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History and Culture

Home  >  History and Culture  >  Ancsa at 30  >  Interviews
Nettie Peratrovich

Willie Templeton: The first question I'd like to ask is to please describe the background of your involvement in ANSCA.

Nettie Peratrovich: I was at the University of Alaska in Anchorage, also in Fairbanks, and I got involved with FNA. Actually we got involved with FNA because I heard that they had started a program downtown. I was also involved a great organization, Alaska Native Students, and a lot of us were veterans of that program. But, anyway, I had gone to school in Mount Edgecombe so I knew people from all over the state and so it was very easy to become involved and when my husband was transferred to Washington, D.C., on a government training program. It was there that I met the major players in the beginning of ANSCA. And when we were in Washington, D.C., I was pregnant so I wasn't able to get a job, much to my husband's chagrin, and so I spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill. One of the things that I did was get involved with the Indian Self Determination Act which somebody I grew up with in Southeast and had known all my life was working on for the Kennedy Committee on Indian education and we were trying to get this organization called Alaskans on the Potomac started. So I was primarily interested in those types of things, not so much ANSCA at the time, and there was a lot of talk about ANSCA, about the claims of Alaska Natives which Etok Richards -- which Charlie Edwardson had started. Anyway, Etok was not very highly thought of amongst Alaska Natives because he made these claims and was adamant about it rather than explaining to people what it was all about. Anyway, that was, you know, kind of the background of how I became involved. When Frank and I were involved with FNA in Fairbanks I was also involved in Alaska Native Students organization.

Willie Templeton: FNA stands for Fairbanks Native Association, correct?

Nettie Peratrovich: That's right.

Willie Templeton: You mentioned that your husband, Frank Peratrovich, was in a government training program?

Nettie Peratrovich: The Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of Interior for the training of administrators and superintendents which was really on-the-job training in Washington, D.C. I think it was more of a program to show us American Indians that it wasn't that bad to live in D.C. or to be working off the reservation or whatever. Anyway, he was in that program.

Willie Templeton: Now, you've mentioned the Alaskans on the Potomac organization and I think that's something that's kind of unknown in history. Could you elaborate on that?

Nettie Peratrovich: Well, there were several Alaskans. There was an Elliott that I had gone to school with who was married to a soon to be retired Major and I was trying to think of her name last night and I couldn't. Unfortunately she passed on but she and I were good friends at school. Then there were the people who worked in the congressional office who were Alaskans, Alaska Natives, and it was pretty much, you know, pretty much all Alaska Natives with the exception of Anna McClear's husband who was white and Anna McClear worked in Washington, D.C. That's how she was involved with us and Frank and I kind of organized it and Irene Rowan also. And we assisted with people who were coming down to testify at the land claims hearings and people don't realize it but Alaska Natives in general and, of course, most people really didn't have that kind of money, you know, to travel all the way to Washington D.C. with per diem and the cost of everything so it was an organization to help them with their housing, eating, transportation, and getting around 12 congressional offices. We had a very active organization.

Willie Templeton: But the organization was key in the effectiveness of the Alaska Native effort in congress?

Nettie Peratrovich: Yes, because we would do things like make sure they got around to certain senators, certain congressman and Begich's office helped us out by identifying those people who were not listening to us. And one of the great things that they did was they brought down the best looking Alaska Native representatives of the various groups in Alaska. Beautiful women who had been beauty queens, but were also active in their community and knew, you know, what was going on. Anyway, one was Mary Jane Fate of Fairbanks. Another was Brenda Itta from Barrow. From Southeast was Marlene Johnson, Fran Degnan from Unalakleet and we had a couple of other Athabaskans and I can't think of their names, Bill Koo had married white people so I, you know, I would remember their names if I could, but I can't remember their names now.

Willie Templeton: Well, yeah, it's been close to 40 years now.

Nettie Peratrovich: 36 and a half years. I figured it out last night.

Willie Templeton: 36 and a half, okay.

Nettie Peratrovich: And, let's see, there were other women too. There was Anna, Anna Lensnekov. She was like a meteorite when she hit Capitol Hill, you know, she knew all about PR and she had all this fantastic presence and she was such an extraordinary beauty and she was also a former Miss Alaska and all that.

Willie Templeton: Right.

Nettie Peratrovich: Lensnekov, who was an Aleut also -- helped out and she was also a former Miss Alaska back in the '50s. She was really a beauty.

Willie Templeton: I believe her maiden name was Philimonof.

Nettie Peratrovich: What we did was -- I made a bunch of kuspuks for everyone so that after the hearings and when we, you know, had our get togethers, we all wore the same kind of kuspuks so we could recognize each other wherever. So, we had really a very good organization in Washington D.C. We had meetings not only to get together and socialize but also to help each other out, to help those that were coming down from Alaska and at the hearings. We just assisted them. Frank is the one who ran the organization.

Willie Templeton: Okay, I'm grateful for the information because it adds a lot to our historical understanding. I'd like to move to the second question. Going back to that time, what were the promises -- what was the promise of ANSCA 30 years ago? Has it fulfilled that promise? If not, what happened and why?

Nettie Peratrovich: The promise and what we all thought was that this was actually going on, that we would get land and that was the primary concern. Then later on as, you know, after the hearings when the writing was going on we begin hearing all this junk about corporations and companies and most of us really couldn't believe it but especially when we heard people who testified would give out a number of acres that Alaska Natives could acquire and some of them were pretty paltry when you come down to how much land they have today in actuality and back up on. You would really be surprised to find out what they thought we could all get along with as far as the number of acres were concerned and also another interesting thing about this was Southeastern Tlingits and Haida, and their organization. When we would have the hearings in D.C. and, by the way, they had people who were in Washington D.C. for years working on this. I mean, Alaska Natives, you know, and then the Land Claims was passed they sent two representatives to work every day on the issue and, of course, FNA or our organization never had that kind of financial where with all to do something like that but they didn't really want anything to do with the crazy Eskimos, Aleuts and Athabaskans. They kind of kept themselves separate. I don't know if anyone has ever discussed this with you or not.

Willie Templeton: Well, my mother talked about a long time ago how things were between different groups.

Nettie Peratrovich: It was very shocking to us that Tlingit and Haida had taken the stance that they didn't really want to be involved with the rest of Alaska Natives and kind of worked on their own on the sidelines. ANSCA was just about passed, almost passed, and they realized they weren't going to get anything so they jumped on the bandwagon and, by the way, that's when Irene Rowan really became involved. She wanted to be involved with ANSCA after they found out how much the acreage would be. Are you an at- large shareholder or a village shareholder?

Willie Templeton: I'm at-large with CIRI.

Nettie Peratrovich: So am I and it's my family.

Willie Templeton: Yes.

Nettie Peratrovich: Which combined means that CIRI has 500 acres from my family, you know, with 100 shares each of at-large which means they not only got that 500 acres but also the subsurface rights.

Willie Templeton: Right.

Nettie Peratrovich: Which is also just as valuable as the surface rights.

Willie Templeton: Yes.

Nettie Peratrovich: And after the Southeasterners -- by the way, I want you to know that Tlingits and Haida didn't even sit by the other people at the hearings. This was really bizarre and I would go over to them and ask them, you know, why they didn't join us and they wouldn't even answer. They just thought they were a little better than everybody else. It was really bizarre. Then at the hearings probably Don Wright did the most fantastic job and was often quoted everywhere. He probably educated more senators and representatives than anyone else regarding Alaska's Native use of the land and you would have thought that he had read the book Alaska Natives and the Land that was put out by the Department of Interior --that Senator Jackson had primarily gotten the money for when we filed our land suit.

Willie Templeton: Right.

Nettie Peratrovich: I don't know if you've ever seen the book but.....

Willie Templeton: Actually, Bill VanNess, one of the people that we interviewed, I believe he was the attorney for Senator Jackson's committee with the Federal Field Commission on lands in Alaska.

Nettie Peratrovich: It was the bible. It was like a bible, it was like a gift from heaven because absolutely no one knew anything about Alaska. You know, we were the only state in the union that had never been even mapped or anything so that's why Alaska Native corporations had such a tough time in the beginning because they had to pay out all this money for mapping their regions.

Willie Templeton: Yes.

Nettie Peratrovich: So, anyway, at the hearings Don Wright did a lot of great educational stuff and he was the construction man before he became involved in the AFN. He did so much to educate the congressmen. And he was masterful and I didn't really know him, you know, outside that arena, but he really did a marvelous job. If you would like to know more about these people who testified really -- reading the hearings that were held and just everything was published and we've got copies of everything. You will find out what the thinking was in those days and it's amazingly different than it is today.

Willie Templeton: I've noticed that when I've read through the hearings.

Nettie Peratrovich: Oh, you cannot imagine. I can't imagine. You know, he was president of AFN for so long but he was inside, and he didn't like to give testimony or anything like that. So, Don Wright was just great, absolutely wonderful.

Willie Templeton: Right

Nettie Peratrovich: I don't know if you know Charlie Edwardson but he has a stuttering problem And it used to embarrass a lot of people. Anyway, he gave some wonderful talks also at the press club in Washington. By the way, any time at all if land claims were ever mentioned to the public just hordes and hordes and hordes of people would show up to find out what it was all about. And, of course, nobody had ever seen Alaska Natives before so it was a lot of fun with the press corps. Usually Charlie was the best in that type of venue. another time when we were out -- we were all having dinner Charlie got so mad he jumped up from the table and he grabbed the tablecloth and he whipped it out from everyone and threw the tablecloth at the waiter and said he'd be back the next day to pay for it. So he was kind of a character but he was in character so people really liked him.

Willie Templeton: Let's go on to the next question.

Nettie Peratrovich: Okay.

Willie Templeton: Were the unintended consequences of ANSCA, developments that no one foresaw?

Nettie Peratrovich: Oh, I don't think that anyone ever foresaw that we would be as divided as we were, you know, with the 12 regional corporations. And, of course, many people had married across regional lines and so there was a lot of, you know, concern about that and also, I don't think that we ever did the job of educating Alaska Natives about the land claim and about what was going to happen. A lot of Alaska Natives felt like AFN had made all these decisions on their behalf and approved of it and there still wasn't any land that they had that was their own. So I think that probably is the biggest promise that people had and it was never fully realized and that's across the board, you know. There were people who you would have to just beg and plead with to sign up for the land claims because they couldn't believe they were giving everything up.

Willie Templeton: Actually, my mother almost did not sign us up for the land claims because she saw in the provision and she heard about how we would give up the right under the Native Land Allotment.

Nettie Peratrovich: Yeah.

Willie Templeton: She thought if we didn't sign up for the Land Claim she could still get a Native allotment. Now since I've gone back and read that, the Native allotment was going to be revoked whether we signed up or not.

Nettie Peratrovich: Nobody paid any attention at all to the Native Allotment Act until they started getting warnings out it was going to end. That's a whole story in itself.

Willie Templeton: Right.

Nettie Peratrovich: And how BIA really bungled the job on that. It's probably how we were divided and then what would be the division lines. There also was ANILCA going through congress. And it was like two or three years later that it was finally passed and one other reason why ANSCA is called Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act -- it used to be Alaska Native Land Claim give us everything except the property around the villages and other lands near and contiguous.

Willie Templeton: Yes.

Nettie Peratrovich: I guess those are the biggest misconceptions about the land and that very few of the people were ever happy with a lot of the money they were given. They certainly were never compensated for that, the corporations kind of took over the land so and then few of the corporations have ever given their shareholders any land-- vast areas like our corporation and sold off vast areas. I know about it after the fact so in a sense the biggest promise that was not realized.

Willie Templeton: Well, no lands to individual Natives. How has ANSCA changed Alaskans? Particularly, Alaska Natives? What values of Alaska Natives have been changed or challenged?

Nettie Peratrovich: Well, land claims created understanding by congress and the various other agencies and so we got involved in housing programs and a lot of programs and things like that and education programs.

And people were actually stunned to find out that our housing and water projects and electricity were as bad as the developing nations at that time. So I think that is the single biggest impact on lives because then they had houses, you know, in the villages, they had houses to pay for, they had running water, electricity, you know. You have to have an income every month and that kind of changed rural Alaska.

They've become a part of the rest of America. I think that's the biggest impact.

Willie Templeton: What does the next 30 years hold? Is ANSCA a model of societal engineering in need of revision or is it working?

Nettie Peratrovich: I don't think that it was ever intended as a societal thing. It was never meant to be societal engineering. What it was meant to do was to get Alaska Natives involved in the market place.

Willie Templeton: Okay.

Nettie Peratrovich: Because they weren't. You know, we didn't have any land or anything. And the corporations were a way for us not only to go into business but to stay in business in perpetuity because of the land.

Willie Templeton: Okay.

Nettie Peratrovich: Social engineering -- no. The land claims have been amended how many times? I know of at least over 100 times.

Willie Templeton: Right.

Nettie Peratrovich: So it was -- it certainly is no model and it wasn't meant for social engineering. It was meant to help Alaska Natives get in to business and it has had a bigger impact probably on the villages because of the corporation and the corporate structure and the state having to deal with the corporations and businesses and, you know, if you've listened to Anchorage losing the AFN convention which brings in the single largest amount of money in the winter time, you know, that's the kind of impact that it's made. Plus, it also made a lot of very rich attorneys, it made a lot of very rich surveying companies and things like that but we've done very little as far as expanding educational opportunities for Alaska Natives. Probably our biggest -- our biggest problem is that we have not kept up with our population as far as the number of people that we educate. BIA did a better job and had a better percentage of people who were in training or in higher education than our Alaska Native organization who get paid very good wages to educate people, especially in higher education. We are not doing a very good job. We're not keeping up with the population and if you walk around our corporate offices, or walk around the schools you see what a miserable job we're doing. You walk in to any kindergarten room in Anchorage and see how many Alaska Natives there are there and go to the high school and you're lucky to find any Alaska Natives.

Willie Templeton: Yes.

Nettie Peratrovich: So we haven't done a very good job with the social part but I don't think that ANSCA was ever engineered to do that.

Willie Templeton: Yes.

Nettie Peratrovich: Alaska Natives started the nonprofit and started contracting after Indian Self Determination was passed and I was the representative on that and made sure that we were included.

Willie Templeton: Thank you. Okay, now here's the final question. Admitting you may have more than one favorite story, but the question is: What is your favorite ANSCA story?

Nettie Peratrovich: The Chief Andrew Isaac story because he's really the one who was around Washington, D.C. And probably our biggest faux paux of inviting all these American Indians to this huge crab and salmon feast and they couldn't stand the smell. It was so shocking to us from Alaska that the Indians in the Lower 48 did not eat crab and fish.

Willie Templeton: Thank you.

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