Return to Part I – Land claims movement and legislative process

Unit 4 – ANCSA and policy in the 60s

A search into the history of the ANCSA negotiations can bring up a confusing muddle of draft bills concerning Alaska Natives’ land claims, most of which are quite unlike the final document. Sometimes the question arises as to why passage of the bill took so long when such a large oil development project was being held up due to disputed access. ANCSA represents a dramatic departure from any previous land claims agreements and treaties between Natives and the federal government. At no previous time in U.S. history had an aboriginal land claim been settled with the transfer of fee simple title from the government to the tribes, and the acreage and monetary amount were certainly larger than any previous settlements.

Learning Objective:
At the completion of Module 4 a student will be able to

  1. Identify the major Alaska Native leaders involved with the U.S. Congress on the land claims issue.
  2. Identify the most active members of the U.S. Congress involved in the land claims legislative process.
  3. Describe what major events were taking place in the United States during this period that may have impacted the passage of ANCSA.

Module 4 reading assignment:

  • Mitchell: Chapter 3, “Nineteen Sixty-Nine,’ pp. 197-267.
  • Gallagher: Chapters 11-12, pp. 166-212

Lecture Notes:
The 1950s federal Indian policy of termination had been singularly unsuccessful and by the early 1960s termination was falling out of favor with both the Johnson Administration and Congress. Tribes that had been terminated were petitioning to be restored, (Nixon signed the Menominee Restoration Act in 1973 ending ten years of terminated status for the Menominee tribe). The Johnson Administration was followed by the Nixon Administration in promoting self determination for tribes and the strengthening of tribal governments. A move was underway to encourage American Indians and Alaska Natives to take more control over the future health of their communities.

Some members of Congress like Senators Fred Harris and Ted Kennedy were actively promoting the interests of tribes and both were instrumental in support of Alaska Natives during the land claims legislative process. Others, often those in states with large reservation populations were not in favor of a large land settlement. With the civil rights movement and the war on poverty underway in the Lower 48 the rights of American Indians and Alaska Natives were brought into a stronger focus. Congress passed the Indian Civil Rights Act in 1968. In 1969 a group of American Indians and some Alaska Natives began an occupation of Alcatraz Island that lasted 19 months bringing publicity to a wide variety of Native issues.

On July 8th, 1970, President Richard Nixon officially ushered in the era of “self determination without termination.’ In a  Special Message to the Congress on Indian Affairs Nixon said: “It is long past time that the Indian policies of the Federal government began to recognize and build upon the capacities and insights of the Indian people. Both as a matter of justice and as a matter of enlightened social policy, we must begin to act on the basis of what the Indians themselves have long been telling us. The time has come to break decisively with the past and to create the conditions for a new era in which the Indian future is determined by Indian acts and Indian decisions.’

While Nixon supported self determination for the tribes there were apparently still some in Congress who harbored termination and assimilation sentiments because ANCSA contained elements of both. As you study the history and progression of ANCSA you will see where Congress veered from the path of self-determination for tribes and tried an entirely different policy, leaving tribes themselves out of the final settlement. “The ANCSA mandate for state-chartered corporations to control Alaska Native assets instead of tribal  governments represented a divergence from any other agreement between Natives and the U.S. government that were all done on a  “government-to-government” basis.

Study Questions:
This Unit places ANCSA in context with events and changes of policy taking place on the national scene during the 1960s. If Alaskan statehood had come a decade earlier and Alaska Native land claims had taken place against the backdrop of the termination era of the 1950s what do you think would have been the outcome of the ANCSA negotiations? Would it have been the same or different, and why?

Video & Audio:

Emil Notti — Establishing boundaries and early ANCSA implementation

Please click on a thumbnail to start a slide show.


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