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Home  >  History and Culture  >  Ancsa at 30  >  Lecture Series
Lecture Series, Number Two  -  Page 9
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Tom Richards: Thank you, John. I’ve got very fond memories of Governor Bill Egan. I used to spend some time in Juneau. Once, I went to the Century Market to pick up a few groceries and I almost bumped into this guy pushing his grocery cart down the aisle and it was Governor Egan. He went grocery shopping and bought his own groceries and he looked up and said, “Hi, Tom, how are you doing? Let me put my groceries away and let’s go, and I’ll buy you a beer.” He was the Governor. What a fella. Thank you, John.

Our next speaker needs no introduction so I won’t give him one. Emil Notti has been involved in ANCSA and the Alaska Native Claims movement since day one. He was the first president of the Alaska Federation of Natives and served in leadership capacity during the period in which most of the key provisions of ANCSA were adopted. After ANCSA was passed, he established an organization to help implement ANCSA for regional and village corporations. He’s been a good friend for many years and a strong supporter of my efforts when I was in the newspaper business, in spite of his better judgment I suppose. Emil Notti, please join us. We’ll let you start with some general remarks if you like.

Emil Notti
Emil Notti: This is being recorded for the archives at the university, so I’ll concentrate on some of the arguments we made and give some of the rationale behind our argument for the Claims Settlement. I might ask a couple of questions. Did Congress have to give us a settlement? The answer is no, they did not have to. You can acquire land in one of three ways. You win it in war, someone gives it to you, or you buy it. None of those things happened. The Russians, when they occupied Alaska, did not have dominion over the land. They had a trading company here, and history tells us that they had just over 800 people in Alaska at the peak of their stay. They did not have anything to sell. It’s been argued that Congress did not have to settle, but they should have because it was a moral issue.

We always maintained that it was a legal issue, and I look at three documents to support that. The first one was the Treaty of Cession with Russia, which said that the uncivilized tribes would be subject to such laws and regulations as the United States may, from time to time, adopt in regard to aboriginal tribes in that country. The second document was the Organic Act. There were a lot of high-sounding words in the act, but my cynical view of it was something different than what the preamble said. The first 17 years of Alaska, under United States rule, was military rule. The miners who came into the country for gold did not have a place to file their mining claims, so they passed the Organic Act, which set up a civil government allowing miners to file claims. The act said, “Indians or other persons in the said district shall not be disturbed in the possession of any lands actually in their use or occupancy or now claimed by them, but the terms under which such persons may acquire title to such lands is reserved for future legislation by Congress.” Congress recognized they had to do something, and they reserved that power for themselves.

The third document in our argument was the Statehood Act. It was mentioned earlier that some finger shaking took place saying that we should have solved this. The act was held up by a Congressman from Oklahoma, Ed Edmundson. The committee chairman had a lot of power, and he pulled the Statehood Act into his Committee and refused to let it go until they adopted some language. That language said the state and its people forever disclaim any right or title to land that is claimed or used by Native people. That’s bad paraphrasing, but the key words are, “forever disclaim any right or title to lands.” So it was a condition of statehood.

When the State started selecting its 100 million acres of land, protests were filed and the result of those protests was the land freeze. At one point we claimed more than 100 percent of the land in Alaska because of overlapping claims. Our first bill would have given the Court of Claims the right not just to award damages, but to award title to land, which is something that they normally don’t do. If that was the case, and we proved use and occupancy on the land, we could have ended up as private owners of most of Alaska. That was not realistic. Politically we couldn’t pull it off, and we knew that. We didn’t have the money for research, but we knew we were right so we proceeded.

We had no money. When I took over AFN, we had nine dollars in the bank. People who don’t know the history of AFN don’t realize what we were up against. It’s kind of hard to believe, when you look at the corporations now and see them with hundreds of millions of dollars in their bank accounts.

The act, in a lot of ways, was a social experiment to see if we could get people into the western economy. I always said that we didn’t want to be bystanders as Alaska developed. We could see that Alaska was going to grow. In my case, being born up on the Yukon, when I was a child we trapped in the winter and fished in the summer. I was seven years old in 1940 when the census came to Alaska and counted 72,000 people in the whole state. We hunted and trapped and fished as we needed. There were very few regulations. There was one game warden between Fairbanks and Nome, and one U.S. Marshall, and they weren’t around very often in the vast territory that they were responsible for. We had total freedom of land use.

Competition for land use came when the State of Alaska started selecting its hundred million acres of land. The best lands in many cases were where the villages were. Living off the land as they did, they had the best harbors, the warmest spots and the most friendly parts of this territory. The state wanted those lands, so they selected land closest to villages. The biggest ones were up along the highway because the state didn’t have enough people to support itself so they were selecting land and selling it in the early parts of statehood and running government by selling land. That’s where the conflict came in, and we started protesting the selections of land by the state.

I’ll stick with the early part of the land claims issue because that’s what I was involved with and I won’t comment on ANILCA, because I was not involved in it. I was involved somewhat in the implementation, and there were a lot of problems with implementation. There were a lot of arguments with the State of Alaska around navigable waters and easements and rights-of-way, and I’ll stay away from those. There are still some open issues; Land Claims did not solve all of them. Subsistence is a big one and it has been in front of us as well as sovereignty. If my memory is right on subsistence, during the argument for Land Claims, everybody promised to preserve the subsistence rights of Alaska Natives. The record is full of that, including in this book as I think Esther mentioned earlier. Governor Hickel promised that Native people would not be bothered in their subsistence hunting. I was watching a TV program last night on the history of Tyonek. One of the scenes showed a big meeting, and Governor Egan was talking, and he said, “I want to assure you that the State of Alaska will protect your rights to subsistence hunt and fish.” That promise was made, and I think that research would show that promise was made by federal and state agencies, but we seem to have forgotten that.

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