The following are public statements provided at hearings held in Fairbanks and Anchorage the 17th and 18th of October 1969 prior to the passage of ANCSA. They provide the reader with some of the issues and concerns discussed prior to the passage of ANCSA.
STATEMENT OF MR. JOHN SACKETT, GALENA, ALASKA (written)
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I am John Sackett, age 25, born at Cutoff, Alaska, on the Koyukuk River, approximately two hundred and fifty (250) miles northwest of Fairbanks. I am presently residing at Galena in Interior Alaska where I own and manage the Galena Lodge and Shopping Center. I am a State Representative, serving my fourth year. In addition to this, I have served as the president of the Tanana Chiefs for the past three years, have been the vice president of the Fairbanks Native Association and served on its board of director. I am presently the treasurer of the Alaska Federation of Natives, a senior at the University of Alaska—majoring in accounting with minors in French and Political Science, a member of the Governor’s Rural Affairs Commission, a member of the Advisory Board on Rural Education, on the State Board on Tuberculosis, and a member of the Executive Board for Remote Housing.
There has been much discussion pertaining to Native awareness and ability to compete in a western culture with the danger of being taken advantage of by unscrupulous persons with the ultimate outcome being a person ruined in life and left with less than the western culture previously found him.
This brings to light two fallacies which are so consistent in everyday living. Firstly, the Alaskan Native is not poverty-stricken and, secondly, the Alaskan Native is not wholly naive, either politically or in the business world.
First of all, in taking the stereo concept of the poverty stricken native, my definition does not only cover the areas of the lack of material wealth. If this were all that a person were looking at—to see the size of a home, or the number of cars or fences around a home—certainly, one would concede immediately that the Native were poor and was, indeed, in a state where any assistance would be beneficial. However, I am sure you have found throughout your travels that in spite of some very severe conditions that Alaskans have to live under, there is still a strong spirit of independence and life. One can see it in children playing and in schools where they show continuous brightness and in the many celebrations that are held—both in times of sadness and happiness. People with life and the continuous desire to live are not poor—they are extremely wealthy, and were it possible to combine this living independence with an uplifting of the living conditions with an orderly combination of two civilizations, the Alaskan Native would, indeed, become a truly contributing factor in the economic and social structure of Alaska.
Secondly, the Alaskan Native is not entirely native in the area of politics and business. The basic structure begins, I believe, with a definite understanding of the structure of the village and within the tribal community. There are the leaders and the followers and, there are the responsible and the few irresponsible and the ones with personal problems. This you will find in every society and in every city throughout the United States. But the responsibilities of the Alaskan Native Leaders with the past three or four generations have been extremely great as the actions taken had a tremendous bearing upon many others with the added problem of making a transition from one society to a new one. It has been through this intense level of responsibility that we have people who are capable of equaling and leading both the Natives and non-natives throughout the State. In addition to this, it is my belief that a leader in any environment, whether he remains in his original environment or makes a transition to another, strives and remains in a leadership position. It is always amazing to note how far a group has come along in another society when you compare their advancement with your own—placing yourself in a foreign country and, in a very short while, learning and thinking in an entirely new concept and method—learning everything without the opportunity of learning to read or write.
The position of native leadership today is very evident within the State—not only within the metropolitan areas where many are businessmen, legislators, and teachers, but, also, in the rural areas. In the past, because of more knowledge of the outside world, the non-native in the village usually took all of the opportunities of making a living such as the trading post and the post office. Today, in my area (Interior Alaska) nearly all postmasterships are held by Natives and, in nearly every town, the stores, welfare agency positions and similar jobs are filled by Natives.
It can be stated, in all honesty, that the Native people are capable of leading and handling his own affairs. This is not to say, however, that all people are capable of handling a giant corporation and not need outside help without making mistakes. We expect to make some mistakes as all people do, but there are enough capable people and, also, the ability to hire competent assistants, lawyers and managers.
Many people have asked the question—"What do you intend to do with the monies and land, once you receive them?" It is my belief that we will receive, compensation in the form of land and money because they are ours as Indians, Aleuts and Eskimos.
However, the entire direction and effort must go to an uplifting to a higher level of living and stability to the Native so that he will be a citizen on equal par with other citizens of this State. For example, the direction should point toward allowing the Native to attend hospitals and schools not because he is a Native but because he is a citizen capable of paying his way either through local taxing, or the ability to purchase health insurance policies. It is extremely important, however, that while the direction should point to ultimate acculturation and meshing in the economic areas of the western culture, a force must be given to protect and perpetuate the past Native culture so that the Alaskan Native will continue to remain proud of his heritage. I can see this done through formal studies at schools on Alaskan history and culture, in museums, art and music, and placing, on paper, all the old stories, tales, language, and activities of the Native people to save for the future. One does not lose his culture but only adds to it when making a transition to another culture.
First of all, the highlights of the statement I have prepared include the statement that to a very great extent today the Native population is not wholly Native, either in the world of politics or in the business world.
Secondly, I make a statement pertaining to the use of possible funds that we may derive from the settlement of the land claims in Alaska.
The history of the political involvement of the Native people in Alaska started within the 1920s. Today approximately 10 percent of the legislature in Juneau, our State legislature, is made up of Native people who represent both the natives within the metropolitan areas and also primarily within the rural areas.
In addition to this, the different party systems include people in the higher echelons who are quite involved in the politics of the different parties. For example, at the present time, the chairman of the Democratic Party in Alaska happens to be an Eskimo from Kotzebue. So to a very great extent, we have become politically involved and have raised ourselves up to the point where we can be making decisions which will affect our own people.
I want to bring to light the fact that I believe very sincerely that to a very great extent we can handle our own problems and we can make our own decisions.
This is very true also in the business world, for today we have the legislators, the people in the medical profession, in the law profession, who are extremely accurate. Most of these people have moved to the cities, have gained a formal education and are working in these fields. These people we can draw upon to assist us should we receive a settlement in both land and moneys from the Government.
Last of all, many questions have arisen as to what exactly we would be doing with the moneys should we receive them. There is also this question pertaining to the land.
With regard to the moneys, I would state that it is my feeling that, although we should receive moneys from the settlement because we are Indians, Aleuts, and Eskimos, the prime one should be that we should devote our entire selves to use these moneys so that we will be on an equal par both economically and socially along with every other citizen of the State.
For example, I can see that with the use of these moneys, instead of going to an Indian school or a school only for Natives, we would have the capabilities of producing our own taxes, whereby we can pay as other citizens do to go to a regular school within the State, to our school systems and through our systems.
In addition, I can see the moneys being used, for example, in the hospitals, instead of having Native hospitals, primarily and only for Natives, we could be using the moneys whereby we can, like every other person or citizen of the State, have health insurance and thereby be able to send our patients, our Native patients, to a regular hospital. Along with that fact, we should be moving into the area of actual acculturation, into the Western society, and I also see a very, very distinct need to protect and perpetuate much of the Native culture, as much as possible. If we must do this through history, through writing down the culture of the Aleuts, the Eskimos, and the Indians, the music, the arts, this is a very distinct necessity.
I just do not feel that a society as proud as the Indians, the Eskimos, and the Aleuts in Alaska can lose this and still remain a proud people. We must retain this, and, while retaining it, be able to accept the newer ways of life that the Western culture is bringing us.
This includes the highlights of my statement.
Question: Thank you. Representative Sackett, I, too, commend you on your testimony and particularly the statement appearing at the beginning of page 4, where you say:
We will receive compensation in the form of land and money because they are ours as Indians, Aleuts and Eskimos.
One thing that has impressed me continually in our presence in Alaska has been the number of people who have indicated that this award, contemplated award, was something to provide sort of an anti-poverty program for the Natives, and I am very glad to see this very blunt statement, as you made it, with regard to this.
Do you contemplate this award for land and monetary settlement is anything other than something that is owed to you because of your possessory right to the land included in the bill?
I am sorry. I cannot hear you very well because of the acoustics. However, I will try and answer it.
Did you ask if there was anything other than the actual anti-poverty-type situation?
Question: No. I am asking, I think you realize in your own statement that you have this coming. I heard in our travels here in Alaska a lot of people who believe that this is some kind of an antipoverty program. Do you look at it this way at all?
Initially, the problem of the land settlement is that we claim the land as ours. We have, I feel, a very religious feeling toward the land and everything that comes from the land.
In relation to the AFN bill that we have proposed, we are asking that the land itself, we are willing to give up 90 percent of what we now consider ours as a settlement just so it will be settled, and we want to trade this in terms of monetary value which can be used to increase and make a higher level of living for our people.
Source: Alaska Native Land Claims Part II, "Hearings before the Subcommittee on Indian Affairs of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, House of Representatives, Ninety-first Congress First Session on H.R. 13142, H.R. 10193, and H.R. 14212, Bills to Provide for the Settlement of Certain Land Claims of Alaska Natives, and for Other Purposes. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1970.