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History and Culture

Home  >  History and Culture  >  Ancsa at 30  >  Events
Commemorating the Signing of ANCSA; Hosted by Alaska Pacific University.  -  Part 7 - Emil Notti
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Emil Notti
Emil Notti: Thank you, Edgar and Irene. Thanks for those kind words, and I’ll thank Dr. North for hosting this meeting. It’s appropriate that we meet here since it was the place where we all gathered to vote on whether or not we were going to accept the settlement.

The reason we had to accept it was it really was not a negotiated settlement. We had our position, the Interior Department had its position, and the Federal Field Committee had its position. The Senate Interior Committee had a bill, and the House Interior Committee had a bill. All in all, there were eight bills and they went behind closed doors. Some of our key issues were taken out, while others were put in. Then we had a lot of decisions to make. Did we want to accept this bill?

Only one organization, I remember, Arctic Slope, voted no -- very powerfully voted no. Joe Upicksoun made the speech, and if you know Joe, he’s a powerful speaker.

There’s a lot that can be said, but I want to devote a little bit of time to remembering some of the people. Who I first learned about land claims from. The thing that triggered my interest was that the Bureau of Indian Affairs was going to draw up a final solution to the land claims problem in Alaska, and that’s when I wrote a letter to 14 people. My thinking was that if we have any rights to land, we should have something to say about that final solution.

It wasn’t until I read the paper Willie Hensely wrote for his constitutional law class that I understood what rights Natives had to land.

It was said that there were a lot of dedicated people. It’s true. I took over AFN when it had nine dollars in the bank, and it never dawned on me to quit. I got three months behind on my house payments and three months behind on my car payments, but we kept going. Willie Hensley was a student, and he took out a $10,000 life insurance policy and made AFN the beneficiary.

I depended an awful lot on two people. When we went before the Senate hearings or House hearings, as president I had to make the opening statement, but I always knew there were two very articulate guys with a good grasp of things who could fill in any hole that I dug, and those two guys were Willie Hensley and John Borbridge.

I remember one day I was especially proud of John. We were before the Senate Interior Committee, and Senator Scoop Jackson was the chairman. He was a lawyer and had a lot of Indian law experience. A question came up about Indian country and there was several different definitions of it, but for some reason Scoop Jackson wanted an answer from John Borbridge. John said, “Far be it for this layman to debate the distinguished chairman on that point of law,” and it diffused the tension that was building over what we were arguing about.

I became interested in what we were doing mainly because of a guy named Nick Gray. First of all, I was an electronics engineer, and I worked on the minute man missile and guidance system among other things. I knew nothing about Congress and nothing about corporations or law, but there were a lot of social issues that needed to be dealt with and Nick Gray got me interested.

We dealt with education, underachievement, poor housing, high unemployment, and some of the worst health statistics in America -- the average age of death back then was 34 years for Native people, and infant mortality was three times the national average. We were dealing with all these issues, but land claims is what pulled us together.

It was hard to hold an organization together. We didn’t know each other. We didn’t trust each other. We had different interests, but we held meetings until 10 o’clock at night. They were wide-open meetings, practically open microphones. We expressed our opinions -- forcefully, and we arrived at a consensus on most of the things we did.

Charlie Edwards used to say it’s not a welfare issue, and Joe Upicksoun got up and said, “Remember, we are land owners and that’s what we’re giving from -- we own this land.” We had to really believe that in order to face the opposition we had.

A lot of things came together to make ANCSA happen. A lot of the right people showed up at the right time with the right words to convince the right people. We started at 80 million acres. We compromised to 40 million, then we were urged to compromise further because we would never get 40 million. My position was that we compromised once. If we compromised the 40, we’d find ourselves compromising to 20, so we stood at 40.

We always wanted to get the state administration behind us, and the state had different responsibilities than we had. I remember when Governor Hickel agreed to support 40 million acres of land – that was a great big deal and it meant a lot to us. When he was called to Washington D.C., it turned out to be good for us, because then we had somebody in D.C. who understood the problem and was able to work with the administration from the inside. He can tell that story. I’m not trying to tell his story, but there’s an example of the right people at the right time in the right place.

Laura Bergt put together a meeting, because she was a good Republican, with Spiro Agnew and Don Wright. We were stuck. We had a lot of the elements of the act in place and agreed upon, but 40 million acres was a real sticking point. Nobody thought we would get it. Don Wright made a presentation to Spiro Agnew, and Spiro Agnew agreed to the 40 million and that carried the administration’s position. That helped -- it was the right people at the right place.

Let me illustrate the sacrifices that were made. I like to use Harvey Samuelson as an example, because he was typical. Harvey took time off from his work, sometimes without pay. He paid his own way in here. He paid his own hotel bills. Paid his own bills. Paid his own way to Washington, D.C., and at one point, he had $30,000 of his own money in the effort. The corporations, as far as I know, never paid people back for that. It was sacrifices like his -- to be away from home and family and jobs and outlay personal money -- that made it possible. It was a great feat for 55 thousand, 60 thousand people in a small state with three electoral votes to influence congress to pass the bill.

One of the highlights for me was when the former president of this school, Fred McGuinness, set up a meeting for me with the National Council of Churches. I went to COBO Hall in Detroit, Michigan, and fortunately, the night before I was to talk with them, I met with the secretary to the World Council of Churches. He wanted to know all about it, so over dinner, I explained what we were doing. The next day I got before the National Council of Churches and asked for a resolution to support our position. There were 10 thousand preachers in the room; as far as the eye could see, there were people.

Somebody way in back of the room got up and said that before we endorse something like that, we should more about know what’s in the bill. Then one of the respected people on the floor stood up and said, if they think the bill is just, then we ought to support it -- and it was the secretary to the World Council. The resolution it passed unanimously.

Those people, those preachers, said that on any given Sunday morning they stood up and talked to 40 million Americans, and that if they went home and urged their people to write to their congressmen, we would get national support. That was exactly what we were working for.

We got endorsements from AFL/CIO. Willie Hensley was on Good Morning America. John Borbridge and I went to Philadelphia and got on talk radio. We were everywhere where we could find people. I talked to the Daughters of the American Revolution in Washington, D.C. Anywhere where we could get a group of people together who talked to congressmen, we did it.

Thank you for putting this together. I want to remember a few people who helped do it. They were people from all over the state, and I’m sure after I sit down, I’ll regret not mentioning somebody. We had a lot of support on the outside of the Native community. Locally, there were some key players -- Stan McCutcheon, Cliff Groh, John Havelock.

I testified for about four years before House and Senate committees and we were handled pretty roughly at times. I remember the day I sat down for the first time with Scoop Jackson’s committee. On one side of me was Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, on the other side of me was Attorney General for the United States Ramsey Clarke, and they treated our issue with some respect. There was an issue came that to a point of law and Ramsey Clarke gave an extemporaneous answer, and he ended by saying to Scoop Jackson, “Senator, if you’d like, I’ll brief the problem for you.” And Scoop Jackson said, “General, if that’s your recollection of the law, I’ll accept it.” It gave us great standing to have people of national stature with us.

It was a great experience, but again, thank you for putting this together.

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