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History and Culture

Home  >  History and Culture  >  Ancsa at 30  >  Lecture Series
Lecture Series, Number Two  -  Page 10
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Emil Notti: It was mentioned earlier about our 60 and 40 million acres. Actually, we started at 80 million acres and after a lot of debate and promises of support, we decided to demand only 40 million acres of land. We had several meetings with Governor Hickel, and finally, at one of the meetings he promised to go before the committee and support our request for 40 million acres of land. He did go before the Committee, but to our surprise he modified it, he said he would support 40 million acres of land if 20 million came out of federal agency land -- forest service, park service and military reserves and land in military or federal government control. One of the big losses we had -- we tried to hold two percent of any resource revenue in perpetuity. Our theory was that if we weren’t going to participate in the development, one way to ensure we benefited was for the corporations and the village corporations to get two percent of revenue, but we didn’t know what it was. Somebody else did. This was not a negotiated settlement. Congress went behind closed doors and handed out their terms, and one of them was they took away the two percent.

There’s an ongoing argument about what some people call the sources and uses of money. Where does the money come from and how is it spent? One side always says that the Native people do not pay taxes, and therefore should get less than a tax-paying citizen of the state. The other side says that wealth is coming out from under the feet of the Eskimo people, and they’re not getting their fair share. Over all the years Alaska has been a state, hiring of Native people for positions in the state government has hovered around four percent. Federal government is probably about three percent. Some agencies are worse than others. Private industry doesn’t do much better. When the right-of-way was given, the oil companies agreed to hire 20 percent in construction and maintenance. That has never been achieved. It’s right around 15 percent today. Some arguments for some of the social issues -- alcohol, suicide, and welfare -- would be lessened if Native people got jobs. Before the pipeline, the villages had 80 percent unemployment. Since construction was started on the pipeline, we’ve had probably 200 - 250,000 people move into Alaska, and the unemployment rate in the villages is still about 80 percent. I don’t think enough is being done to make sure that people in rural areas get a shot at these jobs. We suspected this would happen, and that was why we structured the Land Claims to try to offset some of this. When I go out in the villages, a lot of guys come up to me and the first thing they ask is, “Can you find me a job?” They’re willing to work, they’re just not thought of and there’s no way to recruit a lot of them out there.

I kind of backed into the Land Claims issue. When I came back from the Navy and college, I was away about 10 years but I met a guy named Nick Gray. Nick Gray was a one-man organizer. He organized the Fairbanks Native Association and after that was working he came down to Anchorage and organized the Cook Inlet Native Association. Then the issues were jobs, housing, education, and healthcare, and this was pre-1964 when all the civil rights laws came into being.

A lot of people were coming into Alaska and flying offshore to hunt the bears we don’t have in the Interior. They used to land and take pictures with their Super Cub right next to them, and the captions would say -- I’ll use a name not to point at him but just as an example -- “Roy Rogers and a Native guide.” Native people didn’t have names. You still see that in some of the outdoor magazines today when the fishermen go into Canada. There’s always a Native guide, but he never has a name. We were forming associations around these social issues. We paid for Nick Gray to go to Kodiak, Bethel, and Cordova to help form regional associations to work on jobs and education and housing. Then, the Land Claims issue raised its head, and it was an easy transition from financing Nick Gray out of the Cook Inlet Native Association, to call the first statewide meeting, sponsored by the Cook Inlet Native Association and financed by the village of Tyonek. That was the beginning of or how we started a statewide group.

I wrote a letter in April calling for a statewide meeting and Howard Rock took that letter in July and headlined the statewide meeting practically every week. By the time October came around, we had about 300 people show up.

Senator Kennedy’s name was mentioned. I traveled on part of that trip with about 14 other senators. We got into little airplanes and flew out to Bethel. When our planes would come in and land, the village would gather up on the river bank and come down en mass to the plane and when Senator Kennedy got out of the plane, as far as they were concerned he was the only one there. We walked into the operating room in the old Bethel Hospital, and up on the ceiling there were strips of wood holding up visquine that bellied, and in the bottom of the visquine was brackish black water with mold around it. Senator Kenndy said, “Is this an operating room?” He couldn’t believe the conditions. A few years after that, Bethel got its big regional hospital, and it was mostly his doing.

We had a hard time establishing ourselves as having any right to talk about the settlement for land claims in Congress. We would arrive at the hearing room at two o’clock, and we’d be pushed back to the next day, or sometimes the next week. Once, I was going to Seattle to make a speech to Northwest Federated Tribes. We met at Pacific Lutheran University, and I said to myself, “I have to say something that is going to catch the media’s attention,” so there was a reason we were there. Scoop Jackson had the reigns on this deal, and I wanted him to know that the people who voted for him were supporting us. We went into the Federated Tribes meeting, and there were about 800 people in the audience. I decided I couldn’t just say, “We’ve been meeting with Congress for four years.” That wasn’t real news. So I made the “Separate Nations” speech, that we support people all over the world in their efforts and we should support a separate nation for Alaska Natives or for Native people who lost the whole North American continent. I proposed the Yukon River and then south from Fairbanks to Anchorage, and everything north and west of that line would be a separate Indian nation. I got a personal editorial out of the Anchorage Times on that one. But I’d like to think it had some effect. I got newspaper clippings from all over the country. I don’t know how they found me, but it made the news with a little note under “Separate Nation Proposed.” I’ve got the language here. That was February 1970: “It happened in Israel for a persecuted people. Why not here for a people who have lost a whole continent? If Congress cannot pass a bill that we think is fair, I will recommend a course of action to our statewide board of directors, then we will petition Congress to set up a separate Indian nation in the western half of Alaska. That area is 90 percent Native anyway and will not get any non-Native settlers until something is discovered that can be exploited.”

Tom Richards: What a militant fellow. I wanted to comment about Nick Gray too. Nick was a great guy. He was really a promoter for statewide unity among Alaska Natives. His mother was an Eskimo and his father was a Jewish fellow and you’d ask him what he was and he used to say, “I’m a Jewskimo.”

I was on that trip with you and Senator Kennedy to Bethel. I took a picture of that operating room ceiling and Senator Kennedy was interviewing the doctor and said, “Well, last week part of the ceiling fell on a patient.” Kennedy was just aghast. That Bethel Hospital is a big, beautiful building on the tundra in Bethel; that is one thing Ted Stevens cannot take credit for.

In April 1979, I was invited to visit the Pribilof Islands. I went to St. George Island and it was that part of the season where the Aleuts go out and they collect murr eggs. About six or eight Aleuts stand at the top of these big, huge cliffs, about 1,300 feet tall. They tie a rope around one fellow and they have another rope that they tie a basket on and they drop one of the people over the edge of the cliff, and then they drop down the basket. They don’t haul him up until he gets the basket filled. I was watching them do this, and they had all done very well. They said, “Would you like to try it? I said, “Sure, why not?” So they tied a rope around my chest, and dropped me off the cliff, 1,300 hundred feet above the ocean. I got real lucky. I ended up in front of this little ledge that was about 30 feet long and 10 feet deep and it was full of murr eggs so when they dropped the basket down I filled my basked up right away and they hauled the basket full of eggs back to the top of the cliff and then they hauled me back up. They said, “Tom you did pretty well. Weren’t you at all afraid?” I said, “I was a little concerned, realizing that my life depended on seven or eight Aleuts at the other end of the rope at the top of the cliff. But then, after a while, I just pretended that you guys were all Eskimos and it was easy after that.” They’re going to get back at me I’m sure.

We’re at the portion of the seminar where we’ll take questions from you folks for our panelists. John gets the first one. Mr. Borbridge, you stated that it is possible for a corporate structure to meld with a tribal structure. Given today’s current corporate situation, how do you propose this melding should pass?

John Borbridge: It would be a mistake to say, “How do you, outside of either structure, recommend we proceed?” I think there needs to be a willingness to have the tribal organizations, and their respective boards, councils, directors, and elected officials, engage in a cooperative enterprise. That will require each corporation to surrender some of its prerogatives. There has to be some give and take involved. I think it’s important, for example, that the corporate officials, and let me remind you again that I was a corporate official, seek balance by using corporate resources to be supportive of some of the aims and objectives of the tribal organizations. It’s important for the corporate people to remember that the actions that gave rise to the corporations really are attributable to the tribal organizations themselves. Having been on the corporate side, I can readily acknowledge that you have the Securities Exchange Commission, you have corporate law, you have corporate taxation, you have the requirements that you faithfully discharge your duties in a manner that is consistent with the law so there are a lot of restrictions as to what a corporation can do. Notwithstanding this, I do think the corporations and the tribal governments would have to work together for some while to find a way that would be mutually acceptable. I’m not going to pretend one bit that this is an answer. What it is, as much as anything, is a description of what the two entities should be seeking.

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