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History and Culture

Home  >  History and Culture  >  Ancsa at 30  >  Lecture Series
Lecture Series, Number Four  -  Page 2
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Emil Notti: Thank you, Tommy. I’m happy to make some remarks about Albert Kaloa, first on a personal note about him, and then about some of his ideas. He was a great person to be around. He had a lot of personality and charm and charisma. He had a great voice. He had a very engaging smile and a boisterous laugh. He was just a great person to be around.

He had, I think, two great visions. The first was a vision, a need to help his own village. He and his attorneys, Stanley McCutcheon and Clifford Gron, fought a court case to have the Moquawkie reserve recognized as an Indian village or as a tribe or reservation. As a result of that, they got some $11 million for exploration mines. Under Albert Kaloa, they set about to improve the conditions of the village. You see the results of that today -- better homes, water systems, electricity, and great improvements in the village life.

The second thing was Albert shared a vision with Howard Rock and Nick Gray. Nick Gray had this vision of a statewide Native organization. Howard Rock put all of the resources of the Tundra Times behind that movement. When we called for the statewide meeting, Albert Kaloa stepped up with the resources of the village behind him. First, they donated the space. Tyonek owned the building downtown called the Audio Cam building where we held the AFN meeting. The village of Tyonek chartered DC-3s, paid for hotels, paid people’s way into Anchorage, paid for meals. Without their help, AFN would not have gotten off to the great start that it did. We came out of nowhere and with the support of the Tyonek people; we hit the headlines of Anchorage. They gave us the boost we needed to start AFN, so I’m happy to make these few remarks about Albert Kaloa. As it was said here, without his help and the help of the Tyonek people, we would have had a much harder time getting the attention we needed to push land claims. Thank you.

Tom Richards: Thank you, Emil. Our first speaker today is Representative Mary Kapsner, Democrat of Bethel. She’s been in the Alaska Legislature since 1998. I mentioned in our second lecture series that the Alaska Legislature, in its current form, is probably the most anti-Native I’ve seen in 42 years. I made the point, I think, that even the Natives that are in the majority are anti-Native. Certainly Mary Kapsner is not anti-Native. She is a very strong advocate for all of our people. Looking at her resume, she’s lived in some of my favorite communities: Bethel, Juneau, Kwethluk, Tuntatuliak, and Platinum. In 1994, I wrote a community economic development plan for Platinum. I think I was the only person in the community building doing that at the time. Would you please join us, Representative Kapsner?

Mary Kapsner
Representative Mary Kapsner: Good afternoon. My name is Mary. My mom is from Kwethluk, and my dad was a school teacher in Kwethluk, Tuntatuliak and Platinum while I was growing up. I’m very, very honored to be here with you today. It’s very humbling to sit on this stage before you being a beneficiary and not one of the history-makers like the other presenters are. It’s quite an honor to be up here to give you my perspective as a beneficiary of the Alaska Native Lands Settlement Act. I like to call it the Alaska Native Lands Settlement Act and omit the word Claims, because I think there is an implication that we only had a claim, and it wasn’t our land. I want to start by telling you right off that I feel this was the Alaska Native Lands Settlement Act, and I’ll refer to it here and after as the settlement.

I did not gain personally from the settlement, but what I have inherited is much more meaningful and larger than any personal gain that I could ever have received. It’s had such a substantial affect on all Alaskans, not just Natives, but all Alaskans. First, I’d kind of like to start out by saying that being born after the settlement, after December 18, 1971, I have a hard time imagining what Alaska would be like without the settlement. I have the utmost respect for the people who were negotiating for us, both Native and non-Native. I think that’s something that’s overlooked. We had a lot of non-Native people advocating for Native people. I really appreciate that. I think that in the current state climate and in the legislature, people forget that Natives have a lot of non-Native friends. There’s a lot of unity within Alaska, despite the divisive rhetoric we hear in the news on TV and in the newspaper.

One of the things I admire the most about the people who negotiated for us is that despite all the obstacles of attitude and law and all the case law that had been built up—economic law, legal standings—people in Alaska never accepted defeat. They were there for years. The level of self-sacrifice was enormous. Nancy Barnes is a very good friend of mine. She works for Albert Kookesh, who is in the legislature. Her dad, Cecil Barnes, has passed away, but she talks about her mother now. She recognizes the significant contributions that her father made, but with that comes the feeling that he missed so-and-so’s birthday, or wasn’t there when so-and-so fell off that ladder and broke his arm. There were significant contributions made not only by the people who negotiated for us, but their families. It was a huge endeavor. I’m just extremely grateful for that, for not accepting defeat, and for coming to the point of compromise that we came to.

I definitely think that we won. There’s been discussion in recent years about whether or not we gave up too much or if we really won. I think, undeniably, that we won. You can see that in all kinds of different levels -- at the village level, at the regional level, at the state level, at the national level, on the world level. No other settlement is as unique, or is such an undisputed victory for Native people as the Alaska Native Lands Settlement Act. When I travel to villages, the thing I see as one of the testaments to the settlement’s success is that in every single village in the state of Alaska there is now an active village corporation; almost, I think, without exception. Most of them work in concert with their tribal corporation and their city council.

When I go out to campaign in villages, the first thing I try to do is call the village office and find out when they’re having their group meeting; here all three bodies come together. It’s the best way for someone who is trying to share information or get information to meet with all three groups. I think that the Settlement Act had a lot to do with that. It helped bring jobs and organization and vision to communities. The money really does filter down in these villages, and there is a place to go. There’s a building and jobs and organization and vision. It’s been like that for 30 years, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

In the larger sense, in the kind of psychological and communal sense, the settlement has had dramatic impact in villages; village people and Native people developed a real sense of empowerment. I don’t know what better gift we could have gotten than that. I think the settlement was a framework for that empowerment. It’s been very cohesive and a binding force for villages and Native Alaskans. On the political and state and national front, the settlement gave us real and tangible economic power. One formula for power is: money plus authority equals power. It’s undisputed that we have economic power. When our Native corporations are worth between three and four million dollars annually, that’s unquestionable power. It has a very large voice in the legislature, nationally and internationally.

When I was talking about not accepting defeat, one of the things that astounds me is that when this battle was being fought, it was during a time when there was a tide of tribal termination. The Menomonees had been terminated and other tribes were being targeted for termination. This whole thing came about when the tide was shifting back to tribal empowerment and Native empowerment. I think that the Settlement Act helped Native people claim their Nativeness. It wasn’t in vogue to accentuate your Nativeness before that. I think the settlement helped us say that it’s okay to be Native and we’re proud to be Native.

Another interesting facet, in my mind, of this movement is that there was a concerted effort to impose Western values and Western greed and Western individualism on Native people. Our negotiators worked within that framework and superimposed very traditional Native values into that framework. What other corporations do we see with a 7(i) provision? Where there’s such pronounced sharing and generosity among other Native groups? That 70 percent of your profits are going to go into a pool to help the groups that may not be able to generate that kind of revenue, or that may not have lucrative enterprises is such a Native idea! How awesome that we could grasp that and incorporate it into the framework we were working around.

Even though we, as Native people, have title to land because of this settlement act, there isn’t a feeling of individual ownership the way I think it was perhaps intended. There’s still a high, high degree of communal ownership. Yes, that might be our land in title, but we’re still stewards of the land, and we’re still here as guests on this land. This land isn’t ours personally; we’re preserving it for our next generation.

Another interesting facet of this, I see as a Native person who came after its enactment, is the sense of corporate stewardship -- the fact that our corporations recognize a social responsibility. I don’t think this is very typical of big business. There’s a pronounced concern about shareholder hire and making sure that Native people are taken care of in ways that are not paralleled in other corporations.

The final point I would like to make is that I think some people see corporate Natives and tribal Natives as groups that might be at odds with one another, or groups that work autonomously from one another. I really don’t see that. I think I might have had that idea before I went to the legislature, but since I’ve been there, I see them as two arms of the same body. Or, if you want to think of it in militarist terms, two fronts in the same battle. I think they are mutually supportive, and they work in concert together to a large degree. Our corporations, because of their economic power, have the resources to send attorneys to Juneau to fight for subsistence and other areas where our rights are at risk. I feel a large degree of gratitude toward the people who set this framework up and continue to advocate for Native people.

Having said that, however, I do want to put on the record that as a beneficiary, and not as a shareholder, I do feel a certain degree of frustration in that although I’m a beneficiary, I really don’t have an active voice in my corporation because I’m not a shareholder. I’m non-Native in that I don’t have a vote. I don’t even have a proxy really, and that’s frustrating, but it won’t always be like that. I know that one day I’ll be a shareholder, but under unfortunate circumstances. Unless shares are gifted to me, I will become a shareholder in the event of a death, which isn’t something I’m terribly looking forward to. That’s light frustration.

Overall, I feel more of a sense of gratitude and respect for the work that has been done before me and all the benefits I have inherited as an Alaskan and as an Alaska Native. So with that, I think I’ll leave it to questions or give my time up to someone else.

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