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History and Culture

Home  >  History and Culture  >  Ancsa at 30  >  Lecture Series
Lecture Series, Number Four  -  Page 4
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E. Lee Gorsuch
Chancellor Lee Gorsuch: So much in life, things just happen, not necessarily planned. I was working with an economic consulting firm in Washington, D.C., called Robert R. Nathan and Associations. It turned out that my boss, Bob Nathan, was a prominent Democrat who had been active in the Roosevelt administration and got to know Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg. He also became very active in the Americans for Democratic Action and became close friends with Senator Scoop Jackson and Senator Hubert Humphrey. They shared a certain philosophical position and took very progressive positions by way of national public policy. When Justice Goldberg was asked to represent the Alaska Federation of Natives before the United States Congress, he thought it would be a good idea to try to combat the notion that Congress was unreceptive to the idea of per capital settlements, because historically they had not generated any lasting benefits. Therefore, if there was some kind of presentation of an economic plan as to how the proceeds of the settlement would be used. That would be a very helpful way to convince Congress that this would leave a lasting legacy.

So the two them, Justice Goldberg and my boss, went up to the Ford Foundation. They talked to another Democrat who is now the president, George Bundy, and convinced him to support an economic study in Alaska as part of an arsenal for the lobbying effort before the United States Congress. Now again, serendipity raised its head. Congress passed the tax reform act in 1968 and suddenly the Ford Foundation could not grant money to an organization that was politically active. That stymied, essentially, the transfer of this study for about two and a half years. AFN then had to go through the process of creating a tax-exempt organization, the AFN Charitable Trust. Now only Emil and others can tell you why it took two and half years to create that non-profit organization. The long and the short of it was that by the time I was dispatched to Alaska to help prepare this economic study, the parameters of the Settlement Act were very well crafted.

I came up in March of 1971. By that time, essentially, the really heavy lobbying efforts were well underway and it was clear that nothing I did would have any significant impact on the form of the settlement. In fact, it seemed quite clear that there would be a settlement in the very near future. Therefore, I shifted my attention to trying to prepare for the actual implementation of the Settlement Act, and I had the pleasure of working with Emil Notti and Roy Ewan and Juanita Corwin and then subsequently with Perry Eaton, Roger Lang and Judy Brady as we tried to go about the task of identifying what would be required to make the Settlement Act an implementable piece of public policy.

I was going to share a few thoughts that I had on the actual process of implementation. Before I do, I want to step back and make a few comments. Guy Martin commented last month that it’s important to put the Native Settlement Act within a broader context. The context for me was that we had just gone through a battle for civil rights through the leadership of Lyndon Johnson. We went into the “War on Poverty,” trying to create empowerment for communities that were basically disadvantaged and disposed. We had youth speaking out, as well as minorities, who were opposed to the Vietnam War. There was an essential element nationally for the assertion of voices that previously had been silenced and did not have a voice. The Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) had its impact up in Alaska. Many of the nonprofit organizations were beneficiaries of OEO grants that helped subsidize some of the activities. RuralCap and John Shively and others played an active role in the collaboration. There was a national movement that began to manifest itself here. That movement converged with the push toward statehood; the provisions that there would be a settlement for Alaska Natives and their dispossession of lands previously occupied. That convergence came together along with the construction of the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline, which created a significant impetus for a settlement.

I want to make the point that it was not simply a matter of economics, in terms of building the pipeline. I genuinely believe there was a social consciousness that was sympathetic to a just settlement. The justice of the settlement, however, became extraordinarily political. I also want to comment that notwithstanding the political forces that were larger than any individual, individuals played really heroic roles in taking advantage of these currents and exercising leadership that advanced these claims to their full fruition with the passage of a Congressional act in December of 1971.

If there’s any message I would like to impart to young people, it is that individuals make an incredible difference. Emil Notti just commented about the difference that Albert Kaloa, Jr. made, and Nick Gray, and Howard Rock, but I can tell you, sitting here, there are scores of Alaska Natives and friends of Natives who also made incredible differences within their own respective regions. I had the good fortune of meeting Phillip Guy, who was from Kwethluk, and working with Robert Nick who was from Nunapitchuk, and Ray Christiansen who was the Senator from the district. All around the state there were Native leaders coming to the fore trying to represent the interests of their communities.

Just as there were national politics, all of you should know that there were politics at the village level. There were politics at the regional level. There were politics at the AFN level. There were politics between AFN and the state. There were politics between AFN and Native national organizations. This was an incredibly complex piece of legislation that was trying to negotiate its way through people who had enormous interests. There were clear ground rules in place that put parameters around what could be negotiated. Somebody mentioned, I think the month before last, that Wayne Aspinall, who was the chairman of the House Interior Affairs Committee, made it quite clear that there would be two choices and two choices only. The Alaska Natives could take their land in trust, as had been all previous settlements, or they could take it in fee simple title as a corporation. He was not going to tolerate writing a whole new set of statutes. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was in ill favor at that time. I think the Alaska Native leadership felt that under those circumstances, they preferred to go independently, and they were forced into the choice of taking the land in the corporate form of fee simple.

It was clear they had no choice in terms of dealing with these settlement issues, except for the United States Congress. The Indian Court of Claims, which historically had been the entity to which Native American tribes would go, was unable to award land in any settlement of its cases. If the Native community was to have, as a part of its settlement, the receipt of land entitles, it had to come from the United States Congress. There were many controlling forces that made it necessary for this to be a Congressional act. There were clear parameters about the form the act would take. There were many interested parties, each of whom were lobbying for their respective positions as this act began to go forward. Not the least of which, of course, were the environmental organizations who, as they saw Alaska State getting its 103 million acres of entitlement and the Alaska Native community picking up its 44 million acres of land, wanted park lands, the wild and scenic rivers, the forest lands and so forth. This really became a powerful mix of different interested parties, each of whom was trying to take advantage of this settlement to bring clarity to what they each saw as their sort of just entitlement.

Having said that, I want make a few comments around the implementation of the Settlement Act. I studied public policy, and I can tell you that the actual language of the statute is only half of its actuality. Half of the meaning of the Settlement Act came in its implementation. People had to interpret what it meant to be an Alaskan Native and what it meant to be an Alaska Native village. People had to interpret all the provisions of the Settlement Act. Many of those acts of interpretation continue today. I remember the attempt to identify Alaska Natives; this was an enormous undertaking. People were literally scattered all over the world. The effort of trying to identify who would be a shareholder was a precondition to being able to set up any kind of election process on the part of the corporations. That was an enormous effort. Issues had to be made about what it meant to be a resident of a Native village under the Settlement Act. If you were a resident of a village, you became a member of that village. If you were living somewhere else at the time, the decision had to be made, for example, to what extent could you declare residency back at your village site, even if you’d been gone for 20 or 30 years? In some cases, it was quite difficult.

Out on the Aleutian Chain, much of the population, in some cases majorities of the population, in some of the villages had left the villages, which created an interesting dynamic. On the one hand, there was an incentive to increase the residency of the village by inviting people who had left to continue to be part of the role, because it would increase the land entitlement to the village. At the same time, the lingering effect would be that they would have a vote. To the extent they had a different point of view about how those village assets and lands should be used, it could create a conflict between the folks who lived in the village and those who lived away from the village. Everyone had to make a very critical decision from the very beginning about where they were going to be enrolled.

There were also provisions that had not been contemplated. If you didn’t enroll at a village, could you be enrolled in region at large -- not declare a particular village, but still have an attachment to the regional corporation? Those issues began to get resolved. Last month, Sam Kito shared with you that, although he had been born in Southeast and he had been active in various parts of the state, he ended up becoming a shareholder of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, even though that was not his original village residence. A lot of that kind of activity took place as a sorting out of who would be enrolled to which corporation and to which village.

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