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History and Culture

Home  >  History and Culture  >  Ancsa at 30  >  Lecture Series
Lecture Series, Number One  -  Page 5
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Tom Richards: Thank you, Senator. I’m going to introduce our next speaker by the way of maybe a story or two.

I’ve known Joe Upicksoun for longer than I expected to be alive, I think. But I’ve never seen Joe speechless except on one occasion. I think that was about the spring of 1970. I was correspondent for the Tundra Times and also serving as an intern for Congressman Begich, and also was on active duty in the U.S. Navy, and somehow had time to get together with folks from Alaska when they visited.

Joe and I were having dinner with Dr. and Mrs. McAlear one evening in their apartment in southwest Washington, D.C. The evening got to be late. I had a long day ahead of me, and so did Joe. In those days, I was going to work at 6:30 in the morning to do my Navy service, and then I’d check in with Congressman Begich around 11 or 11:30 to work on my Congressional internship, and Nick always said get out of here, write for Howard, don’t spend any time wasting your time here in my office. So I’d spend the afternoon sitting in Congressional hearings and taking notes and doing research and writing for Tundra Times, and it got to be a long day. That evening we had dinner with Jim and Anna McAlear, Joe, Anna, Jim and myself, and toward the end of the evening, I was too tired to drive back out to Maryland where my duty station was at intelligence support center, so Dr. McAlear said, “Tom, you can bunk here for the evening. I think you know where your bed is. Your bed is ready.”

I went around the corner. It was not a big apartment. It was a small apartment, and there was a closet that was not quite a walk-in closet. It was five or six feet wide and it had a pleated sliding door, so I opened it and set out my bed on the floor and Joe got just totally aghast at this thing. He turned to Jim and Anna, and said, “This is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for the Tundra Times. What are you doing making him sleep in a closet?” Dr. McAlear said, “What do you think about this, Tom? And I said, “Joe, I like it.” All Joe could say is “Oh.”

I’d like to ask Joe Upicksoun from Barrow to come and join us, and give us his perspectives on ANCSA.

Joe Upicksoun
Joe Upicksoun: I became involved with the Arctic Slope Native Association as the first vice president under Walton Ahmoagak, who was the first president of the Arctic Slope Native Association, and eventually learned of how it became Arctic Slope Native Association. This was in 1968.

The Arctic Slope Native Association had some alarming experiences in all of a sudden finding that there were so many lands being selected in the whole Arctic Slope. Charlie Edwardson, Jr., who was only 21 years old then, with William Paul, Sr., was able to put together a land claims that encompassed the boundaries, the Brooks Range on up to the Bering Sea, the Chukchi Sea, and the Beaufort Sea and bordering in the demarcation point at Canada. This land area covered an estimated 56 and a half million acres.

In January of 1966, Charlie Edwardson called together the community of Barrow to express his concerns about the lands that the State of Alaska was selecting in certain areas, and there had to be some way that we would stop that. Charlie explained to our people was that we had Aboriginal title to all of the lands that we claimed by use and occupancy, and that we did not and we could not recognize the executive orders on NPRA which covered 23 million 600 thousand acres. We wouldn’t recognize the executive order that created the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. On our side, there were six million acres and three million acres into the Athabascan land.

We could recite what was said by the United States Supreme Court in the Tee-Hit-Ton Case where the Tlingit and Haidas sued the United States, and that was the portion where the United States Supreme Court invested Congress alone with the authority to expropriate Aboriginal rights and not pay us anything. It specifically said that no third party was able to do that, not even the Secretary of the Interior, without statutory authority. This included the State of Alaska as well as the oil industry or private industry.

With that, we felt comfortable that we could use our Aboriginal title and say, “It’s just as good as a White man’s title. It’s just as good as a farmer having title to his land by using public land policies and public land laws.” We carried that all the way through our lobbying efforts in the Alaska Native Land Claims in Washington D.C.

Charlie Edwardson, Jr. was very smart and he was able to quickly grasp what William Paul, Sr. had to say. William Paul, Sr. drafted the original claim. He was getting up in age and he was able to appeal to his son, Frederick Paul, a Tlingit and Haida Indian, with a law degree from the University of Washington, who eventually became very much an authority on American Indian law which a lot of the lawyers in Alaska did not understand. When the United States bought Alaska from Russia, the land was under the War Department for ten years, and the Alaska Natives were much wards for the first three years.

So, being under the War Department for ten years, we didn’t have a civil government until 1912. This is the information I’m providing you that comes out of the Federal Field Committee Report on the Alaska Native and the land, and Esther Wuunicke, you’re going to hear from her, was the one that brought all this to surface so that you have some way of getting to the real source from what she wrote in that Federal Field Committee Report. That Federal Field Committee Report was very good, because it included many, many federal agencies that were involved during the 1964 earthquake in Anchorage, and this is the theme of that is now what had happened in New York when the 911 occurred. So we understood very much what the State of New York is doing in New York City.

The board of directors in the Arctic Slope Native Corporation were laymen, with different occupations. I worked at the power plant, and my vice president was a carpenter, and the others were truck drivers and postmasters. We were just a bunch of laymen who were all of a sudden faced with why was the Alaska State selecting our land. The Statehood Act had a lot of impact on our lands and it really caused the Alaska Natives to really question why the state was selecting their land.

The Arctic Slope Native Association was concerned about this, so they developed a policy and gave direction to the Arctic Slope Native Association. Number one: you will protect our land. Number two: you will seek quality education. Number three: you will seek quality health care. Number four: you will seek affordable housing.

How do you do that? The Arctic Slope Native Association became involved in the lobbying in Alaska Native Land Claims. We were able to work with Fred Paul. We had problems hiring a lawyer, because the guardian/ward relationship we were under said that if we had a lawyer, he or she had to be approved by the Secretary of the Interior, and it became a bureaucratic maze. The Secretary’s office always had a reason to refuse our contracts. A year went by, and still we didn’t have a contract. Until 1968, when they came out with the Indian Civil Act, which said that when a contract goes to the Secretary of Interior, if nothing happens in 90 days, it becomes a contract. But the Department of Interior was very shrewd. They would wait until the 89th day and then deny the contract.

This was the bureaucracy that we were up against, and by that time, Fred Paul had been out of pocket for four years before we had a contract with him. This was kind of odd because on the state’s side, the attorney general’s office had his well-paid lawyers, and on the federal side, the Department of Interior and the Justice Department had their well-paid lawyers. These were well-funded lawyers and they could afford to use a bureaucratic delaying tactics.

As we went through the process, we got to a point where we wanted our legal rights. In the first place, we were told that the Alaska Natives had no rights. This went back to the purchase of Alaska and our first three years as wards. We were not able to become citizens of the United States until 1924, which made it difficult for us to make land selections. The irony of it all is that an Indian from the Lower 48 could come to Alaska and file a land claim and mine the land, but Alaska Natives couldn’t, because we were not citizens.

Then the workload was getting to be too much for Fred Paul, so he brought in the Davis, Wright, Todd, Reese & Jones law firm from Seattle. It’s embarrassing for me to say that we couldn’t get any support from the State of Alaska delegation, so we had to go to the State of Washington and use their senators and congressmen to support what we were doing. There was a place where we knew we would have an unbiased representation. The Davis, Wright, Todd, Reese & Jones had a law firm where Jim McGuire served under Senator Scoop Jackson. On Magnuson’s side, we had another young lawyer who also served, so we had intelligence coming in from Washington, D.C. to know where the Senate was at on the development of the Alaska Native Land Claims bill. We also got to know Bill Van Ness out of Scoop Jackson’s office.

We didn’t have any money to pay these lawyers, but we were able to tell our story to these law firms and they were able to take us on with a one-dollar contract, where we would pay them if and when we got a settlement. Here we were, disadvantaged, without money to pay our lawyers. On the other hand, the oil companies also had law firms in places like Cleveland, with 210 lawyers in their firms, fighting for them.

We found out that legally, there was a limit to the Federal Court and the Supreme Court can do. They didn’t have the power to convey lands. They could award money for damages, but not convey lands. We had to rely on the legislative process, so we picked an arena to do that -- the United States Congress -- and we focused on our Aboriginal title. We went so far as to tell Congress, “You’re on my land, and we’re here to defend and establish our American Indian rights as well as our rights under the United States Constitution.”

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