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Commemorating the Signing of ANCSA; Hosted by Alaska Pacific University.  -  Part 4 - Jim LaBelle
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Jim LaBelle
Jim LaBelle: There was this wonderful thing that was going to happen. We took time out of our busy scholastic and academic career to pause and to come to this place and see what all of the hullabaloo was about.

Unlike a lot of students, I had spent four years in the Navy, and became a student here in the fall of 1970, so the whole work of the Claims Act had been going on for a long time and my focus wasn’t on any of those kind of things. I strictly wanted to get my education and my degree, and I was amazed that a group of people could come together and accomplish so much because of a unity of purpose.

They managed to put aside whatever cultural differences they had to find a way to unite around a single purpose to get what they believed was due to them for many, many years. Of course, I was among the amazed.

I was in the audience here, and like it was mentioned, that partition wasn’t there. There was a lot of almost stunned amazement that this was going to happen. There was almost a disbelief really in some respects, at least on my part, that something this exciting and unique could actually happen. But it did happen, and it changed a lot of lives forever. It certainly changed mine.

I was going to become a high school teacher, I was going after my secondary ed degree. I was getting all my professional requirements here when Cecil Barnes, shortly after the Claims Act, said we need you to come to work for us -- for the Chugach. And here I was, you know, going in one direction, and all of a sudden there was a strong pull to start this thing, to implement the Claims Settlement Act. He said, “Jim, we want you to help, come with us and go in this direction.”

My involvement in this began by sitting in the audience and watching leaders like Emil Notti and Byron Mallott and of course my brother Willie, do all these great things. Then it was up to a lot of us to start the process of implementing. It was kind of like being at the end of a spear and really not knowing what direction you’re going, but you’re going. We did a lot of things by the seat of our pants. We had a lot of successes and a lot of failures, but we learned from those and we picked ourselves up and we went on, and we went on, and we went on.

I really have to say that I owe a lot to the leaders sitting here today. Thank you.

Edgar Blatchford: Thank you, James. The next person that Irene is going to introduce is, I believe, the first college-educated Alaska Native that I ever met.

Irene Rowan: Oh no, I wonder who that is. Okay, last semester, I had the privilege of teaching a class at the University of Alaska entitled Native Perspectives. Because a number of my students, I’d say the majority of my students, had not heard of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act nor any of its leaders, I assigned them the task of writing about an ANCSA warrior. One young lady wrote about her uncle in the Kotzebue region. She said he got involved because his cousin, Willie Hensley, wrote him a long letter about how we’ve got to lay claim to our land. In those days, of course, we didn’t have any radios and we had limited telephones and we had the Tundra Times, but Willie painstakingly wrote letters to all his friends and relatives and helped get the whole organization started. I’d like to call Willie forward to say thank you to him, and hopefully he’ll share a word or two.

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Next page:   Part 5 - Willie Hensley Pages:  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8 

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