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History and Culture

Home  >  History and Culture  >  Ancsa at 30  >  Lecture Series
Lecture Series, Number Three  -  Page 4
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Tom Richards: Thank you, Guy. Our next speaker is making his way up here – Sam Kito is going to join us. Another brief story occurred to me about Laura. Most folks know her as Laura Bergt, Laura Beltz, Laura Crockett. In late 1971 there was a gathering of the leadership from the National Council on Indian Opportunity at a dinner at a French restaurant called the Monocle on Capitol Hill. Laura was there and John Renner from the National Council on Indian Opportunity, Bob Robertson, the executive director, and a number of other folks and Charlie Edwardsen. Laura was a little bit mischievous – she tried to be funny. She was teasing Charlie about a speech he had made at a housing conference in Fairbanks a couple months earlier. Charlie had tried to make a point. He was saying a house is not a home. Laura kept saying, “What do you mean, Charlie, a house is not a home?” Charlie had somewhat of a temper, maybe more than he does now. About the third time she asked Charlie that question, Charlie just blew up. He stood up and he grabbed the tablecloth and he yanked it so hard and threw it against the wall. He didn’t realize that nothing moved. You know, I was looking there – looking down at the table cloth. It was ripped. And then pretty soon the table was brown. The waiter came over and we really profusely apologized for Charlie, and the waiter said, “Don’t apologize. I’ve never seen anybody do that before.”

Sam Kito is a Tlingit from Petersburg. He was living outside of Alaska in the mid 1960s going to school in New York and returned to Alaska in 1967 after receiving training as an electronic technician. Sam’s introduction to Native affairs began in Fairbanks where he worked at the Gilmore Creek satellite tracking station with people like Al Adams and Mory Thompson and Dale Hayward. Sam became involved with the Fairbanks Native Association and the Tanana Chiefs Conference and was also on the Board of the Tundra Times when I first started writing for the newspaper about 1968. After the enactment of ANCSA, Sam was active in the formation of Doyon Limited and assisted in many efforts to implement the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. He is currently a preeminent lobbyist -- or what do you say that, a public appearance individual at the Alaska Legislature. Please welcome Sam Kito.

Sam Kito
Sam Kito: Thank you, Tom. You know, there are a lot of anecdotes that go on in this room. One of the first ones I think about is whether this water is here to drink or for us to look at. Roger Lang, Secretary Watt, and Governor Hammond, and I were sitting at a table once, and the governor and his secretary were sitting up at the head table. They all had water and the rest of us didn’t have any water, so Roger asked, “Where’s our water, Sam?” I said, “You have to walk up there to get it.” Whereupon Secretary Watt took his pitcher of water and brought the cups and poured everybody a glass of water. Then Roger said, “This is going to be easy. If he’ll do that for us, he’ll do anything for us.” Not quite everything. But at any rate, my involvement was just prior to 1971.

I arrived in Fairbanks the day the flood waters went down and Wally Hickel was coming down Noble street in a row boat looking like Napoleon. I was on the fifth floor of the Polaris Hotel watching this operation. My involvement with Fairbanks Native Association was an attempt to get back involved in Native issues. Little did I know that I was going to become executive director of the Fairbanks Native Association. Next I became John Sackett’s executive director while he was president of the Tanana Chiefs Corporation. When the land claims passed, I was one of the incorporators of the Doyon Limited. They were going to hire a president and an executive vice president, so they hired John and left me outside the room for a while. When they brought me in, they said, “Where were you born, Sam?” I said, “I was born in Petersburg.” They said, “Where are you going to enroll?” John added, “Answer that question very carefully now, Sam, because we just created a local hire policy while you were out of the room.” They pushed a registration from across the table and, boom, I became a Doyon shareholder. I’ve since enjoyed the time I’ve spent there, and I went on to become president of AFN.

Before I get into the amendments, I’ll say that I got there right after Roger Lang left and I thought, boy, that’s a pretty big pair of shoes to fill. The first thing I decided, was that I would reorganize the office and move all the secretaries into a central pool. I brought Janie Leask into the office and said, “Your job is going to go away, but I think you can become my administrative assistant.” She said, “Can I think about it?” I said, “Yeah, you’ve got a little time, maybe an hour or so.” She came back in and said, “What happens if I don’t do the job?” I said, “Janie, that’s the easiest part. If you don’t do it, I fire you.” The message here is don’t wait for somebody to tell you to do something, just go out and do it. Push them aside. If you think somebody’s a little too old for the job, run against them. If you think it’s time for new ideas, get in there. Old guys like me don’t need to be around, but sometimes we don’t know when to leave.

I think I was 32 when I went to my first AFN convention. When I got to AFN there had been one amendment to the act, in 1973, and it affected us. It was the Mineral Leasing Act, which authorized the pipeline. It was the only major amendment up until 1976.

1976 was the beginning of the Full Employment Act, which did not count ANCSA payments to offset federal programs. It also allowed village corporations to merge with other village corporations and village corporations and with regional corporations, allowing NANA to merge. In 1976, the fiscal year also changed.

The other amendment that I worked on as president affected the pipeline. Irene and her lawyer, Donna Willard, wanted to keep the reservation at Klukwan. They found out the ore wasn’t as valuable as they thought it was, so they moved to amend the act. They got AFN support, and the amendment passed. They exchanged the reservation for a place called Long Island, not New York, Long Island in Cordova Bay. That was that amendment, and they got a full township out of it. They also carried the first of the CIRI amendments on their back. After that, CIRI was pretty much on its own.

There are a number of others. I’ll just take them up to about 1980, because I don’t want to get into 1991, which is Janie’s territory. When they created the CIRI land exchange pool in 1977, it marked the beginning of the big credits, because the only land that CIRI had to select were glaciers and mountain tops. They created bidding credits so they could bid on excess property around the world, not just in Alaska.

The next amendment was ANILCA, and I think that one area that we’re concerned with is subsistence. Unfortunately, that part of the act has stymied, not the people of the State of Alaska, but the politicians of the State of Alaska. I don’t think there’s any bill for a constitutional amendment that would pass the Senate, even with reapportionment. The collective economic muscle of the regional, village, and non-profit corporations needs to push voters in the State of Alaska to push more amenable for legislators. You could run a poll in the State of Alaska now and find that over 65 percent of the people want a solution to subsistence or at least the opportunity to vote on it. You can’t get a vote on a constitutional amendment unless you have two-thirds of the House and two-thirds of the Senate. We have two-thirds of the House, but we can’t reach two-thirds of the Senate without some real attitude changes in politicians.

As one who happens to work politicians all the time, this is one issue that’s very frustrating for me; it’s like a bright red line. It just jumps right out of the ground. Changes in Congress that affect Alaska are based on politics and seniority. You can have a right cause, but if you don’t have the right access to politics or politicians, it just doesn’t get done. Maybe it gets done, but not on the timetable that you really want. Because there’s some issues you can’t solve, like subsistence. We couldn’t go to Congress and amend Title 8. Neither can the other side go to Congress and amend Title 8. So we’re at a standoff. And how long this standoff goes, it’s up to the people of the State of Alaska that vote and make a change one way or the other. And I think with that I’ll just stop and wait for Tom.

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