ANCSA cleared the way for construction to begin on the trans–Alaska pipeline. It allowed the state government to continue its selection of land promised in the Alaska Statehood Act. ANCSA also started a process that turned one quarter of Alaska into national parks and monuments. But for Alaska’s Natives it raised more questions than it answered.
The Native corporations have changed Alaska in other ways. Before ANCSA, only about one half of one percent of all Alaska land was privately owned. When ANCSA placed 44 million acres under Native control, those 44 million acres became privately owned. That is more than 15 times as much private land than before the passage of ANCSA in 1971.
Section 7 of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act created the regional Native corporations. It was these, along with the village corporations, that received the land and money of the settlement (Laster, 1986).
The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act is not very big, but it has had a tremendous impact on the state. The act contains many components, all with the same potential for far-reaching benefits or negative consequences.
What do the corporations created by ANCSA actually do? In most ways they are like any other corporation. They’re expected to make a profit. The Native corporations invest heavily in the economic growth of Alaska.
Native leaders became effective lobbyists against some of the most powerful political and business leaders in the world. It all made for some interesting alliances. By the end of 1971 a compromise had been reached, and the land claims legislation had been passed by both bodies of Congress. In December, back in Anchorage, a special AFN convention was called to vote on the act as passed by Congress. On December 18th, the AFN delegates voted to accept the act, 511 to 56.
There was a dispute over who rightfully owned it. And, how many acres should be owned by all of us, protected in national parks and wildlife refuges? In 1971 an act of Congress was passed that ended the fight over who owns most of Alaska’s land. This act was the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
Although facing many pressures over the years, Native culture has persisted in Alaska. This was due to many dedicated people and groups who kept Native heritage alive. The Alaska Native Brotherhood originally promoted efforts to suppress Native language and traditions. However, the organization led the revival of aboriginal culture by adopting traditional rules, procedures, and protocol for their meetings. By the late 1980s, the Tlingit language was spoken only by people over the age of 50. Nora Dauenhauer and several respected traditional scholars offered Tlingit language classes and developed curriculum materials. Although children are no longer speaking Tlingit as their first language, they continue to sing Tlingit songs in dance groups, learn cultural traditions at culture camps, and experience firsthand the vibrancy of their Native culture in action at ku.éex’, totem pole raisings, and other celebrations.
In 1971, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) was passed by Congress. The act extinguished aboriginal title for Alaska Natives. In return, Alaska Native people were compensated $1 billion and were allowed to retain ownership of 44 million acres of land. However, it is important to note that this means Alaska Natives had to give up the rest of the land (380.5 million acres), which was not granted to the corporations, for less than $3 an acre. The original legislation called for creation of twelve profit-making regional corporations and paved the way for approximately 239 village corporations to oversee the money and land. Although Haines, Petersburg, Ketchikan, Tenakee Springs, and Wrangell were historically Tlingit villages, they were not allowed to establish village corporations because their populations were mostly non-Tlingit or there were less than twenty-five Native residents living there at the time. A later ANCSA amendment allowed Ketchikan to form a corporation and receive land. Haines, Petersburg, Wrangell and Tenakee have not yet received lands.