During the years of the land claims movement Alaska Native leadership was fairly fluid with a core group supported by many others from around the state who made valuable contributions when the time was right. In the final months before ANCSA was signed into law by President Richard Nixon, Don Mitchell describes an atmosphere of argument and distrust within AFN. In spite of this the core group of Alaska Native leaders including Don Wright, John Borbridge and Willie Hensley continued their work with the support of non-Natives like Oklahoma Senator Fred Harris. When ANCSA was signed into law there was mixed reaction to the recorded speech in Anchorage with many Alaska Natives wondering what the contents of the bill really contained.
Upon the completion of Module 7 a student will be able to
- List at least five Alaska Native leaders who were most influential in the final push for a land claims bill in Congress.
- Identify at least two national non-Native figures influential in the passage of ANCSA.
- Describe the event held in Anchorage at the passage of ANCSA.
Module 7 reading assignment:
- Mitchell: Chapter 5, “ANCSA,’ pp. 418-493
If you have not already read the text of ANCSA this would be the right time to begin. The language is complicated even for a legal scholar, and the text requires very careful study to really understand the content. There was a significant difference in ability to interpret ANCSA between well educated men like Willie Hensley and John Borbridge and the people they represented at home in the villages. The village residents lacked understanding both of the contents of ANCSA and the incredibly difficult process the leaders underwent to get it passed. As implementation got underway, and Alaska Natives whose involvement in the land claims movement had been low-key became involved with the new corporations, the challenges that actually running the corporations involved became clear. Alice Petrivelli describes her career story of starting work for her regional corporation as a receptionist in 1972, moving up to board membership and holding almost every position on the board until she became the first woman president of an Alaska Native regional corporation in 1990. She provides a very clear description of just how complicated implementation really was.
Edgar Blatchford also discusses the kinds of things that Alaska Natives had to learn about ANCSA as they went along and the hostility they encountered from non-Natives in the state. He describes the work of Alaska Native leaders like Senator John Sackett who worked from within the State Legislature to help with the implementation of ANCSA.
Implementation of ANCSA was an adventure for everyone involved. Managing large sums of money, finding places to safely and profitably invest it, dealing with the needs of shareholders with no understanding of what a corporation was or how it worked and doing all of this with almost none of the infrastructure a mainstream corporation would have presented challenges far beyond anything the average CEO or corporate board member would ever dream of encountering. To say that infrastructure was lacking is probably a polite understatement; in many of the villages where corporations were now to be headquartered there were no roads, no grid electricity, probably only one or two phones and a mail plane twice a week.
It should not be a surprise that some of the village residents did not understand what had taken place in Washington. Very few of the non-Native leaders involved in finalizing ANCSA had any real idea themselves of what village life was like, or how difficult it might actually be to implement the different requirements of their bill. The final version of the Act was a complicated document with some provisions that probably proved far more difficult to implement than those who included them had intended, but it provided Alaska Natives with box of tools they continue to use effectively today.
This unit’s speakers Edgar Blatchford and Alice Petrivelli discuss some of challenges encountered during the early phases of ANCSA implementation. Discuss these challenges and how you might have dealt with them yourself.
Audio and Video files for this unit are located here
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