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The Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention, the largest gathering of Alaskans, was held virtually this year.

The theme celebrated the 50-year anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Elders who lobbied for its enactment described the huge effort it took to get the bill through Congress. Several said the bill was the best they could get at the time, despite its flaws.

ANCSA transferred almost a billion dollars and 44 million acres of land to Alaska Native corporations with the idea the corporations would issue dividends from their profits to their Native shareholders. Some of the corporations struggled for years but now are an important part of the state’s economy.

The bill was imperfect, however, and some important elements are still issues today. Subsistence, the gathering and sharing of food from nature, is vital to Alaska Native cultures and to the rural economy. But ANCSA terminated aboriginal hunting and fishing rights. Later laws attempted to give a rural preference but conflicted with the state constitution.

Native corporations also see lands in jeopardy and would like to put them into trust status with the federal government so they cannot be sold or taken.

Also, ANCSA issued shares to tribal citizens enrolled on the date of the bills signing on Dec. 18, 1971. Most Alaska Natives born after that only own shares if they were given or inherited some. Some of the corporations have created a different class of shares that allow younger people to take part in scholarships and other corporate programs.

(Related: ICT’s project on the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act)

Speakers said it’s time for the state of Alaska to recognize tribal sovereignty. Governors have harassed tribes with lawsuits challenging their jurisdiction on issues as basic as Indian child welfare. Recognition would set a base of understanding and cooperation that would foster better relations.

The audience also heard reports on infrastructure legislation, climate change, the military, and analyses of self-determination, among several other important issues before the state’s 140,000 Alaska Natives. — Joaqlin Estus, Indian Country Today

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Record annual attendance numbers. Low morale among employees. Billions of dollars in maintenance needs.

Charles “Chuck” F. Sams III, who would become the first Indigenous person to lead the National Park Service, answered questions during a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021 (Screenshot of hearing)

Those are just some of the challenges Charles “Chuck” Sams III will have to tackle as director of the National Park Service, which he officially took leadership of after a swearing in ceremony on Thursday.

With the swearing in, Sams became the first Native American to hold the position and the most recent Indigenous person to hold a high-ranking position in the federal government since Joe Biden became president. His boss will be Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, the Interior secretary and first Indigenous person to hold a Cabinet-level position.

Sams’ background and citizenship with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation also means some are optimistic he’ll work to improve how the agency and its hundreds of national parks, historic sites, monuments and recreation areas work with tribal nations and incorporate their history and culture. READ MORE.Chris Aadland, Underscore.news and Indian Country Today

Diné College on the Navajo Nation awarded four honorary doctorates of humane letters to four individuals "who helped crystallize the concept of Navajo philosophy within academia."

“These four, Johnson Dennison, Harry Walters, Don Denetdeal and Avery Denny were pioneers in the advancement of Diné College,” college President Charles Roessel said in a statement.

The college held its fall commencement on Dec. 10 and awarded 82 degrees and certificates.

Activist Winona LaDuke, White Earth Nation, is among the 50 Over 50 by Forbes.com.

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Native leaders are charting their own paths. Now, their work is being recognized by a major organization in Indian Country. Plus, we learn how the son of a nationally acclaimed artist is following in her footsteps.

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Chief Donald Boyd Ivy was well known in Oregon as a champion of Indigenous people and a scholar of tribal heritage. Described by his wife Lucinda DiNovo, he was a dynamic speaker, an incredible listener and a strong leader.

“He always said ‘leader’s don’t always lead from the front, they lead from behind,” she said.

Ivy died July 19 after a seven-month battle with cancer. He was 70. He is survived by his wife, son Jon Ivy, grandson Elliott Ivy, daughter-in-law Soo Lee, sister Corrine Burnum and brother-in-law Greg Burnum.

His commitment to the Coquille Indian Tribe dates back about 30 years when he was hired to be the tribe’s economic development specialist. He helped write the constitution and the original tribal government management ordinances. Then, he became the cultural resources coordinator for 15 years and seemingly retired. READ MORE.Kalle Benallie, Indian Country Today

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RAPID CITY, South Dakota — For 73 years, Indigenous people in Rapid City have called for ownership of land that used to be part of a local Indian boarding school.

And for 73 years the calls bore no fruit. But researchers breathed new life into the decades-old campaign a few years ago when they discovered deed discrepancies on certain parcels of the 1,200-acre former school property that were originally given to the city.

The revelations brought the city to the negotiating table — and sparked optimism in the Native community.

But the clock is winding down on those talks with the results still up in the air. A proposal for the city to allocate $15 million for a community center and to capitalize a development corporation was abruptly tabled by the city council Monday. READ MORE. Stewart Huntington, special to Indian Country Today

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