Janie Leask: I’m going to focus here not on the individual pieces of the 1991 Legislation, and instead take you through the process. There is a quote that is really important to me because I’m very much a process-oriented person. Hedi Nilan Chang wrote, “Some citizens or civic leaders must focus on the process of how people work together to solve problems, not on the content of the problem itself.” In most communities no one is paying attention to the process of how people engage on issues of public concerns. They’re too caught up in their own positions on the issue. In a Native community, it’s very important to focus on the process. When we work on amendment packages or projects for AFN, we really make a point to go out and include everybody, and talk about the issue before making decisions. In 1982, we talked about the intent of ANCSA, whether it was an aboriginal settlement and was it designed to do more. We asked, should we include the young people into the Settlement Act? Is it important to maintain control and ownership of those corporations and if so, at what price?
Twenty years from the Settlement Act, December 18, 1991, all of the stock was to be unrestricted and Native shareholders were to be allowed to sell their stock. So at the 1982 convention, we got a report from the Alaska Native Foundation. The convention told us to make this a high priority, and so we did. In 1983, we held two statewide retreats for the Native leadership, where we went through and took a look at all the different issues. We talked extensively about the issues and debated them. At the 1983 convention we had resolutions that called for further studies. On the legal and practical sides, we suggested different approaches for how to handle different issues, including stock alienation, benefits for elders, protection of our land, and even the term “New Natives.”
We then held two more retreats the next year, in 1984, to continue to talk about legal issues and how we wanted to frame them and to reach some consensus. We listened around the state to what Native people were saying about the Settlement Act and what kinds of changes they really wanted to make. At the 1984 convention we held workshops on eight resolutions. The eight resolutions, briefly, which formed the gist of the Settlement Act, were (1) that Native shareholders were to have options. That was very important -- you couldn’t bind everybody together and say, “This is how it’s gong to be done.” People really needed flexibility. Another one (2) was the continued restriction of the sale of stock beyond 1991, which was an arbitrary date. The people felt very strongly that Native people themselves ought to have the ability to say, “Okay, we want restrictions lifted on our stock, not Congress, not anybody else.” Another one (3) was the option for corporations to provide benefits for New Natives or to enroll them, to give them a special kind of stock, to provide benefits for elders. Another one (4) provided an option for corporations to buy back stock from shareholders who wished to sell. Another one (5) was the prohibition against the transfer of stock by any means to non-Natives during a time when stock was restricted. You could pass stock on through wills, but if it went to a non-Native it was non-voting stock. Next, (6) the granting of voting rights to shareholders who might not be one quarter Alaska Native blood also came from recognizing that Alaska Natives will continue to marry and have children outside the Native community, and the blood quantum originally required under the act, one quarter or more to be Alaska Native shareholder, would be diminished. Also, (7) automatic land bank protections were very important for our undeveloped lands to make sure they did not fall out of Native ownership.
The one I’m really going to get to in here and which really played an important role in the 1991 Amendments is called the (8) qualified transferee entity. This was the ability for corporations to transfer all or a portion of their land or assets out of the corporate structure and into some other kind of structure. Again, running through all of this was the ability for corporations and shareholders to have the flexibility to pick and choose among a menu of different options. The 1991 legislation, and any discussions that we had, were intentionally neutral on the issue of sovereignty. A part of the 1984 resolutions, in fact, stated that no provision of ANCSA or its amendment shall be construed as diminishing or in any way affecting the scope of governmental powers of Alaska Native tribal governments or any other rights Alaska Natives and Native Americans have. We ensured that the legislation remained neutral on sovereignty. We didn’t want to take anything away from any potential arguments that might be out there.
At the 1984 convention, the delegates didn’t vote on these resolutions, because they needed time to study them, to think about them, to talk among themselves. What they did was to pass a series of directives to AFN. One of them was to hold a special convention in March of 1985 specifically on 1991 to do a statewide education effort to involve the villages. There was also a separate resolution calling for an AFN restructuring that included village representatives, which it hadn’t before. We took a look at the concepts embodied in all of these and the resolutions and put them in draft legislative form so people take a look at them further at the special March convention. The villages met in January of ’85; they picked their own village representative and the group of representatives was called the AFN Village Steering Committee.
Also in January of ’85, AFN went to Washington, D.C., to get a reality check from the Congressional delegation, to find out how the delegation felt about the resolutions. We were told that if we wanted to get our amendments addressed in the ’85-’86 season we needed to get them in before the October convention, because 1986 was an election year. Congress doesn’t like to do things in an election year other than campaign for themselves. So, if we wanted to get them in, we needed to get started right away. Also, our two senators were in the majority and with elections coming up, that might not have continued to be the case.
Congressman Morris Udall was very critical of the 1991 legislation, and he was in ill health. There was question of whether or not he would run again. He was chairing the House Interior Affairs Committee, which a key portion of the 1991 legislation would be referred to. Finally there was the whole issue of Christmas training, that if people see you really want to have something in a certain amount of time then they’re going to stick their own unrelated issue onto your legislation. We were told it was very important that the 1991 legislation be very clean.
The congressional delegation and other people in Washington, D.C., really wanted to have one voice come back and talk to them, not twelve different organizations. Not even four or five different organizations; they wanted consensus, they wanted unity. So in the 1985 special convention we took the eight resolutions to the delegates of the convention and they passed them overwhelmingly. The resolutions set the framework; legislation was finalized and circulated throughout the Native community. The draft legislation, as I mentioned, embodied a lot of different options because there were some people in the Native community who wanted to sell their stock; there were others who felt it should be restricted beyond 1991; others felt very strongly that young people should be included; and still others felt equally strongly that “This is my stock, and if you take it you’re taking an individual property right away from me.” There were also some very strong feelings about the corporation and the corporate structure, that was the best way to do it and to implement ANCSA, and there were equally strong feelings on the other side of people saying, “No, we really want to move the assets and the land out of the corporate structure because we feel the land and the assets are at risk.”
So, at the 1985 convention, the delegates authorized AFN to submit the legislation to Congress, which was done that December and it was jointly introduced by our congressional delegation, Congressman Young on the House side and Senators Murkowski and Stevens on the Senate side. In January of 1986 there was House action. They basically took the entire package of amendments and included them in the House legislation. They held hearings on them. They put a disclaimer in there which kept the legislation neutral on the issue of sovereignty and the House unanimously passed out the legislation in a very short time, in July.
We then had to turn to the Senate side and the Department of Interior who was very quiet on the legislation on the House side. The Department of Interior, Secretary Udall at that time, was very key in any kind of Native legislation as you can well imagine. They came out and flatly stated they would love to include as a statement in the 1991 legislation that there is no Indian country in Alaska. Well, that was hardly neutral. Secretary Udall and other key members of his administration were also very conservative. They were staunch supporters and protectors of individual rights. We could talk ourselves blue in the face about how Alaska Native people look at things as a group effort, not as individuals. But that really didn’t matter. He basically said we better get the revised Senate version, because it was the best deal we were going to get out of the Department of Interior. So with that on the Senate side, certain portions of the legislation were completely rewritten. The disclaimer section, which provided for the legislation to remain neutral was completely rewritten. On the Senate version the disclaimer provided that nothing in the legislation would enhance any legal arguments to get the Indian country. So we basically could not use the 1991 legislation or transferring the land out of the corporation into the QTE as a way to get to Indian country, and that, obviously, was not neutral. There was nothing to prohibit Alaska Natives from going through the regular arguments outside of the legislation, but we couldn’t use the legislation as a foot up.
Well, that was a kiss of death for legislation in 1986. We took it back to the AFN convention and they voted down the legislation by a two-to-one margin. It was not only the disclaimer issue but it was also that Secretary Udall and the Senate felt that, while it was okay for villages not to take a vote to continue their restrictions, regional corporations needed to. They needed to provide for the Center’s rights, which basically meant that if I voted and disagreed, then I need to be paid off.