’s selection rights take second place to aboriginal rights (then undefined).111

In 1966, Sen. Ernest Gruening, Democrat, asserted that legislation was needed to solve the land claims issue and that a cash compensation should be allowed if there actually were "any valid rights" on the Natives’ side. By April, 1966, about 15 million acres of land were tied up by Native protest.112 Gruening stated selection was paralyzed on "dubious grounds of aboriginal rights."113 He explained the state position:

"This situation is intolerable to the State of Alaska and constitutes a repudiation by fiat of an executive agency of provisions of the statehood act enacted by the Congress. In effect, the Department of Interior has arrogated to itself the legislative function of Congress by its refusal to act on land selections filed by the State."114

B. Campaigns in the Congress, 1967-1971

In 1967, the battlefield was finally chosen. Two bills were introduced in the 90th Congress.

A bill sponsored by the Dept. of Interior proposed that a federal court arbitrate the Native land claims, paying cash to compensate the lands taken and allowing 50,000 acres of land per village, with land title to be held in trust, altogether 8-10 million acres of land.115

A bill sponsored by AFN also proposed a court settlement with cash award and title to Native lands. No maximum was specified.116

The Dept., of Interior bill was criticized by Alaska Natives for proposing an insufficient amount of land (not enough to permit continuance of traditional use) and for proposing it remain in trust status.

Meanwhile in the state, Republican Attorney General Donald Burn vehemently opposed any solutions to the Native claims. Hickel, realizing the importance of the land claims, appointed, Edgar Paul Boyko as a Special Counsel on Native Land Claims in January, 1967. Burn resigned his post, and in June, 1967, Boyko became the Attorney General. Shortly afterward, the governor was meeting with AFN in Anchorage. He announced a policy of cooperation with the Native groups. Drafting that policy, Boyko viewed the federal ownership of 90 percent of Alaska’s land as stifling to the state’s economy and saw Native ownership of lands as beneficial. He deduced that Native people weren’t very likely to sell off their lands and take their wealth out of state. He convinced Hickel that it would benefit the state to support the Natives in their land claims. Boyko had observed carefully what happened in 1963 with Tyonek, and he wanted "economic power vested in 100 Tyoneks."117 On his suggestion, a state Land Claims Task Force was created with Willie Hensley as chairman. The Task Force issued a report in January, 1968, recommending:

1. Forty million acres in fee simple and all lands currently used for fishing and hunting to be available for up to 100 years. The Native Allotment Act was to remain effective.

2. Ten percent of the income from sale or lease of oil rights be paid to the Natives (with a minimum of $65 million).

3. The settlement was to be carried out by business corporations organized by villages and regions and one statewide. Natives were also to be paid up to $50 million from state mineral revenue if the land freeze were lifted before the end of 1968.118

At this time, another factor, a new catalyst, appeared on the scene—the discovery of oil in the Prudhoe Bay area. This introduced a new group vitally interested in lifting the land freeze. As this was possible only after Native claims were settled, this group was interested in virtually any settlement.

The land freeze had been costly to the state (loss of revenues) and to the oil industry, which was eager to get on with business after conducting expensive exploration.

Udall, before leaving office (as a result of the 1968 election), issued a public land order119 withdrawing all public lands of Alaska from most forms of appropriation until the end of 1970 or until Congress enacted a claims settlement.120

In 1968, Senator Gruening introduced another Land Claims Bill in Congress.121 This bill was based on recommendations of the Land Claims Task Force. Hickel and Boyko testified at hearings in Anchorage in favor of a settlement.122 Opposition came from the Alaska Miners’ Association and from the Alaska Sportsmen Association. The spokesman for the Alaska Miners’ Association said that except for claims filed under the 1946 Indian Claims Commission Act,

" . . . neither the United States, the State of Alaska, nor any of us here gathered as individuals owes the Natives one acre of ground or one cent of the taxpayers’ money. . . ."123

Senator Henry Jackson, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, requested that a governmental study be prepared. To accomplish that, a Federal Field Committee for Development Planning in Alaska was established, headed by Joseph FitzGerald.

Results of that Committee were published in October, 1968, under the title "Alaska Natives and the Land." The report was prepared mostly by three members of the staff: Robert Arnold, Native Affairs Officer; David Hickok, Natural Resources Officer; and Esther Wunnicke, Attorney/Advisor. The report presents "all relevant, available data and information on Native peoples, the land and resources of Alaska, the uses which these people have made of them in the past, their present uses of ownership, and the future—often conflicting—needs of the Native peoples, the State of Alaska, and the federal government . . . also . . . some of the alternatives which may be available to the Congress in its search for a fair and constructive solution to the very complex problem of meeting the legitimate claims of Native peoples while fostering the economic aspirations of a young state in the early stages of its development."124

The report confirmed the validity of Native claims, but recommended a land settlement of only 7-10 million acres, while making additional lands available for Native use. The subject of mineral revenues was discussed and the possibility of compensation of up to one billion dollars. It was proposed that only 100 million dollars would be appropriated, the remainder coming from united share of revenues derived from minerals and other resources of federal lands.

* * *

During the last part of 1968, shortly before he became Secretary of the Interior, Hickel made a number of remarks about "lifting" the land freeze, but he was also seeking endorsement from the AFN. The Native leaders withheld their endorsement until Hickel promised to extend the land freeze until the end of December, 1970.

Altogether in the 90th Congress, six bills addressing Native land claims were introduced in the Senate and nine in the House.125

By 1969, the AFN leadership had achieved relative consensus on what a land claims package should contain. Until then, AFN had maintained that 80 million acres were necessary to fulfill Native needs for continuous subsistence use and potential economic development. Now, however, they compromised on 40 million acres, a cash settlement of 500 million dollars for Native Lands already taken and two percent of all mineral revenues derived from state and federal lands in perpetuity. At that time, AFN acquired as its representatives former Justice Arthur Goldberg and former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark.

The state administration, with Gov. Keith Miller, opposed the revenue sharing provision. Henry Pratt, executive assistant to Miller explained to the press:

"Gov. Miller cannot in good conscience support any concept that acknowledges any responsibility for state participation in settlement of the claims. It is clearly a federal responsibility."126

At first, Alaska State Senator Mike Gravel supported the revenue sharing formula in perpetuity, as the Natives wanted.127 Around Nov. 20, 1969, Senator Ted Stevens (appointed to the Senate by Hickel in 1968 after Bob Bartlett’s death) switched his position from opposing the revenue sharing concept to supporting it.128The two Alaska Senators, who stood at opposite ends of the political spectrum on almost every other issue, found common ground. Under the Stevens-Gravel plan, the two percent revenue sharing formula was to be implemented for 10 years only. Senator Stevens, in speeches delivered around the state in November, 1969, scolded the settlement’s opponents and consistently used the argument that preservationists will lock up Alaska as a wilderness. Also in November, Stevens was mediating between the state and AFN, explaining to the state that without a settlement the Natives would eventually become expensive wards of the state.129

In Washington, April, 1969, Bill S.1830 was introduced in the Senate by Henry Jackson. S.1830 was based on the Federal Field Committee’s recommendations and was drafted by the Department of the Interior. Jackson’s bill granted to the Natives 500 million dollars from the federal treasury to compensate them for lands taken by federal government, a two percent royalty up to a total of 500 million dollars on mineral revenues from public lands in Alaska in compensation for Native interest in these lands, and about 10 million acres of land.

AFN leaders were dissatisfied with S.1830 because it provided for only one-fourth of the portion of the lands they were seeking.

Congress did not act in 1969 on any of the introduced claims bills. John Borbridge, Jr., then vice president of the AFN and president of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indians, wrote in the Tundra Times:

"Before the Native peoples themselves took charge of their land rights cause and presented a strong, unified position that could not be ignored, nothing happened — except that they were bypassed and portions of their land were lost to them.

"Now we are approaching a final settlement. This progress is attributable to one factor — the Natives of Alaska stood firm and withstood all the bludgeon-like and siren-like efforts to induce them to compromise. . . .

"We stand by our AFN bill because it is fair and reasonable and because our cause is just."130

Meanwhile, the oil companies were proceeding with their buildup. It was estimated that by 1969, 800 oil-rig workers were busy on the North Slope. British Petroleum, Atlantic Richfield and Humble Oil together formed the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS).

In March, 1969, the group disclosed they would go ahead in developing the preliminary ground work and in July, TAPS made public the award of a contract to design marine tank terminal facilities near Valdez. That August, TAPS awarded a contract to begin building a permanent road north of Livengood. The group participated at the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee hearings on the Native Land Claims, giving lip service to the Native position, hoping for a quick bill that would enable them to begin building the pipeline in the spring of 1970.

Despite opposition, the state scheduled a controversial competitive oil lease sale of lands in the newly discovered Prudhoe Bay oil and gas field. The oil companies paid more than $900 million for bonus lands to the State of Alaska. Most tracts in that area were already leased, and this was a sale of what little was left.

A public opinion survey of Alaskan residents, sponsored in 1969 by the Western Oil and Gas Association, indicated that 75 percent agreed with the proposition that Alaska wilderness areas should be preserved exactly as they were, 53 percent disagreed with the proposition that too much land has been set aside for wilderness areas. The survey showed that Alaskans had little confidence that the oil industry could prevent massive oil spills.131

The land freeze formalized by Secretary Udall in January, 1969, helped block construction of the 800-mile pipeline. Conservationists wanted the pipeline delayed for environmental reasons. The state wanted the construction of the pipeline, anxious to receive royalties and severance taxes from Prudhoe Bay production, and it wanted to proceed with its land selection.

During that period, different groups—conservationists, resource industries, Native, State administration and other Alaskans—were holding what amounted to a veto over any major development in Alaska.

For example, in 1969 the Athabascan Indians of Stevens Village filed a claim on lands along the planned pipeline and haul road right-of-way. In 1970, the Federal court issued an injunction against the Secretary of the Interior forbidding him to grant a right-of-way for the construction of the pipeline across those lands.

In February 1970, AFN president Emil Notti, while lobbying in Washington State, delivered a speech that attracted attention. He said that if Congress passed a bill that did not grant the Natives an acceptable land base, they should seek a new solution; they should petition for a separate nation in Western Alaska. At that time, AFN obtained a $225,000 loan from the Yakima Indian Nation for lobbying purposes. For several years, Donald Wright, president of the Cook Inlet Native Association from 1967-69, led the negotiations with Robert Jim, president of the Yakima Indian Nation.132

The Natives did not accept the settlement proposed in bill S.1830 and began lobbying for their own land settlement. Notti stated:

"To deny the Alaska Natives an adequate land base of at least 40 million acres will contribute to their dependency, to the disintegration of the communities, and to the erosion of their culture. To strip Alaska Natives of their land will destroy their traditional self-sufficiency, and it is certain to create among them bitterness towards other Alaskans and a deep distrust of our institutions and our laws."133

Alaska Natives won a major legislative victory in September, 1970. They cajoled the House Subcommittee on Indian Affairs to informally agree to a provision that would grant the Natives title to 40 million acres. However, no bill came to the House floor from the Committee in the remaining session.

AFN leaders were successful in developing an influential network of allies, including the National Congress of American Indians, the Association on American Indian Affairs, the Ford Foundation, the National Council of Churches, United Auto Workers and others.

In the fall of 1970, AFN president Emil Notti announced that he would not run for the presidency again. The election became a three-way race among candidates John Borbridge, Willie Hensley and Donald Wright. Emil Notti explains: "I was tired, worn out. I decided not to run, I thought Willie Hensley would win."134 He adds that in the four and one-half years of his presidency, the total budget of the AFN was about $250,000, with the bulk of the money coming from Tyonek Reservation.

In October 1970, AFN convention delegates elected Donald Wright their new president.

AFN drew up a settlement proposal with an important change. The group now asked for enough land — 60 million acres — to protect ancient lifestyles. AFN wanted 12 regional corporations, 500 million dollars as compensation, and a two percent share in future revenues from public lands. The land was to be divided according to population. The Arctic Slope Native Association objected to this means of disposal and withdrew from the AFN in protest. As a result of this protest, AFN substituted a "land loss" formula for population as the basis for dividing the land. The "land loss" formula was to reflect the amount of lands lost by each region.

Also, it was agreed that Arctic Slope would retain 50 percent of its mineral revenues, distributing the remainder to other regions on a population basis. The Arctic Slope Native Association promptly returned to AFN.

The Native movement’s main objective was to gain the support of the Nixon administrations.

As spring, 1971, approached, the TAPS group was increasing pressure on Congress. The equipment, material, and personnel were ready to start building, but the pipeline was delayed and huge amounts of money were tied up in investments. Public Land Order No. 4582, which was to expire Dec. 31, 1970, was extended until June 30, 1971, or upon passage of the Land Claims Settlement. The land freeze was extended twice more (June 17, 1971 and Dec. 7, 1971).

Most observers agree that the delay in construction of the pipeline helped the passage of the land claims settlement. In 1971 the oil industry and related business interests were not merely giving lip service to the Native claims; they lobbied for the Native claims bill and tried to hasten it through Congress.

Several important land claims bills reached the floor of both Houses of Congress in 1971. In February, Senators Fred Harris and Edward Kennedy and 12 other co-sponsors introduced legislation sponsored by AFN. S-835 called for 60 million acres, perpetual sharing of mineral revenues and establishment of 12 regional corporations.

Senator Henry Jackson introduced the old bill, S.1830, with amendments that passed the Senate the previous year. The bill became S.35.

In February and March, 1971, Donald Wright and other Native leaders held preliminary meetings with key members135 of Nixon’s administration and congressional leaders to work toward a meeting with the President that would bring the land claim issues to a culmination point on April 6.

In April 1971, President Nixon’s bill, S.1521, was introduced in the Senate by Senators Jackson, Allott, Gravel and Stevens. This was followed by heavy lobbying in Washington, D.C., by the AFN and individuals from a group dubbed "Alaska on the Potomac." Nixon announced his support for legislation that would convey to the Natives title to 40 million acres. Reportedly, he was willing to veto any bill with an inadequate land provision. However, according to a recent interview with Wright, the AFN leadership was advised that a presidential veto was unlikely.

Chairman of the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs Wayne Aspinall introduced H.R.3100, the least favorable bill to the Native cause, and totally unacceptable. Aspinall proposed a conveyance of a title to 100,000 acres; additional lands would be available for subsistence use on a permit basis. This bill provided that settlement would be administered through an agency largely controlled by the Alaska governor. Four Native commissioners were to be appointed by the governor.

In August, the House Subcommittee on Interior and Insular Affairs reported to the full committee. Alaska Governor William Egan (serving his third term at that time) testified at Aspinall’s committee that a 60 million acre settlement would be acceptable to the state; he also agreed to the 2 percent share of state mineral revenues.

In September, committees of both Houses released bills providing for 40 million acres of land. The House bill, H.R. 10367, managed by Aspinall, passed in the House of Representatives October 20 by a vote of 334 to 63. H.R. 10367, amended by the Senate, passed by vote of 75 to 5 November 1. Because of the difference in bills (amendments), the two versions were sent to a conference committee of both houses. After nine days of meetings, on December 13, the Conference Committee reported its final bill entitled, "Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act." On December 14, the House adopted the bill in its conference committee version 307 to 16. The Senate adopted the bill by unanimous consent, and the bill was sent to President Nixon for his signature.The 1971 annual AFN convention was scheduled in Fairbanks at its usual time—October—but because Congress was so close to passing a land claims bill, Don Wright asked the AFN to recess in order to ascertain if serious objections to the AFN proposal existed. He also suggested that the convention reconvene just prior to the signing of the bill by President Nixon.At the October convention, William Paul, Sr., spoke against the settlement: "We have the best rights in law in all the United States because we have the first rights . . . We own the land. It is our land. And I’m not going to go before Congress and tell them I want only forty million acres. I want three hundred and seventy-five million, not eighty million, or sixty million, or forty million . . . The United States is bargaining with us. And the men that advise you to put the Alyeska pipeline through . . . it is not to your advantage to let that go through until the land question is settled."136When the bill came out of the Conference Committee (Dec. 13, 1971) and was not quite what AFN had asked for, Don Wright and other leaders, by then well-known in Washington congressional circles, informally inquired about the possibilities of making immediate changes in the bill, but were advised that no such possibility existed; the bill was out of the Natives’ hands.

The Dec. 16, 1971 AFN special meeting of 600 Native delegates reconvened in Anchorage to consider the bill. After two days of debate, by a vote of 511 to 56, the settlement was accepted. The delegates of Arctic Slope Native Association with Joseph Upickson voted against the settlement. It has to be noted, however, that this vote did not carry any legal significance. First, the delegates were not officially elected and, therefore, not representing any governmental bodies. Secondly, acts passed by Congress are unilateral decisions that do not require approval to be valid. It was reported by some that President Nixon telephoned the group to inform them that he "just signed the ANCSA."137 However, according to AFN President Donald Wright, the delegates listened to a pre-recorded tape of Nixon’s speech and not a live broadcast.138Passage of ANCSA was followed by brief euphoria on the part of many Alaska Natives and of dismay by many non-Native Alaskans. At the time, only a few Native leaders realized how long and difficult the implementation process would be.

 

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