Return to Part I – Land claims movement and legislative process

Unit 3 – Alaska Land Freeze

Alaska Natives had prominent leaders before ANCSA but very few had any direct dealings with the U.S. Congress. The urgent need to settle land claims propelled a number of younger Natives into front-line leadership roles and took several of them to Washington to work with Congress on behalf of their people. Much of the work that culminated in ANCSA took place far away from Alaska. Representatives of the Alaska Native community had to learn the workings of the US Congress and White House. When legislation reaches Congress it takes on a life of its own and passage requires the support of many players. The settlement that is ANCSA today is the product of work by members of the House and Senate, many of whom had their own agendas to satisfy.

Learning Objective:
Upon completion of Module 3 a student will be able to

  1. Identify at least ten major participants, both Native and non-Native, in the Alaska Native land claims movement.
  2. Explain the Alaska “Land Freeze.’
  3. Describe the history of the legislative process leading up to ANCSA.
  4. Describe the respective roles of the State of Alaska and the federal government in the ANCSA legislative process.

Module 3 reading assignment:

Lecture Notes:
The Alaska Native leaders who participated in the ANCSA settlement negotiations and the implementation that followed came from very diverse backgrounds and cultures. It is a frequent misconception that all Alaska Natives led similar lives prior to ANCSA or had shared common experiences. While there were certainly some things that all Alaska Natives had probably experienced as a group such as prejudice, pre-emption of resources by in-comers, and imposition of foreign laws on their communities there were many other experiences that were applicable only to certain regions or to specific individuals.

Some but not all Alaska Natives attended BIA run boarding schools within the state; others attended school in the lower 48 states or were already living in urban areas of Alaska where they could access state run education. Some leaders like Willie Hensley, John Borbridge and Emil Notti had college educations. Several also had well established careers within the mainstream economy. Others had grade school educations or less, and moved directly from a traditional subsistence-based lifestyle to working on land claims. Nineteen distinct languages were spoken in Alaska and in many communities English (if it was used at all) was a second language in the 1960s.

Life experiences of different groups around the state varied widely; the Unangan people of the Aleutian Islands were the only Alaskan group to experience forced evacuation and internment during World War II. The Natives of the Aleutians, Southeast and the Kodiak Archipelago were the first to experience semi-permanent foreign settlement and forced takings of resources beginning in the mid 1700s. Compare this with the Gwich’in of Northeast Alaska and Yukon Territory; some living elders now ninety years old or more can relate stories of meeting their first white man in their late twenties or early thirties. During the 1850s commercial whaling by non-Natives commenced in Northwest and Arctic Alaska waters; while few whalers took up residence, their regular visits altered trading and subsistence patterns and   introduced the Inupiat to some aspects of the Euro-American lifestyle.

The Tlingit and Haida of Southeast had the most experience with non-Native settlement, and extensive dealings with the US government with land claims starting in the 1930s while Natives in much of the rest of the state had never dealt directly with anything beyond very local forms of non-Native government. While some Alaska Natives had been living in settled communities for extended periods others were still pursuing a semi-nomadic lifestyle as late as the 1960s.

These varied backgrounds meant that Alaska Natives from different parts of the state experienced relationships with state and federal governments quite differently from each other.

The Alaska Native leaders who worked in the land claims movement during the 1960s had to negotiate with both federal and state government. While the federal government was the major player because it was the only government allowed by law to negotiate over Native lands, the State of Alaska had a strong stake in participation because the final settlement affected it in so many ways. There were a number of factions within the State that were adamantly against Alaska Natives receiving land in the settlement. Alaska Native claims were viewed as something that was holding up development and there was concern that if land was “given’ (this was the incorrect term used by many non-Natives in the State) to Alaska Natives it would never be available for development. The State took the position that there was no legal basis for Alaska Native land claims, only a moral one, and that this could be satisfied with a minimum of land and money.

The federal government knew that there was indeed a legal issue, and took a very different view. In 1966 then Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall placed a freeze on any further land selection by the State pending settlement of Alaska Native land claims. This increased the interest of the State in seeing the claims settled since both the construction of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, and the acquisition of other lands which the state might use to raise revenue, were both impeded. When Walter Hickel succeeded Stewart Udall as Secretary he continued the freeze.

Various members of Congress played extremely important roles in the legislative process leading up to   ANCSA and this unit will introduce them and discuss the parts they played. The agendas that these law-makers brought with them to the table were strongly influenced by several major changes in U.S. law and policy that were taking place concurrent to the ANCSA negotiations (some say that there were no real negotiations because of the uneven balance of power between Alaska Natives and the U.S. government).

Study Questions:
This unit discusses the Alaska land freeze. If the land freeze had not been imposed would Alaska Natives have been able to recover lands selected by the State ahead of the passage of ANCSA? What do you think the ANCSA negotiations would have looked like without the land freeze in place?

Google Search: Charles Edwardsen, Jr. or “Etok’ Stewart Udall Alaska Land Freeze

Audio and Video for this unit are located here

Please click on a thumbnail to start a slide show.

Permanent link to this article:

Images for Unit 3

Media for Unit 3

Listen to following audio recordings: John Sackett — Fairbanks Native Association, Project Jukebox. Interview by Bernice Joseph, December 13, 1991. On-line at: Richard Frank — Fairbanks Native Association, Project Jukebox. Interview by William Schneider, October 2, 1991. On-line at: View the following video clips: 1. Alfred Ketzler, Sr. — Land Claims Movement and …