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Meghan Sullivan
Indian Country Today

Fifty years ago, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act passed into law. In one historic piece of legislation, Indigenous Alaskans’ claims to the land were extinguished and a new Indigenous legal landscape was formed. In exchange, Alaska Native communities received title to 44 million acres of land and roughly $1 billion dollars. These assets were to be overseen by 12 regional corporations and more than 200 village corporations. Only Alaska Natives could become the shareholders of these corporations, which were instructed to simultaneously make a profit, oversee traditional lands, and provide social services to their shareholders.

The 50th anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act logo for Indian Country Today's ANCSA 50 project. (Illustration by Holly Mititquq Nordlum, Indian Country Today)

There are no other corporations like the Alaska Native corporations, and there is no other place in Indian Country with this legal setup. Today, the complex act impacts almost every aspect of Alaska Native life, and yet there has been little reporting on its long-term impacts. Indian Country Today’s ANCSA at 50 series aims to change that.

FOLLOW INDIAN COUNTRY TODAY’S ANCSA@50 COVERAGE.

So far, the series has focused on ANCSA’s history, including an overview of its creation and its legal terms, a glimpse into a small Alaska Native village that refused to join the ANCSA system and the tale of the all-Native newspaper that kept advocates united across thousands of miles. Next up, we're releasing an article on Alaska Native women's overlooked activism during that time, a visual essay of the grassroots force behind America’s forgotten Indigenous rights movement and a recount of tribal solidarity that occurred behind the scenes.

Related:
The modern treaty: protecting Alaska Native land, values
Cheat sheet: Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act 101

The series also explores the ways ANCSA currently impacts Alaska Native communities – from deeply personal parts of life like identity and connection to the land, to seemingly unrelated areas such as COVID relief funding and state elections.

Related:
Alaska Natives’ complicated identities
ANCSA@50: The next generation of Alaska Native shareholders
Alaska Native identity 'weighs heavily’ on friends and a future

This week, we're examining how ANCSA influences life for all Alaskans, Native and non-Native – as Alaska Native corporations have grown overtime to become some of the largest drivers of the state’s economy. 

Perhaps most importantly, we've been reporting on the unsettled portions of ANCSA and talking to experts about pathways forward. For example, how ANCSA failed to protect subsistence laws, and what can be done to fix it; why a significant portion of ANCSA lands are dangerously contaminated, and who should be responsible for cleaning it; and how there is a lack education on ANCSA, despite the fact that it’s a major influential force for all Alaskans. Then there is the matter that started it all: Indigenous traditional lands, which Alaska Native corporations currently oversee. Next week, we'll be releasing an update on this topic and spotlighting related issues, such as communities that never received lands, tracts that still haven’t been conveyed, situations that could jeopardize these lands, and different approaches to land protection. 

Related:
In Southeast Alaska, a new type of conservation
‘We don’t exist out here’ without subsistence
ANCSA at 50: Berries, wildlife and toxic lands

Finally, we’ve been reporting on what this all means for the future. ANCSA was a starting point -- and each generation of Alaska Natives has worked to create laws that will reflect the future they would like to see. There are several issues that remain unsettled, but today’s Indigenous Alaskans are continuing to find creative solutions to present-day problems. This includes initiatives to increase the state’s tribal sovereignty, programs to improve collaboration between corporations and tribes, new shareholder enrollment policies, corporate support of language revitalization, and sustainable sources of revenue.

Related:
Being Good Relatives’
Alaska without ANCSA? Look to Metlakatla

ANCSA impacted countless aspects of Alaska Native life in a relatively short amount of time. Through all the complexities and nuances of the legislation, this might be the one statement that everyone can agree on. To reflect the variety of experiences, perspectives, and work within the Alaska Native community, the series also features profiles of more than 30 Indigenous Alaskan leaders – ranging from elders who fought for the land, to young advocates coding apps to showcase these very same locations decades later. As many Alaska Natives will tell you, ANCSA and its impacts can be a divisive topic within the community. Some view it as the nation’s most successful form of Federal Indian policy, some believe it sparked more problems than it fixed, and some have no opinion of it at all. The profiles aim to provide a small glimpse of this range, while highlighting the diverse scope of ideas that accompany it. 

In the coming weeks, we’ll be releasing a few more articles, including a feature on ANCSA’s resource development tension, an investigation into the mystery of the 13th corporation, and finally, a look at ANCSA’s next 50 years. 

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Stay updated on ICT’s ANCSA project using #ANCSA50 and at https://indiancountrytoday.com/tag/ancsa-50.

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