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History and Culture

Home  >  History and Culture  >  Ancsa at 30  >  Lecture Series
Lecture Series, Number One  -  Page 11
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Tom Richards: Here’s a question for Joe Upicksoun. Was the Native panel happy with the path of a corporate structure, and was that a blatant plan for failure, and was that the intent of the government?

Joe Upicksoun: In August, 1970, the Arctic Slope Native Association held a secretarial election where we created the largest IRA in the whole United States -- there was that 56 and a half million acres. All we had to do was ask the villages that had IRA Status to dissolve their resolution, because at that time you couldn’t belong to two IRAs.

This was part of a tool -- we would go back to Congress and say that we are ready to receive the proceeds of the settlement, we have an IRA regional corporation that can take on the land as well as the money. But Congress, in its infinite wisdom, chose the corporate concept, nonprofit and for-profit. We didn’t have much choice in that, but the Arctic Slope Native Association supported the regional concept, and it was in what Congress recommended as a corporate structure.

E. Lee Gorsuch: My recollections were that Congressman Aspinall took a position, and perhaps Senator Gravel might comment on this, was that there were really sort of two forms under which there are settlements. One is where you take the land in fee simple which had to go to an entity such as a corporation, or the alternative was to go to something like an IRA which would be under the auspices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and therefore be trust land.

There was a key question in front of AFN as to whether they wished to have the land in fee simple under the trust authority of the BIA or in fee simple under the direction of their won corporations, and I defer to Nels or anyone else who might want to comment on that conversation that took place among AFN. They were essentially given a choice, and at that point no one was particularly enamored with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Nels Anderson, Jr.: That’s correct. Given those two choices, we went with land being under our direct control. I think if people had their druthers, they would have preferred a land settlement that would have had more protection, so that the land would remain in the hands of the Native people forever. There’s no guarantee. It just goes back to knowing where the authority lies. We tried to make what we wanted as clear as and then the powers that be had to make a decision based on their interpretation of federal law.

Senator Mike Gravel: Could I add to that? It never really came up within the committees. Now it certainly was an element of discussion within the Native community.

Keep in mind, the IRA would have subjected that entity to a body of law that was not as universal as the American corporate entity. The choice, from the Congressional point of view, was to go with an entity which would to equalize the legal status between the Native corporation and all other American corporations.

I personally feel we made the right choice, because the other would have been racked with a whole host of difficulties involved, continued involvement of the government. Many of us were really set on the fact that when they get their money, they could do what they wanted with it.

Dr. Jeanne Eder: Could I ask for a point of clarification? When we started talking about these kinds of terms like “taking the land in fee simple,” that means that the land and the title of the land would be owned by the Native people, right? And taxable?

Senator Mike Gravel: And they could sell it.

Dr. Jeanne Eder: They could sell it. They could use it for collateral.

Senator Mike Gravel: Right.

Dr. Jeanne Eder: But taking the land and for BIA and the trust land would mean that the title would remain with the federal government, right?

Senator Mike Gravel: No, the title is with the Natives, but they wouldn’t be able to sell it without permission of BIA. The BIA comes in this “big father” that advises this child who doesn’t really know what he’s doing with his land.

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