Tom Richards: Not all the corporations have exercised their options under the 1991 provisions. I want to give you an idea of some of the concerns people had about the opportunity to utilize the 1991 options. There was a NANA shareholder, Bill Smith, at the 1989 annual NANA stockholders meeting. Bill said we should allow shareholders born after 1971 into NANA. By doing so we should show concrete evidence that what our elders taught and passed on to us we intend to pass on to those born after 1971. Not allowing those born after 1971 goes against all the values of NANA’s survives by. Those born after 1971 would see that we speak one way and turn around and do another. In the future, when we need them to step forward they will not be able to do so because we will have tied their hands behind their backs and we would only have ourselves to blame.
There was another similar view during Arctic Slope when they were considering their options to issue stocks to New Natives. Fortunately we don’t call them After-Borns. Jessie Kaleak was corporate secretary of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation at the time and he was arguing for the issuance of stock to New Natives. Jessie said the feeling among the children of being left out will no longer be in their minds as they will be able to participate in the future of the corporation whether through receiving dividends or voting for their directors. Some of them will also be managing the corporation. There was a lot of strong motivation to be able to exercise the 1991 options. Why have only a handful of the corporations chosen to issue stock, and do you think that the others may pursue this?
Janie Leask: I would hope there would be other corporations to follow. NANA, Arctic Slope and Doyon are the three that have opted to include New Natives, the young people born after 1971. I’m not sure if they’ve all three done it this way, but they’ve issued a special kind of stock rather than the original stock that all Alaska Native shareholders got. That stock, once that person has died, would go back to the corporation; it would be cancelled. I don’t know why other corporations have followed suit other than I just can’t help but believe that there’s not enough support there, that people want their hundred shares of stock and by default some of it is going to the younger people. When people get older they will their stock to their children and grandchildren, so while they don’t have a hundred shares of stock, we still are seeing some ANCSA stock getting into the hands of shareholders. But there are those that are very staunch individuals and say, “This is my stock, and I got it in 1971,” and even though it’s ironic, the date was very arbitrary. Time after time we saw people coming to conventions where they had one younger brother who was born before that time who was a shareholder and another brother who was not a shareholder. It just divided families.
Tom Richards: I’ll ask one more question. With the implementation of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, what has been undone, what remains to be done?
Janie Leask: Well I think there are a couple of things. One is obviously subsistence, which was not really included in ANCSA and ANILCA. Subsistence is still very much out there. I’m pretty much a pessimist regarding subsistence as well, and until we change the make-up of our state legislature and the leadership of our state legislature, I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere. We’ve tried since before 1982 to try to change this. Another one is the ability and the flexibility to transfer land or assets out of the corporate structure and the whole issue of tribes and what rights they have. I think that’s out there. It’s very unsettling; it’s very divisive. It pits corporations versus tribes, which I think is very unfortunate because it ends up pitting Alaska Natives against each other. It’s been a very divisive issue. Another thing we missed the boat on was growing our leaders. I think this for a couple of reasons. One is when ANCSA was being put together the leadership at the time was very, very young. They got involved and they took on the building of their own corporations and they weren’t ready to step aside during any portion of that to turn seats over because we still had an awful lot to give, but I think we did a very poor job in the Native community of mentoring the younger leaders coming along and, it’s kind of like what Sam says, you have to push. You just have to make your voice heard, and you have to push your way through. I think we could have done a better job with that.
Tom Richards: Thank you Janie. You’ve done a wonderful job of addressing an extremely complex set of issues.
Now I’m going to open it up to the questions that audience members have submitted. The first question is for Janie. Do you think that “process” plays more of a role in public policy decisions for AFN and other Native organizations than for non-Native organizations? If so, please discuss why.
Janie Leask: I believe it does, because that’s the way that Native institutions have operated forever. They’re not a dictatorship and they don’t have one person particularly in charge and saying okay we’ll do this and this and this. Decisions are made by groups, whether by a traditional council or elders, it’s a group decision. People really have the ability to air out all different sides in order to reach a consensus. AFN doesn’t necessarily like to take votes that are hard and fast, especially on issues that are very important because consensus building is extremely important to the Native community.