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Lesson 7
Sara Harriger

Sections one through ten of "Letters to Howard" were full of mentions of arbitrary and confusing parts of ANCSA. The next fourteen sections donęt lessen the pace. Nuagga and Joe and Wally point out issues concerning how the settlement money is spent, about the difficulties of understanding how corporations work, about feelings of helplessness in the rush of change. Nuagga says, " I have to learn about corporations in self-defense, not because I am necessarily interested in them." I think the major theme of chapters 11-24 is the identity crisis Natives had to deal with when American culture came steam rolling in. Paper 6 covered a lot of concrete issues which come up again in the readings for paper seven. For instance, the power of the Secretary of the Interior, the status of non-enrolled Natives, and money. Despite the recurrence of these concerns, I think the second half of "Letters to Howard" is more concerned with the emotional and cultural impact of ANCSA than with the specifics of AN ACT.

Letters eleven and twelve deal with enrollment of Natives and stockholder-ship. It seems that there was a lot of confusion about what rights stockholders had. More importantly, there was a great deal of concern over what it meant to "enroll as a Native," and over the long term effects of the arrangement. Anyone born after the enrollment deadline was left out of the program, and was thus no longer Native in the eyes of AN ACT. Nuagga felt that in this way, ANCSA was going to wipe out the Natives. ANCSA recompensed only a few Natives, and not very well, for the land and lifestyle which rightfully belonged to the unborn children who had no chance to enroll. I think he felt that Natives were being paid a pittance to abandon their culture, and that the only other option seemed to lose it by force with no compensation at all. He felt that this situation made people act very poorly. He said, "sometimes I wonder what will become of our people if they want dollars more than their own land and they forget their children."

Letter fourteen addresses concerns about oil development. While the ANCSA money settlement was dependent on the pipeline, development was not really in the best interest of Natives. They had to choose between the settlement money or the chance to protest development (which would not have been effective, anyway). It is also interesting that ANCSA and the Pipeline Bill were "aimed against judicial review." They were not judiciary acts. This seems to be a very good clue that justice was not the concern at hand.

Letters fifteen through nineteen all have to do with the interaction of Native people with the White Man Ŕ and vice versa. These pages are all about mutual misunderstandings. There is the story of the man from Anchorage trying to explain economics with the classic example of guns and butter. Of course Nuagga thought it was ridiculous, and the economist probably though Nuagga was really thick when he presented a villageręs idea of utility, which made incomprehensible the abstract utility of the "guns and butter" theory. Letter sixteen shows what a hard time Nuagga (and others) had understanding taxation, especially the rules about taxation in ANCSA. If Natives made no money, there would be no taxes to worry about and there would be certain free benefits, like fire protection. But as soon as they developed land and made profits, the tax man would come. This was certainly not an incentive for development, and probably seemed confusing to Natives, who just wanted to be left alone or at least treated fairly and respectfully. But the politicians thought it was only fair, I suppose Ŕ Americans have to pay taxes, and the goal was to make Natives Americans, not to let some Americans be Natives.

More examples of intercultural misunderstanding are found in Letters seventeen and eighteen. First, Nuagga explores misperceptions about leadership. It seems people expected Natives to "develop" leadership during this time. Outsiders like VISTA volunteers came to the village and tried to instill the capacity of leadership in the Natives. Evidently, they never considered that Native cultures had been around just as long as western ones, and that they had their own systems for group decision making and authority that worked well for them. Nuaggaęs ancestors looked to a sort of council of elders for decision making, and made choices as a community. During and after ANCSA it became necessary to have a representative in the business world Ŕ a sort of leader who was better than the rest at working with the bureaucracies and courts, and with documents like AN ACT.

Nuagga thought that AN ACT was all about competition, which contradicted the traditional Native way of cooperation. The American government did not take the time to recognize these traditional ways as valid; They dismissed them in the conceit of Social Darwinism. Perhaps it was taken for granted that the Native cultures would just disappear, or fade into the background. Nuagga tells of a young anthropologist who came to take notes and videos, and to "preserve" the culture before it disappeared. I imagine Natives were angered by this attitude; by the museum exhibits and tourist attractions that were passed off as their culture. They must have felt already dead, like relics of an outdated world.

The last few letters are concerned with the motivations of the government and with fears about what the American culture does to people. Nuagga notes that ANCSAęs first page sums up the story of what America wished it hadnęt done in the other states, except the part about Native participation. In some ways ANCSA was fueled by regrets and by the experience of difficulties in dealings with other Native groups. Letter twenty-one tries to compare the lives of a man in the village with a man in an office making decisions about the man in the village. It isnęt convincing, to Nuagga or anyone else. How can a man who makes relatively uninformed decisions be truly aware of their effects on someone who is many miles, almost worlds away? Nuaggaęs work only effects himself and those he cares for. The man in the office has his finger in everyoneęs pie. Nuagga does not want that way of life to be the only option.

In a similar vein Letter twenty-to talks about corporations as machines, and about America as a machine civilization. Nuagga does not want his life to become a component of something huge and beyond his control and comprehension. He does not want to be an insignificant, dispensable player in a culture that places less value on cooperative effort and more value on efficient money making. I know how he feels.

The final Letter hits hard. It makes the pride shown by people like Roger C. B. Morton in the building of the pipeline look really ghastly. Morton, in an article from the Anchorage Daily News, compares the building of the pipeline to that of the Pyramids. Nuagga points out that the goals are much changed Ŕ material wealth has replaced religion as the main motivation Ŕ and proceeds to compare the pipeline to the 3.000 mile highway being built in the Amazon, and to the cloud of pollution over the Black Mesa power plant. All of them are, were or would be visible from space, which was evidently a matter of pride! Nuagga finishes off by saying that a giant oil spill would in his opinion be a suitable monument to ANCSA and what it had done to his people. I have to say that he is probably right, but I wouldnęt like to see Alaska ruined so badly.

In conclusion, I still donęt see much of anything arbitrary in ANCSA. It is all very calculated and logical. I do see how the people involved were confused and unable to understand the perspectives of others involved, and I agree and sympathize with Nuaggaęs anger and despair. I would have felt much as he did watching these things happen from a village far away, unable to quite understand how to affect them. I would have been afraid, too, just as he was, for the future of my people. And I would have been a shocked by the values expressed in ANCSA Ŕ profit before people, efficiency before justice, and short term benefits rather than long term well being. Now, living in the world I live in, I know why things were done as they were. That doesnęt mean I think it was fair Ŕ I donęt. And I wish they could have been done some other way. I wish people werenęt so hell-bent on control and wealth, to the point of such selfishness that they could deny other peopleęs right to lead their lives as they wished to. So selfish that they could ignore the futures of babies not yet born in order to gain profit for themselves. Aside from being (thankfully) much less deadly, ANCSA doesnęt seem like a big improvement on tactics previously used in the United States to squelch Indian cultures. That is because it is not right to use politics to ruin people, and ANCSA was an attempt, in some ways, to do just that. I wish Americans were less like that anthropologist who went to the village to do research without even being aware of ANCSA and other, current issues concerning the people there. Perhaps if they had been, ANCSA would have turned out differently. Perhaps not.



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Last modified February 7, 2007