Tom Richards: You’re doing fine, John. I just have a question or two. I appreciate your mention of tribal governments and their role and I think I recently read some commentary that you had written in support of tribal governments in Alaska. I very much appreciate that.
I want to talk a little bit about the legislative proposals that were being considered in 1970 and 1971. We nearly had a settlement act passed in 1970 -- that was the one proposed by Senator Henry Jackson. I better be careful about how I say this because the Jackson Foundation is one of our sponsors today. Thank you, Scoop. In 1970, the Jackson Bill was nearly adopted. It had passed the Senate by a vote of 76 to 8, but it would have provided for 10 million acres of land and a billion dollars for Alaska Natives as part of the settlement. Two of the people who voted against it were Senator Strom Thurman, who thought it was too much, and Senator Ted Kennedy, who thought it was too little. I was a Congressional correspondent back in D.C. at the time the bill passed the Senate, and I interviewed Senator Kennedy and asked him why he voted against the bill. He told me, “They,” meaning Alaska Natives, “claim title to over 100 million acres of land in the first place. Now we are saying they comprise 20 percent of the population and are getting 4 percent of the land, how generous we are.” Good old Senator Ted.
John Havelock: I think that Ted Kennedy’s influence is another factor that is understated in Don Mitchell’s book. Ted came up and did a tour of Alaska which, at the time, John Kennedy had been assassinated I guess and Ted was the heir to that, so enormous national attention followed him wherever he went. He came up and looked at conditions of the sewer and water in the villages. He put land claims on the national map. Other people had said it was just a local issue, and it would be hard to get attention. Well, at that time we were on the national map. Jackson moved because he and Kennedy were competitors for national office. They both had presidential aspirations, and Jackson didn’t want to be put in a position where he looked like the cheapskate on these important issues.
The focus on Natives was also joined by support for the problems of Black Americans. Jackson had a lot of fish to fry that never came to the surface and one was the 13th Corporation. We were just a few Indians in this district, but there were several thousand that could have turned a close election, so Jackson made sure that the Indians of Alaskan heritage who were living in the state of Washington were taken care of. He had considered himself the Father of NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act. He had a big stake in the environmental voting blocks in the country. One of the things that bothered me, we had Native claims that we were putting through, that was good. The oil was going to help out on it -- the pipeline was going to go -- and that was great. Suddenly we were facing this land rush of environmental interests and environmental land settlements climbing on board. I didn’t realize, until I was reading Don’s book, to what extent Jackson himself had been a part of that piggyback operation. We came out of this committee and there is this study plan for 80 million acres. I said, “Where the hell did that come from?” Ted said, “Oh it’s nothing important.” Of course it became ANILCA.
Tom Richards: I was mentioning the 1970 bill, the Jackson Bill. In 1971 there were three bills being considered. Senator Jackson had reentered his proposal and there was the AFN Bill. At that time AFN had adopted a position in favor of over a 60 million acre settlement. That bill was introduced with co-sponsorships by Senator Fred Harris of Oklahoma and Senator Ted Kennedy. There was a third bill, and people kind of tend to forget about it. It was introduced by the chairman of the House Interior Affairs Committee, Colorado Congressman Wayne Aspinall who came from apple and peach country in western Colorado. His proposal was for an approximately 100,000 acre settlement, but because he didn’t trust Alaska Natives to administer the results of the settlement, his proposal called for a board or a commission that would have Native membership on it. There would be four Alaska Natives appointed to serve at the pleasure of the Governor of Alaska. At that time Aspinall had a lot of power. Committee chairmen lived forever; as long as they could move, they wielded power. Now there’s a little bit more of a limitation on what a chairman can do. Governor Egan must have been under tremendous pressure from folks like the Alaska Miners Association and the Chamber of Commerce that didn’t want the State of Alaska to participate in the settlement. When Egan came forth and said he was supportive of the AFN proposal, that the State of Alaska could participate financially in the settlement, it made a tremendous difference. Do you recall if there was a great amount of debate within the administration on that?
John Havelock: The election of 1970 was a pivotal election both in Alaska politics and in the fortunes of the Settlement Act. When Hickel went off to Washington he left Keith Miller in charge as the Governor of Alaska and Keith was the archetypal colonialist. I don’t mean to say that he was a mean person; he had a colonial attitude, and he said it’s a federal problem and the state shouldn’t be involved. I would say that most of the non-Native population of Alaska had this colonial attitude. Bill Egan was unique in that he didn’t. He never thought of Natives as “them.” My best recollection is in seeing Bill Egan in Aspinall’s committees saying 40 million acres would be just fine.
I managed Emil’s campaign for Lieutenant Governor in the election of 1970. I remember the Natives were getting well-organized politically by that time, and I was probably appointed because I had been active in working for Native causes over the preceding half dozen years and I knew a lot of the leaders. My appointment as attorney general is an acknowledgement, in part, that the claims needed to be settled.
Egan was elected; he beat Miller. The Native Claims issue was a central issue in Egan’s campaign, and when he won he had a responsibility to see that a fair and just settlement be reached. How do you do that when you are mostly accountable to White Alaskans who are opposed to it? Some of the oil people were saying let’s get this done, but the average settler was opposed to it.
Lowell Thomas, Jr. worked with an organization Gene Guess helped set up called Supporters of Settlement to educate people. They went around trying to convert the Alaska communities to give the state some running room. When I got in office, I wrote quite a few of Egan’s speeches, and everyone was coming around with proposals. Instead of supporting a specific proposal, the state would have a “flexible” position. It was a bit of political weaselry I suppose, but it worked for quite a while and allowed the Native claim to grow. When we came in, the numbers being talked about were 60 million and 40 million, and they were both considered unrealistic. It was a key for Egan to say, “Yes, we support the state’s participation.”