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.


My name is Ronald Senungetuk. I have spent most of my life in Alaska, once as a member of village of Wales at Seward Peninsula and more recently as a member of the faculty of the University of Alaska.

I left Alaska in 1953 to study art at Rochester, New York. My studies were interrupted by two years in the United States Army which took me to places such as South Carolina and Western Germany. After the military service, I returned to Rochester to resume my studies. I graduated in 1960. I earned a BFA degree. After that I applied for and received a one year Fulbright Scholarship for graduate study at Oslo, Norway. I then returned to Alaska in 1961 to join the University of Alaska as a Visiting Carnegie Professor of Design. I organized the art departmentís metalcrafts program and have since been involved in variety of art programs and activities. I presently direct the Native Arts and Crafts Center which attempts to develop valid traditional and contemporary artists in todayís society. As a resident of the State of Alaska, I served as member of the Alaska State Council on the Arts. Only about three weeks ago, I served as consultant and guest speaker at the National Endowment on the Arts Conference in Wash-ington D.C.

I grew up in a very typical Eskimo village. Wales in the 1940ís had about 150 people. Today, Wales still exists even though many people moved to Nome. The village way of life at that time was about 99% Eskimo, culturally, and 1% Euro-American as compared to todayís more or less 50 - 50 situation. At the time I left Wales, I was 15 years old. I spoke almost no English and I really went through cultural torment. For example I had to copy people eating in the airplane. I really did not know how to use forks and spoons. The plane that took me to the boarding school in Sitka left lasting impressions. It was a social shock but it probably taught me to be quite observant.

The Eskimo language was spoken In Wales. It was a highly developed way of communication. It was just right for dealing with everyday activities. It made fairly complex organization possible such as development of team work for successful whale hunting. Today, the aboriginal language and the culture are rapidly losing to a form of situation which is not terribly desirable. The situation leads to feeling of discontent or lethargic attitudes. People neither speak good Eskimo language nor good English. For some, the extent of communication is yes or no or no words at all. The communication very often is confined and reduced to members of the family or buddies in an off beat section of a town. There would be little or no way to effectively communicate regionally, nationally or internationally if there were no learned individuals or representatives of outside interests. Some of us broke the tradition of hunting as a way of life and left the villages in order to get higher education.

As a person who has experienced two cultures, I am not very different from others. I am somewhat bicultural, that is, I do know and appreciate Eskimo way of life. At the same time, I am able to live in an urban community. If there were no choice and if there were no opportunities, I would probably feel very much at home in a village. Yet, I am not practicing the Eskimo way of life. To do so, I think would be an attempt to stop time. Even though hunting rights are valid, the Eskimo way of life, I feel, must not be preserved for the sake of tourists and the industry that relates to tourists. On the other hand, one canít really divorce or remove oneself from his identity. There are certain values that happen to be valid and they are valid even for non-natives.

Some of these values are successfully demonstrated in Greenland. When I went to Greenland in the summer of 1967, I was able to compare educational developments of Natives in Greenland and Alaska. The first language in Greenland is Greenlandic which is an Eskimo dialect written and taught in schools. The second language is Danish. Some great delicacies in Denmark are from Greenland that were once part of Greenlandic diet. Some Greenlandic heroes or legendary figures are just as important in Copenhagen as in Godhaab. Even though Danish way of life is apparently a good way of life, the Greenlanders are not trying to do everything Danish and the Danish government is not trying to shove every thing Danish to the 40,000 Greenlandic individuals either. Instead, the Danes are assisting the intensely proud Greenland Eskimos to retain some of the best of the Eskimo culture and they are trying to introduce best of the western culture. Even thought the effort can be criticized, it must be acknowledged for self-pride and generous justice and equality of men it allows.

As one of many Alaskan Natives who has not actively participated in the land claim efforts, I would like to say that the task of making a claims presentation must be most difficult. I think that all of us would agree that Alaskan Natives have a right to the land just as much as an Irish American has to his fatherís farmland somewhere in Kansas. I donít believe that an Alaskan Eskimo should claim all of Alaska just because he is from the State. I think he is entitled to some. There may be those who may think that they deserve a lot and there may be those who may think that they donít deserve any. Whatever the outcome, the general knowledge is that the certain members of the ethnic group do know the American method or mainstream if you will. They are the ones who have had more opportunities to learn what is going on outside of their environment. I think they are the ones who will inspire the less fortunate to remove themselves from the poverty that Senator Kennedy and others revealed.

I think this group which has shown ability to lead must be given a complete chance to lead. The Alaskan Eskimo is presently showing signs of leadership that is phenomenal. He went through the system that was alien to him not too long ago. He made a hurdle from ethnic way to the urban way. During the process, he sometimes experienced forms of segregation, colonialism, discrimination and various other feelings not conducive to positive make up of man. He did not really live with GIs, construction men, Bureau of Indian Affairs personnel, and many others - he mostly knew they were there. If he did not go mad, he could only be a valuable man. From his experiences, he must possess a composition that allows him to see out as well as in. He does know what the inner problem is and he has a way to interpret it to the outside world. At the same time, he is aware of the outside world so that in the end he is inspiration to his fellow men.

The elements of leadership among the Eskimo and Indian in Alaska are second to none in similar situations such as the situations in the rest of the Arctic Polar Region. He is presently involved in State politics. He teaches and manages offices. One is in Nome. He is a banking officer. Another is in Kotzebue. He is an officer in the National Guard. There are many others. The next group will discover unfamiliar professions such as the fields of economics and sciences just as his earlier counterparts did when they learned to work with tractors and airplanes He will continue to grasp ideas as soon as they become relevant to him. He is often better than an outsider because he knows his environment and he is able to cope with harsh elements.

The extremely relevant and natural thing that these young leaders look for is the administration of their own affairs. The administering of vast responsibilities is admittedly a task that must be tutored, but I think it should be a total delegation. In the long run, all of us, I think would be strengthened. The natural result would be pride and self-respect. Out of that, I think there are great possibilities that may open new resources.

The prospects for cultural revolution or emergence of new culture may come out of the land claim settlement. The ethnic groups need a vehicle with which to relate their position in the world. The possibility of creating a great design center on the North would be a contribution that would reveal monumental heritage that the groups possess. The design product does not have to stop at houses and vehicles that can withstand cold weather. The products could be in music, drama and every aspect of visual arts. The growth does not have to stop in arts alone. The growth depends on the ability of man.

Hopefully, we want to avoid protective attitudes. The non-natives and the Natives perhaps should discover that they are basically same type. The two have issues. Both must temper these. Both must work together. Any other way would tend to compromise events. Compromised events would be less beneficial to all mankind.


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.

[Alaskool Home]