Return to Part I – Land claims movement and legislative process

Unit 2 – Formation of AFN

Unit Two introduces students to the Alaska Federation of Natives and the Alaska Native Leaders who were involved in its inception. The organization has survived and grown over the years and is just as important to Alaska Natives today as it was during the land claims era.

Learning Objectives:
Upon the completion of Module 2 a student will be able to:

  1. Identify at least three Alaska Native leaders responsible for the formation of the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN).
  2. Describe at least two obstacles faced by AFN after its inception.
  3. Describe at least two current issues AFN is facing.


Module 2 reading assignment:

Lecture Notes:
The formation of the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) was absolutely vital to the success of Alaska Natives’ push for settlement of land claims. Individual Alaska Native groups were for the most part very small; some of the federally recognized tribes that exist in Alaska today have fewer than one hundred members and there are 229 of these tribes today. There was no possibility that Congress would have dealt individually with each of these tribes over land rights, and even if they had been prepared to, very few of these groups possessed the basic skills, money and infrastructure to participate individually in claims negotiations. There were larger regional groups (these became the regional non-profit corporations that provide a wide variety of social, health and legal services to the tribes today) but none of them were equipped to represent the interests of all Alaska Natives. Alaska Natives as a group are extremely diverse and their interests and priorities were not the same from village to village. A unified voice was essential if land claims were to be successful.

This should not be taken as a suggestion that formation of the organization was easy or that everyone agreed. There was no money available initially to pay officers or even to obtain operating space and equipment. The travel to and from Washington DC that AFN representatives needed to undertake, not to forget lodging and food while they were there, all had to be paid for from a non-existent budget. It speaks to the determination of Alaska Natives to succeed when we hear that AFN was originally funded by passing the hat and running bake sales. Individuals donated money and time to make the organization work, and many of the leaders that worked within the organization did so for little or no pay. As work progressed and publicity increased more money came in enabling people to be paid for their work and allowing the hiring of professional attorneys and lobbyists. When you read the History of AFN webpage you will learn about how Alaska Natives helped each other in the fund raising effort.

AFN is now very important in Alaska. Although it is not the only organization representing Alaska Natives as an overall group, it is the largest and the most powerful. It is also the best financed and therefore best able to undertake the kind of lobbying and political action that are needed, and it is the only organization that represents all Alaska Native entities; tribes, ANCSA corporations, regional non-profit organizations and tribal consortiums. Later during the semester you will have the opportunity to visit the AFN annual convention (either in person or through the media) you will become familiar with the issues that AFN works with today. High on the list you will find subsistence; almost forty years after the passage of ANCSA, subsistence rights placed in jeopardy due to the elimination of aboriginal hunting and fishing rights in ANCSA §4(b) still remain unprotected. Be sure to review the 2009 (or later) list of resolutions in the AFN website as these provide a good picture of the problems facing AFN and its membership today!


Study Questions:
Unit 2 talks about the formation of the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN). Do you think a land claims settlement would have been possible without AFN? Could the settlement of Alaska Natives’ land claims have taken place via treaty negotiations with individual tribes like those that took place during the treaty making era of federal Indian policy? Why or why not?

Google Search: Emil Notti

Audio and Video files for this unit are located here

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Images for Unit 2


Media for Unit 2

1. Emil Notti — Land Claims Movement and Alaska Federation of Natives – Part 1-2 2. Willie Hensley — Native control of land, establishment of the Alaska Federation of Natives 3. Emil Notti – 1973 video clips from Vilda collection, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska’s Digital Archives Democratic Convention elects Emil Notti for Congress. Emil …