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History and Culture

Home  >  History and Culture  >  Ancsa at 30  >  Events
Commemorating the Signing of ANCSA; Hosted by the Alaska Native Heritage Center  -  Part 7 - E. Lee Gorsuch
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Gloria O’Neil: As the director of the Institute for Social and Economic Research, he guided and focused ISER’s overall research, examining critical public policy issues affecting Alaska’s social and economic future. His principal research interests are public policy and human resource development, particularly as they affect Alaska’s indigenous peoples. We are pleased that under UAA Chancellor E. Lee Gorsuch’s guidance, the university is co-sponsoring this event

E. Lee Gorsuch
E. Lee Gorsuch: Thank you, Gloria. This is a wonderful occasion and it’s just a delight to see so many familiar faces. I’m delighted to be here for two reasons -- one is as the chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage, we’re interested in reading about history, we’re interested in studying history, but perhaps most importantly, we’re interested in educating young Alaskans who will make history. Clearly, as we’ve heard from our previous speakers, the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act is a key chapter in Alaska’s history.

It’s not only important for us to recognize its historical significance in the State of Alaska, but as Senator Stevens said, it actually laid the groundwork for what subsequently became the Indian Self Determination Act, expansions of the Indian Education Act, the enactment of the Indian Finance Act, and I think in many ways it also contributed to the enactment of the Indian Child Welfare Act. This was a major departure from how the United States of America dealt with Native Americans. It was a true accomplishment of national and international significance.

It’s also a pleasure for me to stand here, because I arrived in Alaska in spring of 1971 to work for the Alaska Federation of Natives or what was then referred to as the Alaska Federation of Natives Charitable Trust, presided by Emil Notti. When I first arrived and took my office space in the Kaloa Building, owned by Tyonek Corporation, I had the pleasure of traveling throughout the state, working with the leadership who were in the final stages of pushing for the enactment of this important piece of legislation.

It took a lot of friends. They had the former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg. They had the former Attorney General Ramsey Clark. They had major support from the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Anchorage Daily News. They had powerful attorneys. They had close friends in the media in other parts of the state. They had support from the Federal Field Committee that was chaired by Joe Fitzgerald and Bob Arnold and Esther Wunnicke and Dave Hickok. They had many people in state government who supported the legitimacy of their claim. They had many, many friends, but in the final analysis, it came down to the courageous acts of individuals.

As I watched the negotiations taking place among AFN, it was very contentious -- not just between the state and the Natives, between the Natives and Congress, but also among the Natives. I have to say that I was impressed to be witnessing the eloquence that was always spoken by that silver-tongued John Borbridge, only to be followed up by the fiery rhetoric of Joe Upicksoun, or the in-your-face stammering of Etok.

It took great diplomats like Eben Hopson and Emil Notti to provide the kind of diplomacy that kept all the parties talking. It took the good humor of people like Frank Degnan. When moments became so tense that people were about to walk away from the negotiating table, Frank would just give one of those typical Degnan insights into the nature of the world. It took a lot of these young Turks -- like Johnny Sackett, and Willie Hensley and Byron Mallott and others who were there.

Look behind me at the map. If you’d start out in Southeastern Alaska, you’d have John Borbridge, and Marlene Johnson and Richard Stitt and the Hope family and Roger Lange and many others.

If you’d move on up into Chugach and you’d have Cecil Barnes and David Jensen and others working hard.

Here, on the Kenai Peninsula, you’d have George Miller and Alec Shadura and Larry Oskolkoff and Roy Huhndorf and Emil Notti and others from the Tyoneks who were always laboring hard.

On Kodiak Island, Jack Wick, Karl Armstrong, Harry Carter, and Hank Eaton represented the interests of the region and the constituent villages.

You went up into the Copper River and you had Robert Marshall and Roy Ewan and Herb Smeltzer and others working hard.

Going up into the interior, you had active leadership coming out of Al Ketzler and Tim Wallace and Sam Kito. I was never quite sure where Sam belonged, but Sam seemed to be everywhere.

Out on the Aleutian Chain, you had Mike Swetzoff, Flore Lekanof and tons of people who dedicated much of their lives, and the Aleut League continuing to contribute toward the passage of their claims.

In the Y-K Delta with what was then the Association of Village Council Presidents, you had wonderful leadership coming from Phillip Guy and Ray Christiansen and the Nik family and just tons of folks -- that gentle soul Eddie Hoffman. You know, Eddie was always a quiet soul whenever he got a chance to speak at the podium.

Then off into Nome you had an in with Jerome Trigg, Al Naknek and others who were working tirelessly inside Nome along with the Degnans from Unalakleet.

Then you got up into the Kotzebue region, of course Willie’s home country, but Robert Newland was one of their prominent elders along with Roland Booth and Vin Shirk and the Schaeffer family and others who again worked tirelessly.

Up on the North Slope, the passionate, in-your-face Charlie Edwardson stoked the fire for a fair and just settlement along with Brenda Itta, Edward Hopson and many others.

They were young and they were old. They were educated and they were knowledgeable. It took everybody, people just like all of us sitting in this room who stood up and wanted to be counted.

As I look back on the Native Land Claims, I think in the final analysis, it was about wanting to live in a society that was free and just, and you had to believe in your heart that you could make a difference. If there’s anything you can celebrate in the enactment of the Native Land Claims, it’s not just its historic significance in terms of Native American history or its contributions to Alaska, but it’s the difference that each individual can make if they want to live in a just society. In the final analysis, this is all about justice -- whether it’s justice in your village, in your region, in your state, in the nation or in the world. We’ll need the same kind of leadership in the 21st century as we’ve had the privilege to witness in the 20th century.

I’m pleased that the university over the next four months is going to be hosting a series of seminars featuring some the true warriors of the Native Land Claims. That will be broadly announced in the media, and I hope many of you will be able to join us. We’ll spend an afternoon talking and listening and telling the stories of how this important piece of legislation was enacted.

I’m also pleased to say that we’re going to start a campaign to collect important memorabilia, legislation associated with the enactment of the Native Land Claims and it will be in the repository of the University of Alaska’s newly designed and soon-to-be-constructed library where there will be a special room celebrating Native people of Alaska.

Again, I’m delighted to be a part of this ceremony and to help host it. I think in our closing performance of Amazing Grace, we all have a great deal to be thankful for, and in fact, it is a true testimony to Amazing Grace. Thank you very much.

Jack Zayan: We’d like to thank you all for coming today to help us celebrate this momentous occasion. Thirty years seems so long ago, especially when you’re my age. One thing I’ve learned emceeing is that you’ve got to relax a little bit, and it’s something that comes in time, so with that being said, here’s Gloria.

Gloria O’Neil: Well, I’m honored and humble to be able to be a part of this event today, and it’s so nice to look out into the room and see all of you. I really appreciate all of the hard work, dedication, sacrifice and commitment you have given so that we can have more opportunities in our lifetime and also in our children’s lifetimes. Thank you.

Also, at the same time, I’d like to thank CIRI, AFN and UAA for making this event possible. In addition, I’d also like to thank those individuals who worked so hard bringing it all together at the last minute, and that is A.J. McClanahan, Vickie Auttie, Susan Rodde, Barbara, and all of the folks at UAA whose names I don’t know -- thank you very, very much for working so hard to bring it together.

In closing, I’d like to introduce to you again -- Neil. Neil is going to close with the song Amazing Grace. Thank you.

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