POLITICS AND ALASKA NATIVES
One of a Series of Articles on
THE NATIVE LAND CLAIMS
Director, Yupiktak Bista
COMPILED & PRODUCED JOINTLY BY
ALASKA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
CENTER FOR NORTHERN EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH
UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA - FAIRBANKS
Dr. Marshall L. Lind
Commissioner of Education
Director, Center for Northern Educational Research
ARTWORK: CANDACE OWERS
TO THE READER
This booklet is one of a collection of articles written by people
who are interested in Native land claims. As you will see, all of the
people do not agree. They present their ideas for you to read and
discuss. You may be excited about some of their ideas because you
think they are absolutely right, or very wrong. When you have
finished reading the articles, you will probably have done a lot of
thinking about Native land claims and Alaskan politics.
Politics is not an easy field to understand. And yet politics is
what the Native land claims are all about. Most of the articles were
written by people who have spent a lot of time working in the world
of politics. These people have a whole vocabulary which most students
have not yet learned. So, to help students understand the reading,
there is at the beginning of each article a list of definitions of
terms. Any words in italics are explained for you at the beginning of
that article, or an earlier one.
At the end of some articles are questions which you can ask
yourself. In the margin, next to the question are numbers. If you go
back to paragraphs in the article with the same numbers, and reread,
you can increase your understanding. We cannot say you will always
have definite answers but you may form your point of view.
ARTICLES AND AUTHORS
POLITICS AND ALASKA NATIVES
As in any other state in the Union, Alaska has its own parties.
These parties, or political interest groups, are not necessarily just
Republican and Democrat. Within each party there are those who
disagree with party leaders on certain issues. In Alaska one can
generalize about what the political interest groups are. There are
five main political interests, all existing in both parties.
The first "party," one can say, is the State of Alaska or those
people looking out for the best interest, the development of the
state over the development of the cities and the rural areas. For
instance, the state selection of lands in the Prudhoe Bay oil fields
ignored the interests of the North Slope Eskimos. Building the
pipeline is another issue that the state pushes for, ignoring the
disagreeing elements in city and village. The state would see the
pipeline built and money coming in, rather than hold it up for years.
The conservationists in Alaska do not want to risk danger to the
Alaskan ecological system. Men whose goals are to make Alaska an
economically developed state make up a strong interest group.
The second main interest in the State of Alaska, and one that has
had great impact on all Alaskans, is the federal government. Alaska
is a part of the United States; and as a part of the United States it
has to follow and succumb to Washington, D.C. How, then, is the
federal government a political interest?
The federal government for its own needs has withdrawn lands that
both the state and the other parties in Alaskan politics have wanted.
For instance, most of the oil rich North Slope was a naval reserve.
The federal government more or less has control over the Tongas
National Forest, and recently it has withdrawn millions of acres of
land for wildlife refuges and national parks, over the protests of
the state and other interests in Alaska, like the Alaska Natives. It
has also been holding up the building of the pipeline, making it
impossible for Alaska to start making money on it. It has also used
Amchitka for atomic test purposes against the protests of the whole
of Alaskan citizens. The federal government most certainly does play
its part in Alaskan affairs and politics.
The third main interest group in Alaska are the more populated
areas of Alaska, including Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, etc. These
more populated areas, economically and politically more developed
than the rural areas, have their own interests. Although they have
more roads, they want to update them. Although they have more
schools, they want and need more. In other words, their needs and
their interests conflict with those of the rural areas. Both urban
and rural areas are vying for state money. Where that money goes, is
decided by the legislature. Evidently, the urban areas have more
representation, and will therefore have their needs more easily met
than the rural areas of Alaska, who do not have such a large
delegation in Juneau.
The fourth political group, one that is going to have more impact
on affairs in Alaska, is made up of industrial interests like the oil
companies and the fisheries. These groups want to make money from
Alaska; they will do it 35 quickly and cheaply as is possible. Their
priority is not education, health and welfare of Alaskans; it is
profit. This has been illustrated again by the pipeline. The oil
companies want the pipeline built as soon as possible. And they have
their own way of getting what they want as far as government is
concerned. They have money and they use it to buy votes in any
legislature. They are a powerful group and in many instances they get
what they want.
Another way of illustrating the political involvement of
industrial interests in Alaska is the oil companies' suit against the
creation of the North Slope Borough. These oil companies are not
Alaskan, but they will meddle with Alaskan affairs if Alaskans do not
meet their needs, or if Alaskans threaten them. The reasons why the
oil companies are suing against the creation of the North Slope
Borough are obvious. The Borough will only be another taxing agent,
and the oil companies will not stand for it.
The fifth, and last main political interest group in Alaska are
the Alaskan Natives living h1 the rural areas of Alaska. The Alaska
Natives are a natural interest group for several reasons. The first
is their economic plight. Of all sections in Alaska, the rural areas
are the poorest. It has been said many times that there are hardly
any economic resources to be found out there. Alaska Natives are poor
as a group. This sectional and ethnic poverty creates other problems,
which naturally ties them together.
Due to their poverty they live in poor housing conditions. Due to
their sectional poverty they do not have schools, hospitals, roads,
or airports. In short, they do not have what other citizens of Alaska
have: not even bare necessities like good water. There are several
reasons why this situation exists.
First, there are supposedly no economic resources that they can
tap. This reasoning is false. There are economic resources that the
rural areas can utilize and exploit in order to fulfill their needs.
The only stumbling block is that all these resources belong to people
other than the Native people. The North Slope Eskimos could be a rich
group. They could have the money to build their own schools, to build
hospitals, etc. The only catch is, what should be theirs belongs to
the State of Alaska, and the federal government owns the rich Naval
Petroleum Reserve No. 4. The only thing that the North Slope Eskimos
have now is the blessings of the Alaska Native Settlement Act and
their borough, if they can keep it.
The Alaska Natives as a group could have the economic resources
that everyone believes they do not have; for instance, the tourist
industry. Every year thousands of people from the lower forty-eight
and other countries flock to Alaska to see the "smiling Eskimo." But
to see the smiling Eskimo costs them money. Where does this money go?
To the travel bureaus and the airlines who own almost all the motels
and gift shops in the villages. The Natives of Kotzebue, for
instance, get very little money out of the tourist industry. The
airlines are the ones who make it. But the Natives of Kotzebue are
The fur industry is another industry that the Native people could
very well control and utilize, but it does not belong to them. The
Native trapper gets the furs, then sells them cheaply to the fur
buyer who then sells them to factories, who make parkas, dress coats,
etc. The end product of the cheap fur is a very expensive item which
very few people can afford. It is a profitable industry. Why could
not the Native people build a tannery, and hire from their areas
women who are experts in the art of skinsewing? And why could they
not sell fur clothing themselves, through retailers? Mainly because
this industry is based elsewhere.
What does this say about the lack of resources in rural Alaska? It
merely proves that there are resources in the rural areas of Alaska,
but that they are being exploited by people out of rural Alaska. If
the people of rural Alaska, Native and non-Native, could tap these
resources they would not be so poverty-stricken.
The second reason tying the Native people together is their lack
of education. One might say they are all searching to become
Another factor that ties the Natives is their ethnic and cultural
ties. All Alaska Natives are not Indians or Eskimos, but they are the
first inhabitants of Alaska, and they all find themselves in the same
boat. They have to work together in the political system of Alaska to
meet their needs.
All of these interests in Alaskan politics were seen in the
settlement of the Alaska Native Land Claims. In fact, the Alaska
Native Land Claims Settlement Act was a compromise of all these
The Alaska Natives wanted at least 60 million acres of land h1
fee. The State of Alaska, through Governor Miller, did not want to
give the Natives more than 10 million acres. Some non-Natives of
Alaska thought the Natives should not get handouts from the
"taxpayer's" money. The United States Congress was willing to give
the Natives a "just" settlement. The oil interests were not too
verbal on the subject, although they felt there was a threat in the
Natives' receiving lands which might conflict with areas they were
interested in, namely Prudhoe Bay.
It is now well known that the Natives did not get their 60 million
acres of land, but forty million, in areas that were not claimed by
the state or withdrawn by the federal government. The state received
rights to its oil rich selections and other lands in Native
territories. The federal government reserved its right to withdraw
lands valuable to its goals. The conservationists also gave their
input. The industrial interests did not see their Prudhoe Bay tied up
by an Arctic Slope Native Association suit. In short everyone got
what they wanted except the Native people. To everyone else it might
have been a compromise, but to the Native people it was a mere
pittance of what they actually wanted, of land that was rightfully
theirs. Congress did not pass a "just" settlement, it passed an Act
where everyone did not lose everything, but did not gain everything
either. The only interest which won through the settlement act was
the federal government which, in one clause reserved the right for
the Secretary of the Interior to make withdrawals valuable to the
government and areas where the Native people can claim lands. The
Alaska Native Settlement Act is a product of a country where
interests conflict but are resolved through politics.
ALASKA NATIVES AS A POLITICAL INTEREST GROUP
The Alaska Natives, because of their common poverty and needs, are
a political interest group. Whether they are in the Republican or
Democratic Party does not divide them. Democratic and Republican
Natives are both seeking answers to their problems.
The Alaska Native Settlement Act is not the answer to the problems
faced by the Alaska Natives. It is but another political asset that
they have in trying to solve their problems. It is evident that they
cannot solve their problems whith 962.5 million dollars and 40
million acres of land. Legislation from both the federal government
and the state government has to be added to the act. In short, the
Alaska Natives have to become politically active to get what they
need. It is evident that no one else is going to solve their
problems. Everyone except the Alaska Natives, to date has been trying
to solve their problems for them. Researchers, governmental agencies,
church groups, and charities from many sources have been trying to
solve Native problems through religion, education, welfare, and new
ideas. Self-determination for the Alaska Native has to be the answer,
for all of the people in the United States, only the Alaska Native
knows himself better than everyone else. Only he can do what everyone
cannot do - help himself. And he can do this through politics.
POLITICAL RESOURCES OF THE ALASKA NATIVES
In order for any political party to have any powers at all it has
to have resources, political resources. A political resource might be
thought of as a tool a party can use in order to get what it needs.
In order for a political party to have any strength at all, it has
to have unity. The members of a party have to be together in their
demands. The party has to have unity in action. In other words, a
party has to act together, and not be moving in many directions at
the same time.
The Alaska Natives have unity. It is in the interests of all
Alaska Natives to see the rural areas developed. All Alaska Natives
want a better educational system. They all need schools. They all
need a better system of transportation. Alaska Natives are together
in their needs. But they must channel their activities in a single
action and direction in order to be effective. This is where
organization comes in.
Organized groups are the most effective groups. A group of ten
people, united and organized, are more effective than 100
disorganized and arguing.
There arc now 12 main Alaskan Native Organizations: Arctic Slope
Native Organization; Bering Straits Association; Northwest Alaska
Native Organization; Association of Village Council Presidents,
Tanana Chiefs Conference; Tlingit Haida Central Council, Cook Inlet
Native Association; Aleut League, Chugach Native Association; Bristol
Bay Native Association; Copper River Native Association; and Kodiak
Area Native Association. And these 12 organizations are together in
their common needs and goals. They created in 1966, the Alaska
Federation of Natives, composed of all twelve.
The Native people are then, one of the most organized people in
the State of Alaska. They are more united in their actions than any
other interests in Alaska. The Alaska Federation signifies unity in
demands and action. Alaska Natives only need to channel their actions
as one and they cannot be ignored.
They are indeed a statewide organization.
As another political resource, the Alaska Natives have the voting
power. As a block, they are one of the most powerful voting groups in
Alaska. They can decide who is to be governor, senator, and
representative. Even more important, in largely Native legislative
and senatorial districts in Alaska, they can elect their own leaders
who would best serve their interests. (Illustration of predominantly
Another political resource that the Alaskan Native people could
utilize is education, not so much by learning the ABC's, but by
educating their people to issues which they should know about. They
have to educate them in their rights as citizens, and in the workings
of government. And most importantly they have to realize that voting
is their strongest weapon which they must use to their advantage.
Money is another political resource that the Alaska Natives now
have. They need money to organize, to study. They need money to
campaign. And money does have its own way of deciding issues. Land
can be considered in this category as well. Without money, a
political party is restricted in its activities. Now that the Natives
do have money, they must use it to their advantage.
Communication is yet another resource that the Alaskan Native must
use. In order to work together and know what the other organizations
are doing, the Native people must communicate. It is impossible to
work in a unified fashion if one organization does not know what all
the others are doing. The Alaska Federation of Natives can serve this
purpose, and it already has.
Leadership is another resource that the Alaskan Natives have
lacked before, but have available today. In order for anyone to be in
a position of leadership, a person must first of all understand the
condition that his people are in. Secondly he must be able to
understand the workings of government and how he can best achieve the
goals that his people have given him. Although there are many
illiterate Native leaders, the time is coming and has arrived, when
the younger, more literate, more learned leaders must take over.
Especially now with the passage of the Alaska Native Settlement Act.
I n years before, the Alaska Natives have not always utilized their
political resources, mainly because they did not know they had them.
Now they need leaders who know what they can and cannot do.
How then can the Alaska Natives use these political resources? The
answer is a logical and a rather simple one.
They must strengthen their organizations. They must set their
goals. They must plan a course of action in order to get into a
position where they affect legislation, and they must do so in a
unified manner. Furthermore, they must exploit their voting power and
elect their own leadership into legislative and other positions.
They must also educate their people on issues. They have to
educate them in their rights, and they must, most importantly, show
them what they can do if they will only act. Education must not stop
in the villages; it should also hit the more populous areas of
Alaska. The reason why many people in Anchorage and Fairbanks and
other population centers are so unconcerned about village Alaska is
because they do not know about it all. If the Native leadership would
only inform them of conditions in village Alaska, it is not unlikely
that many of them would push for betterment.
Communications must also be strengthened. All regions must be
aware of the problems of the other regions. For in being informed of
what the other regions are doing, they can supplement them in the
same sort of action. Communication is one of the most important
political resources, and it must be used to the fullest. Whether this
means telephone communications or not is not the question, although
it would help. It is important that the Native people communicate in
order to act together for the desired ends.
If the Native people of Alaska would exploit their political
resources they would no longer be the recipients of legislation
passed by uninformed Congresses and legislatures. They would begin to
pass legislation which would best fulfill their needs. In fact
self-determination would become, not a dream, but a reality.
It is true that the rural areas of Alaska have a great many
problems. But those problems, no matter how tremendous, can he
solved. The Alaska Native people must search for solutions for those
problems along with the whole state of Alaska. No matter how great
the differences between the cities and village Alaska, with time
those differences may be resolved.
Director, Yupiktak Bista
an environment; all living and non-living things in an
SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR
is the person appointed by the President to head the
Department of the Interior; which runs the Bureau of Indian
The class should try to get a daily newspaper from one or more of
the larger Alaskan cities. If you read several papers, you can see
how the same story is reported in different ways.
In the article, Mr. Napoleon identifies five Alaskan interest
groups - the State of Alaska, the federal government, populated areas
(cities), industrial interests, and Alaskan Natives. As you read the
papers, try to figure out which interest group is saying what. Take
an issue like the pipeline, or land selection, and see what each
interest group wants to happen.
Do all the federal government agencies agree on the issue? Do all
the cities agree? Do all the Native leaders agree? You might ask
these kinds of questions:
1. Who speaks for a particular interest group?
2. Who pays for that person to speak?
3. Which interest groups are cooperating against another group?
4. What does each group hope to gain by cooperating? What might be
5. How does each interest group get people to agree with its
As you discuss the issues in class, some students may try to
change the minds of other students. How do you change people's minds
on issues? Which ways are fair, and which aren't?