Wade: Corporations are not tribes!

Senator Campbell's S. 522 bill defines Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act corporations as tribes. When ANCSA was passed in 1971, the surviving traditional elders of Chickaloon, together with a new generation of tribal members, refused to accept its validity. Without the consent of the traditional peoples, ANCSA claimed to "legalize" the appropriation of most of the land in Alaska away from the traditional tribal governments.

The Chickaloon Elders, along with traditional Peoples from throughout Alaska (most of whom were never allowed to vote on ANCSA) recognized the Act as termination legislation pushed through Congress by the U.S. military, oil companies and other corporations interested in exploiting the rich resources formerly under the protection of traditional tribal governments.

What is a corporation? Legal fiction with no brains or morals is what I've been told. Or, as the dictionary says, it is "assumption of a body," and assumption means "taking for granted."

What is a tribe? The dictionary describes it as a unit of social organization consisting of a number of families, clans, or other groups who share a common ancestry, culture, and leadership. Chickaloon Village is a tribe. Our leadership does not come from CIRI (one of 13 regional Native corporations established by Congress under the terms of ANCSA). We have a Chief. And here's a little bit of history about him...

For many years I watched as my cousin, Gary Harrison, plodded along, working for the rights of indigenous people and our family, the people of Chickaloon Village. He was passionate and dedicated to his work. He spent lots of time with Native elders and others at the villages.

In 1995 when I finally grasped a small portion of what he and other leaders were striving for, I got involved. I saw the overall picture of freedom and sovereignty. I developed the courage to stand up alongside my non-conformist, rebel warrior relatives and speak our truths.

Athabascan Chief Gary Harrison was chosen by a group of elders in Nenana to become a traditional chief. His is not an easy task. I don't know of any corporate leader who could do what he does. He has sacrificed his personal life for the betterment of his people. He does the jobs of many and is available to hear complaints and give his best advice and encouragement.

When I get in touch with him to see how he's doing or ask a question, I can hear through his voice that he carries a heavy burden. He doesn't complain, but throughout the conversation I get the gist of what he has to deal with on a daily basis.

He has been a leader for the village of Chickaloon in the truest sense during the past eight years of my involvement. I cannot imagine him sitting at a big fancy desk, wearing a corporate suit and tie and sporting a fancy gold watch. The decisions he has to make are, just as, or, probably more important than those suits have to. How could he go from a fancy desk dressed in finery to helping build a house for one of our elders? Or help dig a grave to assist a grieving family? Or travel across the world, speaking on behalf of not only Chickaloon Village tribal members, and indigenous peoples, but working toward the betterment of all peoples everywhere ... working for freedom and to protect this beautiful Earth.

The list of qualities he had to possess as a leader included honesty, compassion, helpfulness, humility and superior qualities of leadership. I wrote in 1996, "I have a sneaking hunch that they (ANCSA rulers) are entrenched with political powerfuls who are still intent on pillaging and plundering the land, and their greed has become an addiction.

Probably it's easier for government officials to deal with the leaders of Native corporations than with traditional chiefs. Why? Because the traditional chiefs have had to become familiar with the laws and the truth. In our tribe we have no hidden agendas. We try to follow the laws as written in the U.S. and state constitutions ... the big picture as I see it is that it is time for the tribes, not the corporations, to be treated with respect and openness. Further, any attempt by the corporations to be recognized as tribes must be exposed for what that attempt is - pure selfishness and greed."

Corporations can never take the place of a tribe. I see no similarities between a tribe and an ANCSA corporation.

Patricia Wade was born in Palmer, Alaska in 1945. Always proud of her Athabascan heritage, she didn't really become active in tribal rights until 1995 when she started working for Chickaloon Village. She has been editor of The Chickaloon News since that time. She also works with Chickaloon's Ya Ne Dah Ah School (Alaska's first tribal school) and shares her tribe's history and ancient legends with the community.