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History and Culture

Home  >  History and Culture  >  Ancsa at 30  >  Interviews
Guy Martin

Guy Martin came to Alaska in the 1967, where he practiced law, and later served as the Washington Counsel for the State of Alaska, and the Commissioner of Natural Resources for the State of Alaska. He has also worked as a congressional staff member and served as Assistant Secretary of the Interior for land and water resources. Mr. Martin is currently co-chair of Perkins Coie DC's Environment Group, where he advises corporate and government clients on natural resources, energy and environmental issues.

Ronald Spatz: How did you become involved in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act?

Guy Martin: I'm a Coloradoan by background. I went to school in Colorado, and when I completed law school, my wife and I decided to get married and move to Alaska for most of the reasons that most people do. We came because it was an exciting place to be. It did have the frontier aspect to it. I was very interested in all of the resource aspects of Alaska.

Guy Martin
The other thing that's worth mentioning is when I was in law school, which was in the mid 1960s, the driving political force for any student who was liberal or progressive was not environment, it wasn't even Vietnam, it was civil rights. I was very involved in something called the Law Students' Civil Rights Research Council, which was affiliated with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and I spent my summers working with civil rights causes in the south one year and New York City the next.

I didn't come to Alaska to get involved with land claims, but I was oriented into doing that. When I got here, I was teaching at Alaska Methodist University, and I was practicing law with Allen McGrath and Eric Wolhforth downtown. I was on the Board of the Anchorage Native Welcome Center, which at that point was a very big deal for Natives coming in from the bush and looking for social assistance in Anchorage. I think I was one of the key founders of the Alaska Civil Liberties Union, which I believe was the last ACLU chapter formed in the country, and I was president of the Anchorage chapter, along with people like Av Gross, who later became the attorney general of the State of Alaska. So those were the kinds of things I did.

When I got here, the two causes that enlisted me, in addition to the Native issue in Anchorage, was the Settlement Act. I didn't know about it before I got here, but I learned about it, and, of course, the Vietnam War. I was here for a little over two years. Nick Begich was elected to the U.S. House, because Howard Pollock, at that point, who seemed to be an unbeatable Republican, decided not to run. So Nick won the seat, recapturing it for the Democrats. Nick asked me to go back to Washington with him to be his legislative director with the idea that my primary duty would be the Settlement Act. So I did. It was a big decision for my wife and me to move to Washington. We had never been there before, in fact, had never lived east of the Mississippi for any period of time.

I was with Nick the whole time he was in Congress and up until the time he was lost in a light plane. That was the Congress in which we passed the Alaska Native Land Claim Settlement Act, so I was intimately involved in the passage of the act as one of the staff drafters.

My responsibilities were primarily on the House side. Obviously we had one Congressman and a very difficult situation to deal with in the House Interior Committee. I did that. The Settlement Act passed as a tremendous tribute to all of us who worked on it. Then, when Nick was lost, we continued his office into the next—he won while missing, as you recall. He won the election against Don Young by about 70/30, even though they were searching for him at the time. He couldn't be sworn in, of course, but they regarded the seat as basically unfilled until he was declared dead the following spring. There was a special election and Don Young won, which is an interesting story in and of itself.

Bill Egan and John Havelock, the governor and the attorney general at that time, asked me if I would open the first state office for Alaska in Washington. The reason being, they didn't have anybody there on-site to represent the state in the upcoming Trans-Alaska Pipeline debate. So I did that. I actually took a little, first-floor townhouse on Capitol Hill, and opened what was really a two- or three-person office. It was the first state office, and we worked pretty much exclusively on the pipeline, although we worked on offshore leasing issues and coastal zone management and other things that were important to the state. In those two years we were successful. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline Act was passed as the direct result of the passing of the Settlement Act. At the end of those two years, they had this remarkable election in Alaska where every governor in Alaska history was in this race either in the primary or general. Jay Hammond emerged as the winner, so I figured I was just out of a job. I knew Jay, but distantly. He named Av Gross, my old ACLU friend, as the attorney general, and the only Democrat in his cabinet. Then, as time passed, he came to me and asked if I would serve as Commissioner of Natural Resources. So I did, and along with Av Gross as attorney general, and a fellow named Walt Parker who was the Commissioner of Transportation, we were the three Democrats in this kind of environmentally-oriented, fiscally conservative Republican administration. I did that for a little over two years, during which time my duties were to represent the state's interest on implementing the Pipeline Act, as well as implementing the state's interest in the Settlement Act and other resource issues, particularly oil and gas leasing.

At the end of those two and a half years, Jimmy Carter was elected president against all the odds. One of the biggest issues I worked on nationally was Alaska's resistance to offshore leasing in highly sensitive areas, such as Bristol Bay and off the coast of Yakutat. My experience came to the attention of some people who were close to Carter, and he ultimately asked me to become his Assistant Secretary of Interior. I accepted that job and went to Washington. I was the only presidential appointee that I'm aware of, in the Carter administration. At that time I was about the third significant presidential appointee in our history, obviously behind Hickel who had been Secretary of the Interior, and Stevens who had served as Solicitor. Aside from those, there had been no other Alaskan presidential appointees in history. Obviously it was a huge thing for me to do, because if I stayed in Alaska I would have probably been the state spokesman on the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, a much more conservative position. As it was, I was a participant on the federal side of that, which was a much more aggressive, pro-environmental approach not popular here. I did that for four years. At the end of those four years ANILKA was passed and enacted, and Carter was unceremoniously booted out of office by the electorate favorite Ronald Regan.

I went into law practice in Washington and have worked since then on a whole series of implementation issues related to Alaska. But equally important, I didn't give up my portfolio on western lands and resources, so I also worked on lots of issues in the western United States, including water and land management. I've kept my hand in Alaska. I've worked with CIRI and a series of villages. Now I'm working with the Thirteenth Regional Corporation on some issues. I'm still staying with it; I'm just as interested in the policy of it as ever.

Ronald Spatz: If you look back 30 years, there was a promise and an anticipation for the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Has that promise been fulfilled?

Guy Martin: I think it has been fulfilled in large part, although I question the premise of your question a little bit, because I don't believe that anybody, when they started out, had a clear view of how the settlement would occur. The settlement was really crafted out of a negotiation process and a political process that shaped it and caused it to come out the way it did. The classic example, of course, is that no matter how just the cause of the Alaska Native Aboriginal Claims might have been, I think most are very doubtful that it would have ever been resolved when it was if it weren't for a couple of other factors. One was the discovery of oil on the North Slope of Alaska. Also Stewart Udall, in particular, the Secretary of Interior, had taken measures to make sure that that oil could not be transported across federal lands unless they dealt with the settlement of the land claims and also dealt with the demand for the protection of a lot of Alaska's important environmentally sensitive lands. So the conjunction of those events, and the people who insisted on having their problems and aspirations be taken care of at the same time the claims were settled, made it possible to hammer out a negotiated resolution. Now, at the end of the day, that's what it was -- it was a negotiated deal. I do not believe anyone could point out a more generous settlement, in almost all respects, than this one with respect to Native Americans' land claims in the country. That may be praise if you take the position that all of them have been ungenerous, but I think most would agree that this was a fairly generous settlement.

One of the things that strikes me is that the settlement is often characterized or confused with attempting to be a social settlement, a cultural settlement. In fact, it was really a legal and economic settlement, with some governance issues involved. There wasn't much social engineering going on, at least not consciously. There were certainly people who had ideas about how to do social and cultural engineering, but that wasn't the heart of the act. The heart of the act dealt with the legal and economic settlement. In that sense, I think largely it's been fulfilled, with obviously lots of disappointments and twists and turns that aren't entirely happy.

Ronald Spatz: Are there any things that, when you look back, were not addressed in the negotiation that should have been?

Guy Martin: Well, the clearest example of something that didn't get addressed properly was the issue of trust land and tribal issues, as opposed to the corporate fee land settlement that was undertaken. There's no question in my mind, and I don't think there's much question historically, that all concerned, most notably the Native representatives involved, endorsed fee land and the corporate model. Those who were involved at the time were in favor of the corporate model that was adopted. There were some voices for a tribal model, but they weren't voices with authority or representative capacity. That's an issue that, as you look back, could have been very different.

Ronald Spatz: Did the act change Alaskans, especially Alaska Natives?

Guy Martin: The Settlement Act has become an industry. Everybody says the act is like a constitution; it's in constant need of interpretation and amendment and change. It's hardly been engraved in stone. It's a changing target. Over time, people have been willing to engage in truly remarkable changes in the act. Keep in mind that, initially, land could be alienated, but stock couldn't. That's still generally true, but there's now at least a possibility of alienating stock.

I don't believe many people anticipated that Native corporations would be as willing to part with their land as they have been over the years. You know the saying of the settlement—I still have a poster on my wall that says it—"Take our land, take our life." There was the argument that there was a clear distinction between the relationship of Alaska Natives to the land from the relationship of non-Natives to land in Alaska, even those in the trenches, the pioneers. I would not have expected, at the time, that the land would have been transferred as freely as it has been. Yet, over the years as Commissioner of Natural Resources and Assistant Secretary of the Interior, I participated in, agreed to, sponsored, and supported any number of very significant proposals by which Native land was sold or traded or otherwise marketed in a way that brought back some other kind of concession to Native corporations, village and regional. That, to me, was a little surprising.

I guess I should have been able to see it, but you think of something like the remarkable Cook Inlet Land Exchange involving the state government, the federal government and Cook Inlet Region in which Cook Inlet Region got land it could use -- from the state primarily, and some from the feds -- for economic development, which would be appropriate for corporations. The state got some land from Cook Inlet and some from the federal government that was appropriate for community expansion and things like right-of-ways that were important to state economic development. Then the federal government got land, which they wanted to protect for environmental conservation purposes in Lake Clark and other places. At the end of the day, everyone was happy, but there had been a kind of three-way sliding of land around the table in an act, which was, at the time, the largest land exchange in history.

Ronald Spatz: You raise the issue of the land, and it's still a huge issue right now regarding the idea of culture, place, and identity. Do you see a flaw in the corporate model? Has something fundamentally been missed in this whole picture?

Guy Martin: I don't think that Congress, at that time and probably less so now, is capable of enacting legislation that is good at socially or culturally engineering a solution to those problems. God knows the Alaska Legislature can't do it. They can't come to terms with allowing the people of Alaska to vote on a meaningful subsistence choice. I worry that the capability wasn't there then, although it was probably better then. It isn't there now. When I look at things like the subsistence issue or the issue of the future of the villages, it's not clear what government can do about it. Government has certainly thrown a lot of money at the problem. Certain elements of the Alaska Native community have taken up the cause of trying to preserve a more or less traditional lifestyle, but the forces of modern times, the attraction of a money economy, and the desire of people in remote areas for material goods has been virtually irresistible. I don't accept any of this as inevitable, but I'm not sure what the strategy is for changing it. I'm not even sure how strong the willingness on the part of the people is to commit themselves to somehow recapturing or sustaining, to the extent they have it now, that kind of a traditional existence in the village.

Ronald Spatz: What do you see in the next 30 years?

Guy Martin: I think a lot depends on the wisdom of the youth of Alaska, both Native and non-Native. I was most active during the period of time from about my 23rd birthday to my 40th birthday. I became Commissioner of Resources when I was 32, and there was a headline in one of the papers that said, "Three in Hammond Cabinet at 32." I can't remember who the second was; I think it was Tony Motley who then went on to become the Assistant Secretary for State and ultimately the Ambassador of Brazil in the Reagan administration. The third was Bryon Mallott, and I think we were all 32 at the time. When I look at young people, the question is, what kind of people are they going to turn out to be? What kind of leadership are they going to provide? I know there's a tremendous amount of activity now in the tribal aspect of this.

Over the next few years there are going to be Natives and non-Natives in Alaska. The question is whether or not they're going to have the capability to strike a balance between traditional lifestyles for villages that want them and are able to sustain them and finding a way to solve some of the social problems that exist in rural areas under circumstances where people in villages want to educate themselves, move, and undertake a new lifestyle. How you put that choice together is very important. My bias is that while we're trying to give every, and I mean every, opportunity to preserve that traditional lifestyle, we probably ought not to be creating a kind of incentive program that forces people to remain in circumstances which may not be in their best interest. I'm speaking of situations where they can't get money, and they can't get the help they need to make a new start. How to do that is difficult, but the test will be within the young people in the state to figure that out.

Ronald Spatz: What's your favorite ANCSA story?

Guy Martin: I mentioned two. One occurred in the old Capitol Hill Hotel, which has since been torn down. The AFN representatives asked the three Alaska delegation members to meet with them at a time when the direction of the final conference bill was going to be framed. It was a highly charged meeting. First of all, you could smoke everywhere, so the room was literally smoke-filled. It was completely filled up with all of the Alaska Native delegates who were working in Washington, all the well-known names. It was a pretty loose crowd; it had been working itself up emotionally. I think there had been some drinking. It was very emotional. I went with my boss, Nick Begich. They didn't want a lot of staff there, so each official brought had one staff member. Ted Stevens and Mike Gravel were there at various times, but at the time I was there, I can't remember who else was in the room, except all these Native leaders. I would call it a somewhat intimidating experience. Not that anybody felt they needed to be physically coercive with a guy like Nick Begich, who they knew was their friend, but they were concerned they were not getting some things that they needed to have. At one point during the meeting Charlie Edwardson, who, of course, was one of them ultimate dissenters to the act on a number of points, hit a table so hard that he knocked it over, or almost over, and knocked everything on the table, including a bunch of ashtrays, on the floor. He then proceeded to make a speech, which would have been typical of Charlie at that time, very emotional. I was sitting next to Nick Begich, who was a strong, experienced, absolutely resolute elected official, and I could see that Nick was physically intimidated by this, and he almost started to get up and leave. I saw him move, and I remember taking my hand and putting it on Nick's shoulder, as if to say, Just stick this out and work your way through this. It eventually settled down, but Charlie had really galvanized the group. He had done something that was embarrassing and dramatic and all of those things, but it also had an effect.

The other story, just briefly: I obviously saw things from the House of Representatives side, and I can hardly describe the way it was. In those days, if you were chair of a committee, you were autocratic. In this case, the autocrat was Wayne Aspinall from Colorado. He was a conservative, not anti-Indian, but he certainly wasn't a sympathetic individual. He insisted on virtually dictatorial powers, so Nick and I had to work with Aspinall and his staff and bring them along step by step. Aspinall didn't care about land claims. He didn't care much about Alaska. He didn't care much about the environment. He just had a view of how far they should go to settle this. There came to be several days in which Nick had to actually organize a discharge petition to get Aspinall to move the bill. Those days were highly charged -- to confront a guy who had virtually life and death power over your state and over your political future in the House. There were, during that week, a series of angry exchanges. The situation was so bad sthat staff people, let alone the public, weren't allowed in a lot of the meetings. We were fortunate to be able to get in, because of the technical nature of this bill. But what went on behind closed doors in some of those meetings was truly remarkable.

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