Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on December 18, 1971, constituting at the time the largest land claims settlement in United States history.[1][2] ANCSA was intended to resolve long-standing issues surrounding aboriginal land claims in Alaska, as well as to stimulate economic development throughout Alaska.[3]

The settlement established Alaska Native claims to the land by transferring titles to twelve Alaska Native regional corporations and over 200 local village corporations.[1] A thirteenth regional corporation was later created for Alaska Natives who no longer resided in Alaska.[1] The act is codified as 43 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.[4]


Cliff Groh was one of a number of non-Native lawyers who assisted various Native organizations in achieving passage of ANCSA.

When Alaska became a state in 1959, section 4 of the Alaska Statehood Act provided that any existing Alaska Native land claims would be unaffected by statehood and held in status quo.[5][6] Yet while section 4 of the act preserved Native land claims until later settlement, section 6 allowed for the state government to claim lands deemed vacant.[6] Section 6 granted the state of Alaska the right to select lands then in the hands of the federal government, with the exception of Native territory. As a result, nearly 104.5 million acres (423,000 km2) from the public domain would eventually be transferred to the state.[6][7] The state government also attempted to acquire lands under section 6 of the Statehood Act that were subject to Native claims under section 4, and that were currently occupied and used by Alaska Natives.[7] The federal Bureau of Land Management began to process the Alaska government's selections without taking into account the Native claims and without informing the affected Native groups.[7]

It was against this backdrop that the original language for a land claims settlement was developed.[8]

A 9.2-magnitude earthquake struck the state in 1964.[9] Recovery efforts drew the attention of the federal government, which found that Alaska Natives had the poorest living conditions in the country.[8] The Federal Field Committee for Development Planning in Alaska decided that Natives should receive $100 million and the 10% revenue royalty.[8] Nothing was done with this proposal, however, and a freeze on land transfers remained in effect.[10]

In 1968, Governor Walter Hickel summoned a group of Native leaders to work out a settlement that would be satisfactory to Natives.[8] The group met for ten days and asked for $20 million in exchange for requested lands.[8] They also asked for 10% of federal mineral lease revenue.[11]

In 1969 President Nixon appointed Hickel as Secretary of the Interior.[8][12] The Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) protested against Hickel’s nomination, but he was eventually confirmed.[8][12]

Hickel worked with the AFN, negotiating with Native leaders and state government over the disputed lands. Offers went back and forth, with each rejecting the other’s proposals.[13] The AFN wanted rights to land, while then Governor Keith Miller believed Natives did not have legitimate claims to state land in light of the provisions of the Alaska Statehood Act.[13]

But a succeeding Alaska state administration under Governor William A. Egan would stake out positions upon which the AFN and other stakeholders could largely agree.[14] Native leaders, in addition to the Alaska's congressional delegation and the state's newly elected Governor William A. Egan, eventually reached the basis for presenting an agreement to Congress.[13][14] The proposed settlement terms faced challenges in both houses but found a strong ally in Senator Henry M. Jackson from Washington state.[14] The most controversial issues that continued to hold up approval were methods for determining land selection by Alaska Natives and financial distribution.[14]

In 1968, the Atlantic-Richfield Company discovered oil at Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic coast, catapulting the issue of land ownership into headlines.[15][16] In order to lessen the difficulty of drilling at such a remote location and transporting the oil to the lower 48 states, the oil companies proposed building a pipeline to carry the oil across Alaska to the port of Valdez[16][17] At Valdez, the oil would be loaded onto tankers and shipped to the contiguous states.[17] The plan had been approved, but a permit to construct the pipeline, which would cross lands involved in the land claims dispute, could not be granted until the Native claims were settled.[17]

With major petroleum dollars on the line, pressure mounted to achieve a definitive legislative resolution at the federal level.[18] In 1971, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was signed into law by President Nixon.[1] It abrogated Native claims to aboriginal lands except those that are the subject of the law.[1][19] In return, Natives received up to 44 million acres (180,000 km2) of land and were paid $963 million.[1][19] The land and money were to be divided among regional, urban, and village tribal corporations established under the law, often recognizing existing leadership.[20][21]

Effect of land conveyances

In 1971, barely one million acres of land in Alaska was in private hands.[22] ANCSA, together with section 6 of Alaska Statehood Act, which the new act allowed to come to fruition, affected ownership to about 148.5 million acres (601,000 km2) of land in Alaska once wholly controlled by the federal government.[22] That is larger by 6 million acres (24,000 km2) than the combined areas of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.[22]

When the bill passed in 1971, it included provisions that had never been attempted in United States settlements with Native Americans.[14] The newly passed Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act created twelve Native regional economic development corporations.[14] Each corporation was associated with a specific region of Alaska, and the Natives who had traditionally lived there.[14] This innovative approach to native settlements engaged the tribes in corporate capitalism.[14][23]

The idea originated with the AFN, who believed that the Natives would have to become a part of the capitalist system in order to survive.[14] As stockholders in these corporations, the Natives could earn some income and stay in their traditional villages.[24] If the corporations were managed properly, they could make profits that would enable individuals to stay, rather than having to leave Native villages to find better work.[14][24] This was intended to help preserve Native culture.[14][25]

Native and state land selection

Alaska Natives had three years from passage of ANCSA to make land selections of the 44 million acres (180,000 km2) granted under the act.[26] In some cases Native corporations received outside aid in surveying the land.[27] For instance, Doyon, Limited (one of the 13 regional corporations) was helped by the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska.[27] The Institute determined which land contained resources such as minerals and coal.[27] NASA similarly provided satellite imagery to aid in Native corporations finding areas most suited for vegetation and their traditional subsistence culture.[27] The imagery showed locations of caribou and moose, as well as forests with marketable timber.[27] In total about 7 million acres (28,000 km2) were analyzed for Doyon.[27] Natives were able to choose tens of thousands of acres of land rich with timber while Doyon used mineral analysis to attract businesses.[27]

The state of Alaska to date has been granted approximately 85% or 90 million acres (360,000 km2) of the land claims it has made under ANCSA.[28] The state is entitled to a total of 104.5 million acres (423,000 km2) under the terms of the Statehood Act.[29] Originally the state had 25 years after passage of the Alaska Statehood Act to file claims under section 6 of the act with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).[29] Amendments to ANCSA extended that deadline until 1994, with the expectation that BLM would complete processing of land transfers subject to overlapping Native claims by 2009.[30] Nonetheless, some Native and state selections under ANCSA remained unresolved as late as December 2014.[31]

Criticism of ANCSA

There was largely positive reaction to ANCSA, although not entirely.[32][33] The act was supported by Natives as well as non-Natives, and likewise enjoyed bipartisan support.[32][34] Natives were heavily involved in the legislative process, and the final draft of the act used many AFN ideas.[35]

Some Natives have argued that ANCSA has hastened cultural genocide of Alaska Natives.[36][37] Some Natives critiqued ANCSA as an illegitimate treaty since only tribal leaders were involved and the provisions of the act were not voted on by indigenous populations.[37] One native described it as a social and political experiment.[37] Critics have also argued that Natives so feared massacre or incarceration that they offered no resistance to the act.[37]

Others have argued that the settlement was arguably the most generous afforded by the United States to a Native group. They note that some of the largest and most profitable corporations in the state are the twelve created by ANCSA.[38][39] Other critics attacked the act as "Native welfare" and such complaints continue to be expressed.[33]

The corporation system has been critiqued, as in some cases stockholders have sold land to outside corporations that have leveled forests and extracted minerals.[40] But supporters of the system argue that it has provided economic benefits for indigenous peoples that outweigh these problems.[41][42]

Selected provisions of ANCSA

Alaska Native regional corporations

Regional corporations established by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
Main article at: Alaska Native Regional Corporations

The following thirteen regional corporations were created under ANCSA:

Additionally, most regions and some villages have created their own nonprofits providing social services and health care through grant funding and federal compacts. The objectives of these nonprofits are varied, but focus generally on cultural and educational activities.[49] These include scholarships for Native students, sponsorship of cultural and artistic events, preservation efforts for Native languages, and protection of sites with historic or religious importance.[49]

Alaska Native village and urban corporations

ANCSA created about 224 village and urban corporations.[28][50] Below is a representative list of village and urban corporations created under ANCSA:

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Thomas, Monica E. "The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act: Conflict and Controversy". Polar Record, 23(142): 27-36 (1986). Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 26 November 2014.
  2. Kroerner, Claudia. "U.S. To Pay Navajo Nation $554 Million In Largest Tribal Settlement In History". Retrieved 26 November 2014.
  3. "Recognition of aboriginal land rights in Alaska was a sharp departure from American Indian policy in other parts of the US. Observers believe this was more a result of slow economic development within Alaska than rejection of Indian policy," citing Cooley, R.A. 1983. "Evolution of Alaska land policy." in Morehouse, T. A. (editor). Alaskan Resources Development: Issues of the 1980s. Boulder: Westview Press, pp. 13-49.
  4. "43 U.S. Code Chapter 33". Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School. Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  5. Jones, Richard S. "ALASKA NATIVE CLAIMS SETTLEMENT ACT OF 1971 (PUBLIC LAW 92-203): HISTORY AND ANALYSIS TOGETHER WITH SUBSEQUENT AMENDMENTS Report No. 81-127 GOV". (June 1, 1981). Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  6. 1 2 3 "Alaska Statehood Act Public Law 85-508, 72 Stat. 339, July 7, 1958". Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  7. 1 2 3 Richard S., Jones. "ALASKA NATIVE CLAIMS SETTLEMENT ACT OF 1971 (PUBLIC LAW 92-203): HISTORY AND ANALYSIS TOGETHER WITH SUBSEQUENT AMENDMENTS: Introduction". Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "STATEMENT OF RAY CHRISTIANSEN, STATE SENATOR FOR DISTRICT K". Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  9. "The Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964". Alaska Earthquake Center. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  10. Grabinska, Kornelia. "Excerpts from HISTORY OF EVENTS LEADING TO THE PASSAGE OF THE ALASKA NATIVE CLAIMS SETTLEMENT ACT". Tanana Chiefs Conference, Inc. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  11. Haycox, Stephen W. (2002). Frigid Embrace: Politics, Economics, and Environment in Alaska. Oregon University Press. pp. 99–112. ISBN 0870715364. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  12. 1 2 "1 Testimony of Sealaska Corporation Native Regional Corporation for Southeast Alaska's Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian People May 16, 2013" (PDF). pp.41-66. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  13. 1 2 3 Naske, Claus-M. (1994). Alaska: A History of the 49th State. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 202–205. ISBN 080612573X. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Haycox, Stephen (2006). Alaska: An American Colony. University of Washington Press. pp. 271–287. ISBN 0295986298. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  15. Coile, Zachery (August 9, 2005). "ARCTIC OIL: Oil is the lifeblood of Alaska, with residents ready to drill". San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on 3 October 2005. Retrieved 2005-09-12.
  16. 1 2 Banet (Jr.), Arthur C. (March 1991). "Oil and Gas Development on Alaska's North Slope: Past Results and Future Prospects" (PDF). Open File Reports: Bureau of Land Management: 6, 22. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  17. 1 2 3 Naske, Claus-M. (1994). Alaska: A History of the 49th State. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 241–269. ISBN 080612573X. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  18. Morehouse, Thomas A. (1987). "NATIVE CLAIMS AND POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT: A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS". Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  19. 1 2 "Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act". U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Archived from the original on 31 August 2005. Retrieved 2005-09-01.
  20. Dixie, Dayo (2010). "Institutional innovation in less than ideal conditions: management of commons by an Alaska Native village corporation". International Journal of the Commons. 4 (1). Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  21. "43 U.S.C. § 1602(o), "Urban Corporation"". Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  22. 1 2 3 "Areas As Vast As Whole States Now Change Hands In Alaska". New York Times. October 8, 1982.
  23. Linxwiler, James D. (2007). "Chapter 12 THE ALASKA NATIVE CLAIMS SETTLEMENT ACT AT 35: DELIVERING ON THE PROMISE" (PDF). ANCSA at 35: 3–5. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  24. 1 2 Dombrowski, Kirk (2001). Against Culture: Development, Politics, and Religion in Indian Alaska. U of Nebraska Press. p. 75. ISBN 0803266324. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  25. Haycox, Stephen W. (2002). Frigid Embrace: Politics, Economics, and Environment in Alaska. Oregon University Press. pp. 132–133. ISBN 0870715364. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  26. "43 U.S. Code § 1611 - Native land selections". Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  27. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Haynes, James B. (September 1975). "Land Selection and Development under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act" (PDF). Arctic Institute of North America. 28 (3): 201–208. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  28. 1 2 "Fact Sheet Title: Land Ownership In Alaska (March 2000)" (PDF). Alaska Department of Natural Resources. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  29. 1 2 "Alaska Statehood Act: Selection of public lands, fish and wildlife, public schools, mineral permits, mineral grants, confirmation of grants, internal improvements, submerged lands (Section 6)". Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  30. "118 STAT. 3594 (PUBLIC LAW 108–452—DEC. 10, 2004) 43 USC 1635 note" (PDF). Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  31. Ruskin, Liz. "Sealaska Selections in Tongass Added to Defense Bill". Alaska Public Media. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  32. 1 2 "Interview of Margie Brown". LitSite Alaska. University of Alaska Anchorage. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  33. 1 2 Borneman, Walter R. (2009). Alaska: Saga of a Bold Land. Zondervan. pp. 470–472. ISBN 0061865273. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  34. Myers, Eric F. "Letter to Rep. Don Young dated May 15, 2013" (PDF). Audubon Alaska. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  35. "History". Alaska Federation of Natives. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  36. Haycox, Steven (2006). Alaska: An American Colony. University of Washington Press. pp. xiii. ISBN 0295986298. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  37. 1 2 3 4 Williams, Maria Sháa Tláa (2009). The Alaska Native Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Duke University Press. pp. 180–181. ISBN 0822390833. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  38. 1 2 Linxwiler, James D. (2007). "Chapter 12 THE ALASKA NATIVE CLAIMS SETTLEMENT ACT AT 35: DELIVERING ON THE PROMISE" (PDF). ANCSA at 35: 16–17). Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  39. Borneman, Walter R. (2009). Alaska: Saga of a Bold Land. Zondervan. pp. 528–529. ISBN 0061865273. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  40. "Robert W. Rude". LitSite Alaska. University of Alaska Anchorage. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  41. "Alaska's Native Corporations". Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  42. Roderick (Ed.), Libby (2008). Do Alaska Native People Get Free Medical Care? (PDF). University of Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Pacific University. p. 24. ISBN 978-1-4276-3215-9. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  43. Linxwiler, James D. (2007). "Chapter 12 THE ALASKA NATIVE CLAIMS SETTLEMENT ACT AT 35: DELIVERING ON THE PROMISE" (PDF). ANCSA at 35: 5. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  44. Linxwiler, James D. (2007). "Chapter 12 THE ALASKA NATIVE CLAIMS SETTLEMENT ACT AT 35: DELIVERING ON THE PROMISE" (PDF). ANCSA at 35: 2–6. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  45. 1 2 3 4 5 Madden, Ryan (2005). Alaska: On-the-road histories. Interlink Books. p. 250. ISBN 1566565669. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  46. Linxwiler, James D. (2007). "Chapter 12 THE ALASKA NATIVE CLAIMS SETTLEMENT ACT AT 35: DELIVERING ON THE PROMISE" (PDF). ANCSA at 35: 6 (note 21). Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  47. 1 2 Linxwiler, James D. (2007). "Chapter 12 THE ALASKA NATIVE CLAIMS SETTLEMENT ACT AT 35: DELIVERING ON THE PROMISE" (PDF). ANCSA at 35: 33–34. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  48. 1 2 Linxwiler, James D. (2007). "Chapter 12 THE ALASKA NATIVE CLAIMS SETTLEMENT ACT AT 35: DELIVERING ON THE PROMISE" (PDF). ANCSA at 35: 27. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  49. 1 2 Worl, Rosita (Fall 2001). "Reconstructing Sovereignty in Alaska". Cultural Survival Quarterly. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  50. "Search Page for Alaska Native Region - Village - Corporation Index". Alaska Department of Natural Resources. Retrieved 1 December 2014.


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