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History and Culture

Home  >  History and Culture  >  Ancsa at 30  >  Lecture Series
Lecture Series, Number Two  -  Page 3
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Tom Richards
Tom Richards: Thank you, John. This might be getting a little personal but I’m glad you mentioned that you have an Eskimo wife. Historically, there has not been a great deal of trust among the Native groups, between the Indians and the Eskimos and the Aleuts. I think one example of this is in a text I’d written several years ago. I did some research going back through some of the earlier issues of the Tundra Times newspaper. When the proposal was first made to create a statewide organization, which ultimately became the AFN, one of the strongest critics of the idea, who later became a strong supporter of and contributor to AFN, was Eben Hopson. He was very suspicious, especially of the Tlingits. Howard Rock, my old boss and mentor, the early editor of the Tundra Times had written an editorial advocating for the formation of a statewide Native organization such as the AFN, and Eben became concerned. He wrote a letter to the editor, which appeared a few months before AFN was actually established. Eben wrote, “I can just picture you and a handful of other Eskimos sitting at a conference table with a full battery of members of the Alaska Native brotherhood and being voted down on every proposal you might have.” Those are Eben’s words.

We heard a hint of that in our last seminar from a speaker from the Arctic Slope, Joe Upicksoun, who was the only person to vote against the acceptance of ANCSA during the December, 1971, AFN special convention to consider whether ANCSA should be accepted by Alaska Natives or not. He insisted during the last lecture that he’d still vote no, but his complaint was that the revenue, which financed the monetary settlement included in ANCSA came from the oil that was under the land owned by the Inupiat people of the Arctic Slope. Under the monetary provisions of ANCSA, they only had five percent of the revenue from the Alaska Native Fund, while Sealaska had 25 percent. Do you have a response to that or could you say something in general about the participation from southeast -- the Tlingits and the Haidas -- in the settlement?

John Borbridge: It sounds like Joe is complimenting me for doing my job too well. The real question here is not, as posed by Joe, comparing the North Slope and what they’ve received to the Central Council and what they received. Rather, we have to look at Congress, and Congress decided that when it came to the distribution of revenue they did not want one group to be receiving more per capita than any other group. Each of the regions was paid according to the proportion of the total population they had in their region. It wasn’t a matter that the Congress decided arbitrarily, “Well, we’ll send 25 percent down to the Central Council’s area.” They came up with a formula and that’s the way the formula worked. Now, when it came to distribution of land, then some of the less-populated areas, which were widespread in their use and occupancy received proportionately more land, and that is as it should be. I had no problem with what Joe has mentioned, but if he carried this out further he might be critical of Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP)and other regions. This was the way Congress decided to deal with the issue.

Just very quickly regarding issue 7(i). There is a 7(i) because a Congressman convinced his fellow Congressmen by saying, “I do not want a member of one region to receive one dollar and the member of another region, maybe a neighboring region, to receive eight dollars per person.” He wanted equity; he wanted as much fairness and equality as was possible. So, I’m seeking to acquaint all of you with the thinking of the Congress and why they did what they did.

Tom Richards: I didn’t want to single out the Tlingits. Some people asked me sometimes if I have anything against Tlingits. No, I love Southeast. I love going to Southeast and some folks don’t realize that I have Tlingit cousins. My father’s first cousin was married to a fellow from Hoonah, so the seas are my cousins.

John Borbridge: That’s the first time I knew he liked Tlingits. I do want to quickly add this: there was always the question that arose, “Well, even if we do have a settlement, are you Native people going to be able to successfully administer the assets of that settlement?” We had to convince the Congressmen that yes, we did have educated people capable of performing very intricate, challenging tasks. We had what we called our “show and tell.” We took a group of Alaskans down to Washington, D.C., and met with various Congressmen and one of the members who was a real hit down there was a jet pilot. His name was Richards, I believe. I am now going to ask Tom if he would comment on this. It just tickles me to no end to turn things on the moderator. Tom, would you comment please?

Tom Richards: My father was first captain for Wein Airlines. He didn’t like to talk about himself, so I won’t say much about that, but I think it did make an impact on Congress to show we had Alaska Natives who were professional and competent to manage our affairs and our corporation. I’m going to turn this back on John. You are one of the rare individuals who served both as the president of a federally recognized tribe and as the chief executive and chairman of an ANCSA Regional Corporation. Given concerns today that people have about tribal government and possible conflicts involving ANCSA, do you think it is possible to, in a tribal setting, protect the interests and the cultural values of the people while, in the corporate setting, be responsive to the needs of shareholders?

John Borbridge: Yes it is. Thank you, Tom. I did appreciate the opportunity to head a regional tribal organization and an ANCSA corporation. I had as one of my deep wishes a desire to see the regional corporations able to have the kind of vision, compassion and understanding to have a close working relationship between the two. After all, they largely represent the same people.

A large part of the reason we have a settlement is because we had tribes, recognized or not. We functioned as tribes, we lived as tribes, we served our people who were members of the tribes and we asserted aboriginal title, which could be asserted only by tribes. Aboriginal title was the strength of the assertion of our land rights in the Congress of the United States. It is very easy to see that every ANCSA corporation owes something to every tribe that exists in this state and to the tribal members.

I also had the opportunity to appreciate that when you’re on the corporate side, there’s a balance you seek to offer support. Sometimes you offer financial support, sometimes leadership, sometimes your influence as a corporation. There’s a balance between making all that possible for a tribe without overcoming the tribe, without asserting more influence in the direction of the tribe than a corporation should. So there is that kind of balance. I think that we have not yet done what we should to have the two entities working together. I think there’s no question that one of the things that is going to ensure a brighter tomorrow for the Alaska Natives will be when we more successfully use all of the tools we have at our command: the corporations and the tribal governments. We have not begun to use the tribal governments as effectively as I know we will in the near future.

Tom Richards: It’s been quite an honor, John, thank you so much. I also appreciate your mention of Margaret Nick, whom we’re honoring today along with Emil. Folks may have heard the phrase, “Take our land, take our life,” and Margaret was the lady who originated that phrase. She was quite an eloquent spokesperson for Alaska Natives.

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