December 18, 1971, twelve years after statehood, an answer was given to the question on how to implement the Trans-Alaska Pipeline project and settle the outcry for the aboriginal claims to the lands of the indigenous peoples of America’s most northern state. It was presented in the form of the Alaskan Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). The words spoken in the response detailed 44 million acres of quality Alaskan land, deeded and conveyed to over 200 corporations that were setup to represent the villages and the 12 newly formed regional corporations in Alaska, one corporation to represent Alaskan Native outside of Alaska, and $962 million to nearly 80,000 Natives.
The speaker was the congress of the United States of America. The goal was a successful alternative to the failed reservation system that our lower 48 cousins had endured, in which most were removed from their ancestral lands, and relocated into the through away lands of the continental US (although two tribes opted for reservations instead of corporations in Alaska).
We, as Alaskan Natives, went from clans to regional corporations; from tribal structure to village corporation structure. Our values and direction were once articulated through the words of their Elders. Now they are laid out in the business polices and mission statements for our corporations.
40+ years later, Alaskan Natives still traverse into the territory that is nonetheless sometimes strange and foreign. At one time the Athabascan people would go with others from their tribe and clans to learn about survival and how to contribute to their community. Now we become interns and learn from our mentors on how to become the hunters and warriors of the business world. In the time of pre-contact, we would hunt game to feed our families and reduce predators. Now we hunt opportunities to create jobs to create income and build lodges and setup programs to bring in trophy hunters to manage predator control, so our communities are safe and the animals we rely on to feed us can grow abundantly.
When a tribe was hit with hard time, another tribe would bring food and supplies to contribute to the other tribe’s survival. In the modern day history of our corporations, we sold our hard times to other corporations as Net Operating Losses. For the struggling corporation, it was a cash asset. For the other corporation, it was a tax break. There is a belief that he who is greatest is the one that can give the most. This is exemplified with 70% of profits from resource revenue being put into a pot that is distributed to all regional and village corporations (sec. 7i of ANCSA). The Native Village of Tyonek showed it when they donated 100,000 dollars to the Alaska Federation of Natives and loaned another 100,000 dollars to fund the movement of the Native land claims. This is the way struggling villages survived.
We as Natives have come a long way with this change from fur-trading to portfolios. Where we once gauged the seasons and weather to gain the benefit of food and trade; they now gauge the trends of markets to gain the benefits of conservation and commerce.
With the Indian Reorganization Act, we became federally recognized as a governing body to pursue our own endeavors outside the Bureau of Indian Affairs. With ANCSA, we took our right to provide for ourselves and legitimized it with in the legal system of the United States. At one time we fought for recognition. Then we fought for the right of survival on our ancestral land. Now we fight for a thriving community that upholds the Native traditional beliefs and provide for modern needs with modern technologies fused with traditional ways.
In our grandparent’s and parent’s time, the fight was against the exploitations of special interests. Today the fight is much the same, but the ones that once seemed our enemies are now proponents for their cause. The Sierra Club is a good example of the modern community coming together, with their efforts to preserve Alaska’s pristine landscape.
It is the Native belief that the generation today is not the owners of the land, but the stewards of their children’s land. This means that our happiness is development and conservation that has a benefit that can be held for generations to come.
From a corporate standpoint, this means providing the benefit of a lasting system for dividends and a system for the management of our lands that will protect and enhance it and provide for social wellbeing. From the perspective of Alaska Carbon Exchange and our tribal affiliates, it means traditional education, managed development, and sound conservation.
This modern personification of traditional values in a corporate arena shows that the passage of ANCSA was not a detrimental violation of the established way-of-life for Alaskan Natives. It is rather an evolution to make social beliefs of the Native peoples compatible with the modern structure of the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Non-Natives are now beginning to understand the Native’s view on what this means to them with the social understanding and acceptance of cultural perseverance. Where it was once seen as a special interest act of biasness on the Natives part; it is now seen as an amenable endeavor.