Based on your reading in the webtext, select one of the following thesis statements. Your response should be two to three paragraphs long.
ANCSA and the Native corporation system have been good for Alaska Natives.
ORANCSA and the Native corporation system have been bad for Alaska Natives.
Next, revise the statement you have chosen to reflect the complexity of the historical events surrounding this issue. Provide specific examples of how ANCSA and the Native corporation system have had a positive or negative impact—or perhaps both—on Alaska Natives. Further illustrate the complexity of this issue by showing how the passage of ANCSA was contingent on at least three historical events or forces.
ANCSA and Native Corporations
ALASKA WAS ADMITTED TO THE UNION AS THE 49TH STATE ON JANUARY 3, 1959. UNDER THE TERMS OF THE ALASKA STATEHOOD ACT, THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WOULD TRANSFER OWNERSHIP OF UP TO 104.5 MILLION ACRES OF LAND TO THE NEW STATE, BUT NONE OF THIS WOULD BE LAND THAT WAS SUBJECT TO NATIVE CLAIMS. (ALASKA STATEHOOD ACT, 1958. TO READ THE LAW, CLICK HERE. )
THE LAW GAVE THE STATE 25 YEARS TO SELECT WHICH TRACTS OF LAND IT WANTED. IN THE 1960S, THE STATE BEGAN TO MAKE ITS SELECTIONS—BUT MUCH OF THE LAND IT WANTED WAS SUBJECT TO NATIVE CLAIMS. SEVERAL NATIVE GROUPS FILED LAWSUITS TO STOP THE LAND SELECTIONS, AND THE ALASKA FEDERATION OF NATIVES* (AFN) WAS FOUNDED TO ADVOCATE FOR A FAIR AND COMPREHENSIVE SETTLEMENT TO THE LAND-CLAIM ISSUE. IN RESPONSE, THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SHUT DOWN THE SELECTION PROCESS AND TOLD THE STATE TO NEGOTIATE AN AGREEMENT WITH THE NATIVES. (JONES, 1981)
THE DISCOVERY OF OIL AT PRUDHOE BAY IN 1968 ADDED URGENCY TO THOSE NEGOTIATIONS. WITHOUT A RESOLUTION OF THE NATIVE CLAIMS, IT WOULD NOT BE POSSIBLE TO BUILD THE MASSIVE TRANS-ALASKA PIPELINE THAT THE OIL INDUSTRY SAID WAS NEEDED TO CARRY ALASKAN OIL TO MARKETS IN THE LOWER 48*. (NASKE, 1994)
THE PRESSURE TO COME TO A QUICK SETTLEMENT IN THE INTEREST OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT WAS IN FACT REMINISCENT OF THE PRESSURE TO SEIZE NATIVE LANDS FOLLOWING THE GEORGIA GOLD RUSH IN THE 1830S. IN EACH CASE, THE OPPORTUNITY TO EXTRACT A HIGHLY VALUABLE NATURAL RESOURCE SUDDENLY MADE NATIVE LAND EVEN MORE VALUABLE THAN BEFORE. BUT SEVERAL FACTORS HELPED TO PRODUCE A VERY DIFFERENT OUTCOME FOR THE ALASKA NATIVES:
- THE NATIVES HAD EFFECTIVE POLITICAL REPRESENTATION, THROUGH THE AFN AND OTHER ORGANIZATIONS;
- U.S. COURTS WERE MORE SYMPATHETIC TO THE ALASKA NATIVES’ CLAIMS, RULING IN THEIR FAVOR IN SEVERAL INSTANCES;
- THE STATE GOVERNMENT WAS WILLING TO SEEK A NEGOTIATED SETTLEMENT WITH THE NATIVES;
- THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT—INCLUDING SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR WALTER HICKEL, A FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA—ALSO FAVORED A NEGOTIATED SETTLEMENT; AND
- GREATER PUBLIC AWARENESS OF THE INJUSTICES DONE TO NATIVES IN THE PAST INCREASED THE SOCIAL AND POLITICAL PRESSURE TO FIND AN EQUITABLE SETTLEMENT. (JONES, 1981)
AFTER PROTRACTED NEGOTIATIONS, ALASKAN OFFICIALS AND THE AFN REACHED AN AGREEMENT IN PRINCIPLE: NATIVES WOULD RECEIVE LAND THAT THEY HAD HISTORICALLY USED AND DROP THEIR CLAIMS TO ANY OTHER LAND IN THE STATE IN RETURN FOR A CASH SETTLEMENT. THE EXACT TERMS OF THAT AGREEMENT WOULD BE FOR THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO DECIDE AND—AFTER INITIALLY OFFERING THE NATIVES FAR LESS THAN THEY WANTED, IN TERMS OF LAND AND CASH—CONGRESS AND PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON EVENTUALLY AGREED TO A HISTORIC DEAL.
IN RETURN FOR LETTING THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT “EXTINGUISH” THEIR CLAIMS TO MOST ALASKAN LAND, NATIVES RECEIVED 44 MILLION ACRES AND A CASH PAYMENT OF $962.5 MILLION. THE 44 MILLION ACRES WAS ONE-NINTH OF THE TOTAL AREA OF THE STATE OF ALASKA; THE MONETARY SETTLEMENT REPRESENTED A DIRECT PAYMENT OF $462.5 MILLION FROM THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AND ANOTHER $500 MILLION TO BE PAID OVER TIME FROM STATE OIL REVENUES. (ANCSA, 1971)
EVEN MORE HISTORIC THAN THE SIZE OF THE ANCSA SETTLEMENT WAS THE WAY IT WAS STRUCTURED—A RADICAL DEPARTURE FROM THE TRADITIONAL MODEL OF NATIVE RESERVATIONS IN THE LOWER 48, IN WHICH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HOLDS NATIVE LANDS IN TRUST. INSTEAD OF ESTABLISHING RESERVATIONS ANCSA SET UP A SYSTEM OF NATIVE CORPORATIONS* TO ADMINISTER THE LAND AND INVEST THE MONETARY SETTLEMENT FOR THE BENEFIT OF NATIVES. (THOMAS, 1986)
THE LAW SET UP 12 REGIONAL CORPORATIONS, EACH ASSOCIATED WITH A PARTICULAR PART OF THE STATE AND THE NATIVES WHO TRADITIONALLY LIVED THERE. ALL NATIVES WHO WERE ALIVE IN 1971 COULD ENROLL IN ONE OF THE CORPORATIONS, AND EACH RECEIVED 100 SHARES OF STOCK IN THE CORPORATION IN WHICH THEY ENROLLED. (A 13TH CORPORATION WAS ESTABLISHED LATER, FOR NATIVES WHO WERE NOT LIVING IN ALASKA IN 1971). THE LAW ALSO ESTABLISHED MORE THAN 200 LOCAL OR “VILLAGE” CORPORATIONS, IN WHICH NATIVES COULD ALSO ENROLL AND RECEIVE SHARES OF STOCK. THE CORPORATIONS WERE GIVEN FREE REIN TO USE THE LAND AND ANY MINERAL OR OTHER NATURAL RESOURCES IT MIGHT HOLD TO DEVELOP FOR-PROFIT BUSINESSES AND TO PAY NATIVE SHAREHOLDERS A YEARLY DIVIDEND BASED ON THOSE PROFITS.
THE CORPORATION STRUCTURE WAS THE BRAINCHILD OF THE AFN, WHICH SAW THIS PROPOSAL AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO EXTEND “THE TRANSFORMATIONAL POWER OF CAPITALISM…TO ALASKA NATIVES,” WHILE ALSO PRESERVING THE LAND AND CASH SETTLEMENT SO THAT IT COULD BENEFIT FUTURE GENERATIONS. (LINXWILER, 2007)
ANCSA WAS GENERALLY WELL-RECEIVED IN ALASKA BY BOTH NATIVES AND NON-NATIVES. AFTER YEARS OF LEGAL WRANGLING OVER EXACTLY WHO WAS ENTITLED TO NATIVE CORPORATION SHARES, MANY OF THOSE CORPORATIONS HAVE GROWN INTO SUCCESSFUL BUSINESSES THAT GENERATE SUBSTANTIAL DIVIDENDS AND PROVIDE THOUSANDS OF JOBS FOR NATIVE SHAREHOLDERS. AND, BY REMOVING ONE CRITICAL BARRIER TO CONSTRUCTION OF THE TRANS-ALASKA PIPELINE, ANCSA PAVED THE WAY FOR THE EMERGENCE OF THE STATE’S “OIL ECONOMY,” WHICH HAS GENERATED SUBSTANTIAL ECONOMIC BENEFITS FOR BOTH NATIVES AND NON-NATIVES. (ALASKA HUMANITIES FORUM, 2016)
ONE UNIQUE ASPECT OF ALASKA’S “OIL ECONOMY” IS THE ALASKA PERMANENT FUND, A STATE FUND THAT COLLECTS 25 PERCENT OF ALL OIL-LAND ROYALTIES AND INVESTS THOSE FUNDS FOR THE BENEFIT OF ALL ALASKANS. THE FUND, WHICH IN 2015 AMOUNTED TO MORE THAN $51 BILLION, PAYS A YEARLY DIVIDEND TO EVERY QUALIFIED ALASKAN; IN 2015, THAT MEANT A DIVIDEND CHECK OF $2,072 FOR VIRTUALLY EVERY MAN, WOMAN, AND CHILD IN THE STATE. (KLINT AND DOOGAN, 2015) BY ENABLING CONSTRUCTION OF THE TRANS-ALASKA PIPELINE, ANCSA IN A VERY REAL SENSE MADE THE PERMANENT FUND, AND ITS YEARLY DIVIDEND CHECKS, POSSIBLE.
STILL, THE LAW REMAINS CONTROVERSIAL, ESPECIALLY AMONG NATIVES WHO BELIEVE IT WEAKENS TIES TO NATIVE HERITAGE. (THOMAS, 1985) ALMOST A HALF-CENTURY AFTER ITS PASSAGE, THE JURY IS STILL OUT ON WHETHER ANCSA WAS A “GOOD DEAL” OR A “RAW DEAL” FOR NATIVES. BUT IT IS, IN ALMOST EVERY RESPECT, A VERY DIFFERENT SORT OF DEAL THAN THAT RECEIVED BY ANY OTHER GROUP OF NATIVES IN AMERICAN HISTORY.
NATIVE CORPORATIONS : FURTHER READINGS
So, what’s the bottom line—has ANCSA been a success or a failure? Have the Native corporations benefited the Native community, or not?
If you look only at the bottom line—that is, just at the economic performance of the Native corporations themselves—it’s fair to say that, after a rocky start, many of the regional corporations have done fairly well. In 2004, seven of the top ten Alaska-owned business were Native regional corporations, which distributed $117.5 million in shareholder dividends, employed 3,116 Native shareholders, and paid $5.4 million in scholarships for Native students, (Linxwiler, 2007)
Like much of the oil-dependent Alaska economy, the regional corporations are highly sensitive to fluctuations in the price of oil, and their performance in any given year will reflect whether the oil business is doing well or poorly. Nonetheless, many of these corporations have matured as businesses and are providing significant economic benefits for their Native shareholders.
The economic performance of the village corporations has been spottier. Many of the village corporations were located in remote rural areas with extremely limited opportunities for economic development. While some village corporations—particularly those in more densely populated areas with easy access to outside markets—have fared well, others have been force to merge or have gone out of business. (Thomas, 1985)
But is economic performance all that really matters? While ANCSA was designed only to provide Alaska Natives with opportunities for economic development, many Natives saw the corporation system as a substitute for—or a rival to—the traditional structures of tribal government. Among Alaska Natives, tribes are generally associated with individual villages (American Indian Resource Directory, 2016); many of the successful village corporations have established nonprofit agencies to provide health care and other social services to Native shareholders. At the same time, the pressure to turn a profit led many corporations, both regional and village, to bring in outside executives to run the businesses—bypassing tribal leaders and Elders, who have traditionally had a revered place in Alaska Native society.
In recent years, many Natives have questioned the extent to which the corporation system might be supplanting some tribal structures and weakening ties to Native heritage. In some areas, tribal government has seen a resurgence in importance.
The readings in this learning block look at two sides of the ANCSA question: the economic performance of the Native corporations and their relationship to the Native heritage and tribal structures. Both articles are taken from the same academic journal: Journal of Land, Resources, and Environmental Law, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Winter, 2005).
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ANCSA UNREALIZED: OUR LIVES ARE NOT MEASURED IN DOLLARS
The following excerpt is from an article by James Allaway, a professor and expert on sustainable economic development, and Byron Mallett, former president of the Alaska Federation of Natives and former CEO of Sealaska, one of the larger Native regional corporations. You can read it at this link, which will take you to the Journal of Land, Resources, and Environmental Law; you can find this specific article in the Table of Contents on the left side of the page. Click on the title of the article to read, download, and print a copy of the text. These readings are provided by the Shapiro Library. This reading is required. You will have to log into Shapiro Library with your SNHU credentials.
One of the legacies of ANCSA’s short history is the confusion it has caused, including confusion over governing structures. Certainly in Southeast Alaska we have known that clans, family, and family relationships were critical in the conduct of our affairs. I think this was the case all across the state.
Existing traditional governing groups, with their relationships and structures, did not go away with ANCSA. In fact, especially in the last decade, there has been a resurgence of those institutions. The resurgence has been felt and seen all across the state, particularly because there was a universal sense that ANCSA, and other efforts that deal with our circumstances, were not getting at the core of what we needed.
It is crucial that there is a place for traditional tribal governmental structures. I think the emergence of tribes in recent years is not so much about governmental structures, but is a reassertion that we will take hold of our own lives. We will be responsible for our destinies, which is a powerful ideal. It also places a profound obligation on Native people.
There is a vital place for Elders here. We cannot know the past and have a sense of values, we cannot have a sense of place or purpose, without Elders. Elders are an important part of the spiritual path. They carry the fire. We do not need to institutionalize the role of Elders, other than to sustain them materially. If we do, they will sustain us spiritually.