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.
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.
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.
The Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA) was founded in 1935 and was the first federally recognized tribal government representing the Tlingit and Haida people. It was founded in response to efforts and actions undertaken by the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood in their effort to obtain a representative and federally recognized tribal government. An initial function of the Central Council was to bring suit against the United States for aboriginal claims. The Central Council believed the federal government had unfairly taken lands from Native people in Alaska when it created the Tongass National Forest, Glacier Bay National Monument, and the Annette Island Reservation. The Central Council believed the land taken from the Tlingit and Haida was worth $80 million. The government valued the land at $3 million. A court-appointed commissioner estimated the land to be worth $16 million. The Tlingit and Haida were only awarded $7.5 million, however, as it was all the government was willing to pay. William L. Paul, the first Alaska Native lawyer, noted that the value of the timber sold from their forests totaled more than $600 million alone and recommended an appeal. But in 1968 the Central Council accepted the award. Claims for the remaining 2.5 million acres, which included hunting and fishing grounds, were carried over to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971.
The Alaska Native Brotherhood was founded in 1912. Originally, there were thirteen members: twelve men and one woman. By the mid-1920s, there were chapters, or camps, in many Tlingit villages, and an affiliate organization, the Alaska Native Sisterhood. The brotherhood and sisterhood fought for the rights of Alaska Natives. Their efforts were helped when brothers Louis and William Paul joined the brotherhood. These two men led many of the legal and political battles for the organization.
In 1880, Chief Kaawaa’ee, a Tlingit of the Aak’w Kwáan, led Joe Juneau and Dick Harris to gold. Prior to the gold find, the non-Native population in Alaska was less than 400. After the discovery, thousands of miners and settlers arrived. This put pressure on Tlingit land. The Organic Act of 1884 established a land district (a type of administrative land division) and branches of government in Alaska. The law gave title to land held by non-Native people in the new territory, but did not allow Alaska Natives to acquire title to their land. The first duty of the new land office was to give legal title to mining claims. A number of Tlingit people attempted to file mining claims, but were denied because they were not United States citizens. Although the Tlingit still owned southeast Alaska under aboriginal title (a common law doctrine that the land rights on indigenous people persist even after settler colonialism), they did not benefit from wealth generated by the mineral resources
Kohklux’s map is the earliest known recording of southwestern Yukon. It portrays three-dimensional views of mountains along rivers and lakes that are clearly recognizable. The map is scaled—not in distance, but in the number of travel days between points. It also contains information about caches, villages, events, and living conditions. The map indicates an extensive knowledge of the land and the people. This knowledge was likely gathered from several sources, including both oral history and firsthand experience.
The 1880 treaty was a typical federal policy and practice that failed to recognize Indian land ownership and functioned to transfer power to American hands.
The Navy altered the Tlingit way of life in many ways. For example, the Navy told the Tlingit of American ownership of their former lands and introduced new rules around land ownership and usage. Prior to American confiscation of Tlingit lands, each clan owned and controlled specific geographical areas, and set guidelines for hunting and fishing. In 1881, Commander Henry Glass promoted the signing of a formal peace treaty between the
Stikine Tlingit at Wrangell and the Xutsnoowú Tlingit at Angoon. This agreement contained language that regulated Tlingit hunting and fishing, and removed Tlingit jurisdiction and control over their former lands. The Navy also displaced Tlingit people from their traditional homeland, which violated the 1867 Treaty of Cession.
In 1867, Russia signed the Treaty of Cession which governed the sale of Alaska to the United States for $7.2 million. The Tlingit people living in Alaska were upset with the deal. They kept their independence during the Russian occupation and believed they owned the land of Southeast Alaska. Several councils of Tlingit clan leaders met to discuss their objections to the sale. In 1869, the clan leaders registered an official complaint with the United States Treasury Department that Alaska was sold without their consent. This effort was the beginning of Tlingit and Haida legal efforts and diplomacy to obtain title to their land.
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