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History and Culture

Home  >  History and Culture  >  Ancsa at 30  >  Lecture Series
Lecture Series, Number Four  -  Page 6
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Tom Richards: Thank you, Lee.

Representative Wayne Aspinall was a congressman from western Colorado, peach country. He was a Democrat, and he’d been chairman of the House Interior Committee for a long time. We were in Sitka on the shore boat. In those days you could go from Japonski Island to Sitka for ten cents. It’s been a while. But the day before, we had attended hearings in Anchorage and Representative Ed Edmondson from Oklahoma, one of the key members of the Interior Insular Affairs Committee and also the Indian Affairs Subcommittee, had come out with a statement in support of the AFN position on settlement of ANCSA.

I went up next to Congressman Aspinall to take his picture, and he was talking with an aide. We were on the shore boat in Sitka. He was fuming, because it was the chairman’s prerogative, I guess. In those days the chairmanship meant a lot more than it does now. Edmondson had been very supportive of Native rights and Aspinall thought he was generous because he’d proposed a 200 thousand acre settlement for Native Claims. But Aspinall turned to his aide and said, “Mr. Edmondson and I do not share the same concept of history.” I think I was the only one who was close enough to hear him say that.

Irene Rowan, originally from Haines and very much involved with Klukwan, Inc., a village corporation in southeast, was on a panel along with John Shively and Mike Irwin, chairman of Doyon, Emil Upicksoun from Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and myself. We’ve been trying to get Irene involved in this lecture series, but she’s been very reluctant. She sits back and laughs once in a while, but yesterday she had a chance to speak. It was over the noon lunch hour. We had the panel at the Alaska Press Club downtown here, their annual meeting. They invited a group of us to talk about ANCSA.

They let me go first, and I was concerned about time so I made a statement that lasted two minutes. Then they moved on to other speakers and they never came back to me. Irene sat next to me and Irene would say, “Oh, let me say this. Oh, let me say this.” Then it came time to wrap up the panel. They had to move on to a workshop.

I’m very sorry; I have to apologize to my Athabaskan friends. The organizer of our panel is vice president of the Alaska Press Club, Diana Campbell. She is the staff writer for the Fairbanks Daily News Miner. She was governing our presentation panel with a stern arm yesterday trying to keep us on track. She came into our meeting room. We had a real good turnout; it was packed. And we’re talking about ANCSA 30 years later. But Irene had talked about 10 times to my one, two-minute comment. She was starting to wrap things up when Diane came in, waved her arm, pointed at her wristwatch and started to call time, telling us to wrap things up. I couldn’t hold on any longer. It just popped into my head and I’m very sorry to the Gwitchens. I said, “Hold on, Gwitchen woman, I have a few comments.” Then I went on for five minutes.

I touched a little bit on some of the assessments of ANCSA that were done about 15 years ago -- the 1985 report of the Alaska Native Review Commission done by the Inuit Circumpolar Conference. I’d like to touch on one statement that was made in the Interior Department’s 1985 report to Congress. The report said, “ANCSA has made a relatively minor contribution in terms of the individual Alaska Native. The impact of a cash settlement, actual and perceived, has been minor as well. It has been estimated that shareholders in rural at large received about $6,500 over the course of the Alaskan Native fund distributions. And those enrolled to village corporations received only about $400. A majority of Alaska Natives surveyed indicated either that ANCSA has had no impact on their lives or that they don’t know whether it has.” Has anything changed? What has changed, Lee?

Chancellor Lee Gorsuch: Well I took strong exception to Berger. I think he had it dead wrong. I think it had an enormously positive benefit, even if people didn’t realize the source of those benefits. There is far more to the exercise of economic power than meets the eye. The silent lobbying that went on, on the part of the Native corporations for all these other pieces of social legislation I’ve referenced, would not have happened if it had not been for the Settlement Act.

This battle we have now on subsistence in the state, who is really helping to finance this in terms of getting the publicity, buying the media time, lobbying through the power of politics? It does not happen at the village level. It happens at the statewide level. It happens at the national level, and it takes money. I hate to be crass about it, but the truth of the matter is that economics is power in our society and if you don’t have it, you don’t have power. The corporations do have power. I think by and large there is a sense of obligation to exercise that power on behalf of their shareholders, even though the shareholders may not get the benefit of a job or may not get the benefit of a dividend. They do get the political benefit of that representation.

I think it has been extraordinarily important for them over the past 20 years or 30 years. I think it’s going to be very important in the next 30 years. It’s clear now that we need more influence to bring resolution to the subsistence question. It’s not going to happen simply through the good conscious of the body politic. It will take some power politics to assist it. I disagreed with Justice Berger then. I still hold that position. I think he was politically and economically naive in his assessment, even though his statements, I think, are factually correct.

Tom Richards: Thank you, Chancellor. Thank the Anchorage Museum for making this facility available to us. We had our third lecture panel here in this auditorium last month. I mentioned it was really an appropriate venue for our lecture. This is the building where Howard Rock’s typewriter is located, the one that he used to write so many of the editorials that motivated so many of us.

I’m not as well organized as I appear. I mislaid William Van Ness’ biography, so I’ll have to try to wing it here. When I met Mr. Van Ness, he was special council to the Senate Interior Committee in Washington, D.C., and then subsequently he became chief council to the Senate Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, working principally for Senator Henry M. Jackson, Scoop Jackson, from Washington State, who was chairman of the committee. After his term with the Senate, Mr. Van Ness established his law firm, which has offices in Washington, D.C., and Seattle. He’s based in the Seattle office, and he’s worked many years on issues related to implementation of ANCSA. He has been a good friend to Alaska Natives and Alaska Native Corporations for a long time, and we’re very pleased to welcome William Van Ness.

William Van Ness: Thank you, Tom.

Tom Richards: I’m thinking about the days when you were working for Senator Jackson as the key counsel for the Senate Interior Affairs Committee. We were talking this morning about the leadership from various Alaska Native groups that were in Washington, D.C., advocating for a settlement of aboriginal claims. I would have thought you would have reacted somewhat strangely to seeing all those young Native leaders come back to D.C. I’ll ask you little more specific questions about that, but first I’d like to invite you to give an overview of your impressions of ANCSA, how you became familiar with Alaska Native issues and how ANCSA has been implemented.

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