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Commemorating the Signing of ANCSA; Hosted by Commonwealth North Celebration  -  Part 6 - E. Lee Gorsuch, Byron Mallott and Willie Hensley
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E. Lee Gorsuch: Thank you very much, Byron. I hope this whets your appetite for learning more. There’s an outstanding bibliography of books and articles about the Native Land Claims that I hope you will take advantage of. I also hope you will encourage the panelists and others in the audience who had personal experience with ANCSA to take the time to think about writing about their experiences and contributing to that body of literature.

Edgar Blatchford of the University of Alaska Anchorage is organizing a Saturday seminar in honor of Howard Rock and Emil Notti, on the 26th of January. It will be an all-afternoon, more in-depth conversation. We’re trying to invite a more elaborate dialogue. We’ll actually have a chance to engage the speakers more actively, and I hope all of you will attend these public discussions and seminars.

Regarding the issue of compromise within the Alaska Native community itself, the negotiations would get quite intense between the idea of a population-based settlement and a regional settlement. John Borbridge was quite articulate and forceful, and Joe Upicksoun would, in response, come back in a fiery rhetoric. In one session in particular, when things were getting quite intense, Frank Degnan played the role of the humorist and kind of break the tension.

At one of the AFN meetings, things were getting and Frank Degnan said he wanted whomever was with the FBI to stand, and the room went silent. No one stood. He said, “Thank goodness, for a minute I was beginning to think I was the only one who wasn’t a Full Blooded Indian.” It was so nice to see.

What can institutions of higher learning do to support the Alaska Native communities? Let me direct this to Byron because Byron’s group in the foundation has taken this issue on as one of its primary purposes.

Byron Mallott: I think that, as so eloquently emphasized, we have to know who we are as people in order to have a secure future. We’ve ignored that in Alaska and I’m not talking just about Native people. The step that was taken by the Anchorage School Board hopefully will be strengthened by the State Board, and the institutions of higher learning will also follow. Fundamentally I think hat the university is the one institution that reflects who we are as a people. It’s the one public institution that has vows with its philosophy. It does all the things and reflects back on society who we are. The University must celebrate, must recognize the importance of the history and tradition and values of Alaska’s Native people in a powerful way, not just as another minority. If the university does not make the lives, and history and traditions, and aspirations of Alaska’s Native people central to the its mission, I think we will all be the lesser for it.

E. Lee Gorsuch: Thank you, Byron, a very important message. I’d also like to point out that, as you may have seen, we’re building a new library that will have a room dedicated to Alaska Natives. We hope to be able to present a major collection of ANCSA-related materials there, so we’ll be coming out in the next several months to organize a repository to try to capture some of this important history.

One more question: Willie, perhaps you can take this. It has how much of a role did the discovery of oil, the pipeline right-of-way, play in the politics of the enactment?

Willie Hensley: Very significant. We had a hard time convincing Congress, the state, and in some cases our own people about the validity of our claims. Of course, the oil was found in 1968 and we had the lease sale in ’69, and Alaska was starved for economic activity, like it always is, and there were these damned Native claims holding everything up. That’s just the way we wanted it. There was a period there between ’69 and the end of ’71 when the act passed where there was a great hope, and a lot of talk going on between the oil industry individually and the various Native groups. AFN was a federation, but the claims were made by regions or villages or combinations of villages, so there were conversations going on but no way to resolve the overall issue without some federal action. Consequently, there are people still alive today who played a significant role on behalf of the oil industry. In those days none of us up here knew those individuals very well. There was a fellow who worked for Senator Bartlett, Bill, was it Hopkins?, who played a significant role and also Charlie Elder. Bill was a lobbyist in D.C., and I believe he had a big role in convincing the oil companies that it was in their interest to help get this settlement through and quiet the title, because they had leases from the state that may have been a little on the legally shady side, because this was land that had been under aboriginal title, and the aboriginal title hadn’t been extinguished. When they got behind the Land Claims Settlement, that was a major, major push in favor of getting the legislation to move.

E. Lee Gorsuch: Ladies and Gentlemen, I regret to call this meeting a close. It’s such a fascinating topic. Please join me in extending our appreciation to these outstanding panelists.

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