The corporations were formed to receive approximately 45 million acres of land transferred from federal to private ownership and to manage investments of $962 million appropriated by Congress as the cash part of the settlement. An exception to this is that the 13th corporation received no land. However, that 13th corporation purchased their own land, and today they are the largest private landowner in Southeast Alaska.
How the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act evolved
Alaska natives have a unique relationship with the US Government that is different from the treaty and reservation system of the lower 48 states.
In 1867, without consulting the original occupants of the region or obtaining title through purchase or treaty, Russia sold Alaska to the United States government for $7,200,000. The one brief reference made in the Russia-US treaty regarding Alaska's Native people addressed neither the issue of status, rights, or land ownership. It simply stated that "The uncivilized tribes will 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."
Nearly a hundred years later, in 1957, at Swanson River on the Kenai Peninsula not far from Anchorage, Richfield Oil Corporation discovered commercially viable oil deposits. This discovery - along with other encouraging petroleum and gas explorations - was crucial in helping convince Congress that the territory had the economic potential to become the 49th state.
It was not until the passing of the Alaska Statehood Act of 1958 that the issue was directly addressed by the U.S. Congress. This legislation, while acknowledging the right of Natives to lands they used and occupied, authorized the new state government to select for its own use 103 million acres from the Territory's public domain. And then the state selected more land, and more again. With each selection by the state, more Native lands were placed in jeopardy.
The question of how to resolve the issue of Native rights to land was first presented to the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management [BLM] in 1961 by Athabascan Indians living in the Minto Lakes region of Interior Alaska, south of the Arctic Circle. In 1963, one thousand Natives from 24 villages petitioned Interior Secretary Stewart Udall urging that he install a "land freeze" on all land transfers from the federal government to the state until Native rights had been clarified.Finally, in 1963, all the groups involved sat down with state representatives to seek a solution.
Americans learned that the Eskimo, Indian, and Aleut, who claimed over two-thirds of Alaska, owned outright less than 500 acres and held in restricted title only an additional 15,000 acres. While 900 Native families shared the use of four million acres in 23 reserves run by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, all other rural Native families lived on the public domain.
By 1965, several regional Native organizations, including the Tanana Chiefs and southwest Alaska Council of Village Presidents, the Fairbanks Native Association, and the Cook Inlet [Anchorage] Native Association had been formed to address common interests including land, village housing, education, welfare, and the need for improved health facilities.
A year later, at a meeting organized by a young Barrow Inupiat, Charles "Etok" Edwardsen Jr, the Arctic Slope Native Association came into being, the members of which immediately voted to place their claim on 58 million acres - virtually all the land north of the Brooks Range - based on aboriginal use and occupancy. Board members of the new Association were elected from Kaktovik, Point Hope, Anaktuvik, and other North Slope villages.
Then, in the fall of 1966, over 250 leaders from seventeen regional and local associations came together in the first state-wide meeting of Alaska Natives. Overcoming a long history of distrust, the Eskimo, Indian and Aleut representatives at this meeting unanimously recommended that a freeze be imposed on all federal lands until Native claims were resolved; that Congress enact legislation settling the claims; and that there be consultation with Natives at all levels prior to any congressional action.
The first positive breakthrough for the Native population occurred later in 1966, when Interior secretary Udall imposed a "land freeze" on all federal land transfers to the state until Congress acted on the claims issue. Aghast, the governor of Alaska filed a lawsuit requiring secretary Udall to transfer lands to the state. Concurrently, further claims were made by other Native villages and associations. By 1967, 20 percent more Alaska land had been claimed than actually existed!
In the summer of 1967, two bills were introduced to Congress to resolve the issue. One was sponsored by the Department of Interior. The other had the support of the Alaska Federation of Natives. Both requested money and land, but the former authorized a maximum of 50,000 acres per village while the latter made no mention of a maximum, the actual amount to be determined by the subsistence needs of the particular people in question.
By 1971, it appeared that most parties in the debate were ready to seek a resolution. The one additional factor required to shape the final settlement was the support of the petroleum industry. Given the large financial committment made in oil exploration and bidding, the companies were anxious to see a return on their investment. When their efforts to build a transAlaska pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez on Alaska's southwestern coast were blocked by new Native claims, the industry realized that its future profits were dependent on the land question being resolved. Working closely with the White House and in conjunction with the AFN, they allied themselves with the Native movement. Shortly thereafter, a congressional resolution was at hand. President Nixon signed the bill into law on December 18, 1971.
In the final version of the Settlement Act, Native claims to almost all of Alaska were extinguished in exchange for approximately one-ninth of the state's land plus $962.5 million in compensation. Of the latter, $462.5 million was to come from the federal treasury and the rest from oil revenue-sharing. Settlement benefits would accrue to those with at least one-fourth Native ancestory. Of the approximately 80,000 Natives enrolled under ANCSA, those living in villages [approximately 2/3rds of the total] would receive 100 shares in both a village and a regional corporation. The remaining 1/3rd would be "at large" shareholders with 100 shares in a regional corporation plus additional rights to revenue from regional mineral and timber resources. The Alaska Native Allotment Act was revoked and as yet unborn Native children were excluded. The twelve regional corporations within the state would administer the settlement. A thirteenth corporation composed of Natives who had left the state would receive monies but not land.
Along with cash compensation, these corporations could also earn income from their investments. However, the drafting of the bill did not clarify whether the corporations were expected to redistribute the proceeds from their investment income to their shareholders or whether they could keep them for further investment. A "shared wealth" provision of the Act [Section 7(i)], stipulated that 70 percent of income received by regional corporations from their resources were to be shared annually with the other corporations. To protect the land from estrangement, no Native corporate shares could be sold to non-Natives for 20 years - until 1991 - at which time all special restrictions would be removed. Then, non-Natives would be elgible to become shareholders, lands would be liable for taxation by the state, and the regionals would be open to the possibility of hostile takeovers.
Are Eskimos and Inuit the same people?
I answered a letter a while ago, from someone at a museum in Alaska. They wanted to know why Inuit (which I am of) dislike being called "Eskimos." After all, many Alaskans don't mind being called Eskimos, and even seem to dislike the term "Inuit" when southerners apply it them, however well-intentioned. I am not surprised by the confusion.
Alaskan Native Cultures
There are three types of Alaskan Natives with different cultural and linquistic history. They are Indian, Eskimo and Aleut. These are further defined by eleven distinct cultures.
Eskimo / Esquimaux
Eskimo is the term used when speaking of Inupiaq and Yupik people collectively or to mean all Inuit and Yupik people of the world.