Chancellor Lee Gorsuch: I certainly hope so, and I want to encourage anyone who would like to enroll in courses. We have, in the Native Studies Program, courses on the Settlement Act and other related topics that provide students the opportunity to really engage in some of the scholarship. I do hope that we’ll continue to keep this oral history alive.
As Tommy mentioned, half of the ANCSA signatories have since passed on, so I think it is important to capture this history. In addition to the classes we’re offering, I think it’s very important just to try to capture that, and I’ll just put a plug in for this other concept that is trying to capture as much of this history as possible. I mentioned to Emil that throughout the entire period of AFN’s meetings and the meetings of the Land Use Planning Commission, Chuck Imig recorded 6,000 hours of video tape. This is an actual transcript of the words that were said and the dynamics in play. I hope that if those tapes haven’t been lost in terms of their quality, we can digitize them and make them available to the entire state of Alaska. That’s just one small project, but I think it would be very helpful in capturing this important part of the State of Alaska’s history.
Tom Richards: Thank you, Chancellor. I think I’ll move down to the other end here and ask this question of Emil. This person says I think Native people wanted tribal status and sovereignty in the Settlement Act. It was the non-Natives who wanted otherwise. Please comment. I’ll give you the easy ones.
Emil Notti: There was always a question of what it would be. When we held meetings, we had as many as 800 people in the room, and we met from early in the morning until sometimes as late as 11:00 at night, and everything was on the table and open for discussion. It was more or less by consensus that we arrived at the positions we took. We did not advocate the amount of land or money or status without these extensive meetings and discussions about what we were to convey the official position of Native people in Alaska. When we were testifying, we were asked who we represented and how it was that we were there purporting to represent Native people in Alaska. That was our answer. We had meetings. We had delegates from the villages, and various associations around the state and we had open arguments about all the issues. It wasn’t something that we arrived at haphazardly. It was something that was arrived at by consensus. William, I’m sure, might have something on that.
Willie Hensley: The reality was that most of us were too young to have experienced the tribal organizations. You have to understand that by the mid 1960s, a number of villages were already beginning to incorporate as cities under the Village Incorporation Act that went into effect after Alaska became a state. We had one traditional council, Noatak, in our region, which was actually quite a conservative group. They were one of the earliest ones to get on board in terms of trying to go after a land claims settlement. We had governance in our part of the world before the westerners came. On the other hand, some of the early teachers apparently were instrumental in getting our villages to organize under the IRAs, all of our communities had IRA Councils. The one in Kotzebue, I think, became a dead letter and I couldn’t tell you why unless it was because they were required to speak English or something and maybe the real leaders probably didn’t want to have to do that. I don’t know what the history was really, but we do have an IRA in Kotzebue. Our family is a member of that.
But as I was saying earlier, the question of whether or not the settlement was administered through tribal entities was never really a major topic of discussion in the federation. There were leaders who were as much responsible for pushing what came through as any of the rest of us, who, of course, became major proponents of tribalism, which is okay. That is an issue that, to me, has yet to be played out from a historical standpoint. I can understand the fact that we’re burdened with oodles of entities that are quite confusing between boroughs and cities and school districts and corporations and this and that. For anybody coming from the outside, this is very confusing. The notion of having a simple tribal entity own the land and just happen to also run the business sounds pretty good to me. You know? Because in a sense, a government has a greater role to play in life. A tribal government can, in fact, engage in the continuity of the group through language and cultural events and traditional events. That’s a proper role, and it’s going to take time for all of that to get sorted out.
Audience Member: Willie, at one point I had a project looking into the recognition of Alaska Native tribes. I think it was back in the mid 1970s. There really was nothing in law but the promulgation of regulations by the Secretary of the Interior where there was a list, per se. There are lots of different statutes that make reference to “Alaska Native villages shall for the purposes of this legislation be recognized as a tribe.” In fact one of the issues that came up in some instances was whether or not regional and village corporations should be regarded as a tribe, for purposes of implementing certain provisions like the Indian Finance Act. There was a fair amount of, how should I say it, inventiveness about when it would be referred to as a tribe or when it would be a traditional village or when it would be recognized for different statutory purposes.
Back then, in 1971, there wasn’t a frame of reference. It was traditional councils in Native villages and those were the frames of reference in the Settlement Act itself. This was really sort of an effort to try to draw a parallel between Alaska and the Lower 48 experience and the two were never exactly the same, and this has led to a lot of confusion. It will continue to be an evolution of how that term, and the rights that are attached to it, will be interpreted through the assertion of different rights and perhaps going through courts and maybe even in subsequent legislation.