ANCSA puts Native lands and rights at risk


As I write, vast tracks of offshore leases have already been sold in the
Beaufort Sea adjacent to the 1002 lands of the Arctic Refuge by the federal
government. Soon the state of Alaska will sell leases along the Beaufort
Sea all the way to the Canadian border. The very thing that the local
people, the Inupiat people, feared the most has finally come about.

The stage has been set for the overwhelming alteration, mutation,
desecration and pollution of the marine and land ecosystems of the Arctic
coastal plain of northern Alaska and Canada.

The historic Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) passed in December
of 1971. The act created 13 regional and 194 village corporations (207
total), which are and have been represented on the larger political scene
by the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN). ANCSA legislation also required
that federal lands be set aside. The ANCSA is an illegal law because it is
not a treaty, and required 13 regional corporations to share revenues. No
other corporation in America is required to share revenues with 12 other

Pandemonium broke out, lawyers all over America came crawling out of the
woodwork and it took years of litigation to iron out the more horrific
kinks in the law. The revenue-sharing part of the law has never been
resolved in a court of law. Eventually, the 13 corporations decided to
settle the revenue-sharing part of the law by themselves behind closed

The ANCSA requirement for the settlement of federal land issues was a long
battle played out by the federal and state governments and the Alaska
Native corporations. After years of wording and rewording, the Alaska
National Interest Land Conservation Act (ANILCA) was passed in December
1980. This law set aside national parks, including the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge. ANILCA bestowed the title of "wilderness" upon all the
lands except for the 1002 lands of the Arctic Refuge, which it said would
require an act of Congress to open to oil and gas exploration and

Not only was the ANCSA legislation an illegal act, it catapulted almost
monolingual Alaska Natives, who for the most part sustained themselves with
the resources of the land, into board rooms with millions of dollars of
natural resources at their disposal, money to manage and the sort of
political clout that has taken time to fully appreciate.

However, after a few years, they discovered that their former tribal
governments represented their needs and concerns best. Consequently, they
have organized into 225 federally-recognized tribal governments.

The result is AFN, which represents the corporate interests. It is run
mostly by urban corporate executives. After some board members lobbied
Congress in 2001, AFN received $15 million. The people in the communities
run the tribal governments. AFN with its 207 corporations passed a
resolution to support drilling; the tribal governments passed a resolution
against drilling. However, the number of tribal governments against
drilling is growing. It is not just one tribe that is against drilling.

Although ANCSA legislation was intended to address land issues and Native
rights for Alaska Natives, it has also been used as a bargaining tool to
garner concessions and has put Native lands at risk. Neither has this law
been fulfilled.

Thirty-four years after the passage of ANCSA, Native corporations are still
waiting for the completion of land transfers. It's been used as a hook to
force AFNs' hand on volatile political issues, such as the support for

The president of the United States has snubbed the Kyoto Accord, dismissed
the United Nations, ignored national allies and is engaged in a belligerent
war. Furthermore, he's enacted laws that infringe upon constitutional
rights and relaxed or struck down laws designed to protect the general
public. Who is going to follow his lead on the energy plan? It would be a
bad idea.

There are many thoughts on energy transitions. The Renewable and
Alternative Energy Laboratory at UC Berkeley has good information about the
transition from fossil fuels. A message from the Hopi people is also full
of insight and common sense. Let there be no doubt, however, there will be
an historic transition on many levels and we must all prepare.

No, the Gwich'in are not alone against drilling on the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge. There are tribes all over America, Hawaiians, the Bishops
of the Episcopal Church with its thousands of congregants and legions of
other people. Let your representatives know where you stand on this issue.

Adeline Peter Raboff is an Alaska Native writer who lives in Fairbanks,
Alaska. She is a member of the Neets'aii Gwich'in tribe.