Sections one through ten of "Letters to Howard" were full of mentions of arbitrary
and confusing parts of ANCSA. The next fourteen sections donęt lessen the pace.
Nuagga and Joe and Wally point out issues concerning how the settlement money
is spent, about the difficulties of understanding how corporations work, about
feelings of helplessness in the rush of change. Nuagga says, " I have to learn
about corporations in self-defense, not because I am necessarily interested
in them." I think the major theme of chapters 11-24 is the identity crisis Natives
had to deal with when American culture came steam rolling in. Paper 6 covered
a lot of concrete issues which come up again in the readings for paper seven.
For instance, the power of the Secretary of the Interior, the status of non-enrolled
Natives, and money. Despite the recurrence of these concerns, I think the second
half of "Letters to Howard" is more concerned with the emotional and cultural
impact of ANCSA than with the specifics of AN ACT.
Letters eleven and twelve deal with enrollment of Natives and stockholder-ship.
It seems that there was a lot of confusion about what rights stockholders had.
More importantly, there was a great deal of concern over what it meant to "enroll
as a Native," and over the long term effects of the arrangement. Anyone born
after the enrollment deadline was left out of the program, and was thus no longer
Native in the eyes of AN ACT. Nuagga felt that in this way, ANCSA was going
to wipe out the Natives. ANCSA recompensed only a few Natives, and not very
well, for the land and lifestyle which rightfully belonged to the unborn children
who had no chance to enroll. I think he felt that Natives were being paid a
pittance to abandon their culture, and that the only other option seemed to
lose it by force with no compensation at all. He felt that this situation made
people act very poorly. He said, "sometimes I wonder what will become of our
people if they want dollars more than their own land and they forget their children."
Letter fourteen addresses concerns about oil development. While the ANCSA money
settlement was dependent on the pipeline, development was not really in the
best interest of Natives. They had to choose between the settlement money or
the chance to protest development (which would not have been effective, anyway).
It is also interesting that ANCSA and the Pipeline Bill were "aimed against
judicial review." They were not judiciary acts. This seems to be a very good
clue that justice was not the concern at hand.
Letters fifteen through nineteen all have to do with the interaction of Native
people with the White Man Ŕ and vice versa. These pages are all about mutual
misunderstandings. There is the story of the man from Anchorage trying to explain
economics with the classic example of guns and butter. Of course Nuagga thought
it was ridiculous, and the economist probably though Nuagga was really thick
when he presented a villageręs idea of utility, which made incomprehensible
the abstract utility of the "guns and butter" theory. Letter sixteen shows what
a hard time Nuagga (and others) had understanding taxation, especially the rules
about taxation in ANCSA. If Natives made no money, there would be no taxes to
worry about and there would be certain free benefits, like fire protection.
But as soon as they developed land and made profits, the tax man would come.
This was certainly not an incentive for development, and probably seemed confusing
to Natives, who just wanted to be left alone or at least treated fairly and
respectfully. But the politicians thought it was only fair, I suppose Ŕ Americans
have to pay taxes, and the goal was to make Natives Americans, not to let some
Americans be Natives.
More examples of intercultural misunderstanding are found in Letters seventeen
and eighteen. First, Nuagga explores misperceptions about leadership. It seems
people expected Natives to "develop" leadership during this time. Outsiders
like VISTA volunteers came to the village and tried to instill the capacity
of leadership in the Natives. Evidently, they never considered that Native cultures
had been around just as long as western ones, and that they had their own systems
for group decision making and authority that worked well for them. Nuaggaęs
ancestors looked to a sort of council of elders for decision making, and made
choices as a community. During and after ANCSA it became necessary to have a
representative in the business world Ŕ a sort of leader who was better than
the rest at working with the bureaucracies and courts, and with documents like
Nuagga thought that AN ACT was all about competition, which contradicted the
traditional Native way of cooperation. The American government did not take
the time to recognize these traditional ways as valid; They dismissed them in
the conceit of Social Darwinism. Perhaps it was taken for granted that the Native
cultures would just disappear, or fade into the background. Nuagga tells of
a young anthropologist who came to take notes and videos, and to "preserve"
the culture before it disappeared. I imagine Natives were angered by this attitude;
by the museum exhibits and tourist attractions that were passed off as their
culture. They must have felt already dead, like relics of an outdated world.
The last few letters are concerned with the motivations of the government and
with fears about what the American culture does to people. Nuagga notes that
ANCSAęs first page sums up the story of what America wished it hadnęt done in
the other states, except the part about Native participation. In some ways ANCSA
was fueled by regrets and by the experience of difficulties in dealings with
other Native groups. Letter twenty-one tries to compare the lives of a man in
the village with a man in an office making decisions about the man in the village.
It isnęt convincing, to Nuagga or anyone else. How can a man who makes relatively
uninformed decisions be truly aware of their effects on someone who is many
miles, almost worlds away? Nuaggaęs work only effects himself and those he cares
for. The man in the office has his finger in everyoneęs pie. Nuagga does not
want that way of life to be the only option.
In a similar vein Letter twenty-to talks about corporations as machines, and
about America as a machine civilization. Nuagga does not want his life to become
a component of something huge and beyond his control and comprehension. He does
not want to be an insignificant, dispensable player in a culture that places
less value on cooperative effort and more value on efficient money making. I
know how he feels.
The final Letter hits hard. It makes the pride shown by people like Roger C.
B. Morton in the building of the pipeline look really ghastly. Morton, in an
article from the Anchorage Daily News, compares the building of the pipeline
to that of the Pyramids. Nuagga points out that the goals are much changed Ŕ
material wealth has replaced religion as the main motivation Ŕ and proceeds
to compare the pipeline to the 3.000 mile highway being built in the Amazon,
and to the cloud of pollution over the Black Mesa power plant. All of them are,
were or would be visible from space, which was evidently a matter of pride!
Nuagga finishes off by saying that a giant oil spill would in his opinion be
a suitable monument to ANCSA and what it had done to his people. I have to say
that he is probably right, but I wouldnęt like to see Alaska ruined so badly.
In conclusion, I still donęt see much of anything arbitrary in ANCSA. It is
all very calculated and logical. I do see how the people involved were confused
and unable to understand the perspectives of others involved, and I agree and
sympathize with Nuaggaęs anger and despair. I would have felt much as he did
watching these things happen from a village far away, unable to quite understand
how to affect them. I would have been afraid, too, just as he was, for the future
of my people. And I would have been a shocked by the values expressed in ANCSA
Ŕ profit before people, efficiency before justice, and short term benefits rather
than long term well being. Now, living in the world I live in, I know why things
were done as they were. That doesnęt mean I think it was fair Ŕ I donęt. And
I wish they could have been done some other way. I wish people werenęt so hell-bent
on control and wealth, to the point of such selfishness that they could deny
other peopleęs right to lead their lives as they wished to. So selfish that
they could ignore the futures of babies not yet born in order to gain profit
for themselves. Aside from being (thankfully) much less deadly, ANCSA doesnęt
seem like a big improvement on tactics previously used in the United States
to squelch Indian cultures. That is because it is not right to use politics
to ruin people, and ANCSA was an attempt, in some ways, to do just that. I wish
Americans were less like that anthropologist who went to the village to do research
without even being aware of ANCSA and other, current issues concerning the people
there. Perhaps if they had been, ANCSA would have turned out differently. Perhaps