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History and Culture

Home  >  History and Culture  >  Ancsa at 30  >  Lecture Series
Lecture Series, Number Four  -  Page 13
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Tom Richards: Thank you, Willie. I want to pull one of your old legislative tricks and stop the clock -- somebody go unplug the clock. I liked your use of the term Nativity. All these years I’ve been wondering what to tell Bob Arnold when he talks about “your Nativeness.” Nativity is probably appropriate because the Catholic bishops have come out in favor of subsistence preference.

1976 was certainly a big year, I think, for all of us. I do recall your first public statements in response to Senator Gruening. Senator Gruening was very upset with the Interior Department. He’d made a public statement criticizing the Interior Department for, “Making every acre of Alaska subject to the questionable claims of rights by Native protests.”

That’s part of your letter to the editor in which you accused Senator Gruening of creating a prejudiced attitude toward them by his statements. You said, “Compensation in cash would certainly be a simple and quick solution for Congress to buy off Native claims, but it seems that we should be given an opportunity to voice our opinions on the matter.” I’ll take another minute, too, because your 1966 paper on Native land claims was a watershed, I think, for Alaska Natives, our organizations and for the movement to settle the claims. This is what Willie wrote, quote, “A controversy of immense proportions is rapidly coming to a head in Alaska. It is a situation that has leaned dormant except for sporadic outbursts since Alaska was purchased from Russia in 1867. The problem has been skirted by Congress, alternatively grappled with by the Department of the Interior then dropped to allow the furor to settle, kept Alaska political leaders frustrated and the courts have ruled time and again, but never with finality nor clarity. The problem is simply this. What are the rights of the Alaska Natives to the property and resources upon which they have lived since time in memorial.” Pretty neat, Willie.

I enjoyed your comments about the 1966 political campaigns, too. I guess Willie and I kind of hit it off on the wrong spot in terms of political activity. He had run for the State Legislature from the Northwest District and his opponent was my Aunt Evelyn Conwell. She was a Republican. I was a Republican, too, in those days, but I’ve matured a little bit.

Willie Hensley: You know, it’s a small world up north. I’ve known Tommy since before he was germinated. Our houses were next door to each other, and I used to watch his mom and dad making out through the cracks in our storm shed.

Tom Richards: Moving on. Well I’ve got a picture of you with black horned rimmed glasses here, too. I can get to that.

Willie Hensley: I still have them.

Tom Richards: Another interesting thing that happened in the 1966 campaign, this is one of my favorite stories, was before I got to know Senator Gravel as a friend and as an advocate. I’ve since come to respect him very much for what he’s done for our people. That same year you were traveling with Mike Gravel in northwest Alaska, he was traveling in southeast Alaska with Senator Bill Ray. It’s my favorite story, I think, about him until I got to know him better.

They were flying in a floatplane and they pulled into a small community in southeast and were going to spend the night there. The pilot took Bill’s luggage and he took Mike Gravel’s luggage and set them on the float. Gravel thought that Bill Ray was his personal attendant or something. He said, “Would you take care of my suitcase?” Bill Ray said sure and he went over and kicked it off the float.

I didn’t have a chance to tell too many stories today. We want folks to come back up here and address questions from the audience. We won’t have an opportunity to take care of all the questions, however. I’ll give the questions that we’re not able to address today to Dr. Eder so that we can give you individual replies. We’re not going to ignore you.

Chancellor Gorsuch and Bill Van Ness, come back up and join us. Emil, why don’t you join us? You can sit in for Representative Kapsner. Mary caught the 3:00 o’clock plane back to Juneau.

We’re talking about a Friday night gathering. A bunch of us have been doing this for over 30 years. I used to call it Old Farts Nights until mom told me not to do that anymore. We were talking yesterday about how parental involvement makes a tremendous difference in education, when the parents are partners with the teachers in educating the kids. I was thinking of that today when Mary told us she had to go back to Juneau because it was very important for her to get home in time to tuck her little baby boy into bed. I thought oh, how neat. It’s unfortunate she can’t be here, but I can sure respect her family interests.

We’ll start -- this one sounds like an appropriate question for the chancellor. These past panel discussions have been very informative, however they do not feel to be enough. Is there going to be more panels in the future? I’ll put you on the spot here.

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