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The Corporate Whale: ANCSA, The First 10 Years Program

Program 3 of 10
McPherson, Karen Michel 1982

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5...4...3...2...1. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN OF THE AFN, THIS IS THE WHITE HOUSE IN WASHINGTON CALLING. I PRESENT THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES...

[President Nixon] I APPRECIATE THIS OPPORTUNITY TO EXTEND MY GREETINGS AND BEST WISHES TO THE CONVENTION OF THE ALASKA FEDERATION OF NATIVES. I WANT YOU TO BE AMONG THE FIRST TO KNOW THAT I HAVE JUST SIGNED THE ALASKA NATIVE CLAIMS SETTLEMENT ACT. THIS IS A MILESTONE IN ALASKA'S HISTORY.

[Narrator] THE CORPORATE WHALE: ANCSA, THE FIRST 10 YEARS.

[] The Reverend Merculieff from St. George Island...

This land of Alaska, which thou gave to our ancestors, who have come and gone before us, is now being handed to us a second time, by the Act of the United States Congress and our untiring efforts. A second chance is given to us by thee to be the new custodians and caretakers.

TRADITIONALLY, ALASKA'S NATIVE PEOPLES, INDIANS, ESKIMOS, AND ALEUTS, WERE CUSTODIANS AND CARETAKERS OF THE LAND THEY AND THEIR ANCESTORS OCCUPIED AND USED. GOING WHERE THE FISH AND GAME WERE PLENTIFUL AND SURVIVAL NEEDS CAN BE MET. FORMAL TITLE TO LAND, PIECES OF PAPER INDICATING OWNERSHIP, WAS NOT NECESSARY. THERE WERE NO INSTITUTIONS TO MANAGE AND DEVELOP RESOURCES OF THE LAND. NO CORPORATIONS DOCUMENTED BY THE SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION. BUT WITH THE PASSAGE OF THE ALASKA NATIVE LAND CLAIMS SETTLEMENT ACT, ANCSA, ON DECEMBER 18, 1971, THOSE TRADITIONAL, INTERNALLY RECOGNIZED AND VALIDATED MEANS OF CUSTODIANSHIP WERE CONGRESSIONALLY REPLACED WITH THE AMERICAN BUSINESS, CORPORATE STRUCTURE. UNDER THE TERMS OF THE LAND CLAIMS SETTLEMENT ACT, THE 962 AND A HALF MILLION DOLLARS AND 44 MILLION ACRES OF LAND OFFERED IN EXCHANGE FOR RELINGUISHING ABORIGINAL CLAIMS, WERE TO BE DISTRIBUTED AND MANAGED BY PROFIT-MAKING ENTITIES: CORPORATIONS.

TWELVE CORPORATIONS IN STATE, LARGELY CREATED ALONG ETHNIC DIVISION, PLUS THE OPTION OF A 13TH CORPORATION FOR ALASKA NATIVES LIVING OUTSIDE OF STATE, AND VILLAGE CORPORATIONS, AS WELL, OVER 200 OF THEM. THE VILLAGES COULD DECIDE WHETHER TO PURSUE PROFIT OR NON-PROFIT STATUS. AT THE TIME THE ACT PASSED, SHORTLY BEFORE CHRISTMAS, 1971, THERE WERE JOKES, AS THERE STILL ARE, ABOUT THE BROOKS BROTHERS NATIVE, THE THREE-PIECE ESKIMO. BUT THE CORPORATIONS CREATED UNDER THE ACT DIFFER SIGNIFICANTLY FROM EXXON, AND IBM AND OTHERS, AND THAT EVERY SHAREHOLDER, EVERY PERSON WHO IS 1/4 OR MORE INDIAN, ESKIMO, OR ALEUT, BORN BEFORE THE ACT WAS SIGNED INTO LAW AND ENROLLED, AUTOMATICALLY RECEIVED 100 SHARES OF STOCK IN BOTH THEIR REGIONAL AND VILLAGE CORPORATIONS, IF THEY WERE ENROLLED TO A VILLAGE.

IT WAS A DEMOCRATIC WAY OF ENTERING INTO THE CORPORATE MAINSTREAM, AND IN THAT SENSE IS EQUALITY FOR ALL SHAREHOLDERS. THE CORPORATION HAD PRECEDENCE IN TRADITIONAL NATIVE SOCIETY; WHERE, FOR EXAMPLE, A WHALE WOULD BE SHARED WITH ALL MEMBERS OF THE COMMUNITY.

IN THIS PROGRAM, THE THIRD IN A TEN PART SERIES: THE CORPORATE WHALE, NATIVE LEADERS AND OTHERS INVOLVED WITH THE FRAMING OF THE LAND CLAIMS SETTLEMENT GIVE SOME OF THEIR THOUGHTS ON THE CORPORATE CONCEPT AND HOW WELL THAT MECHANISM WORKS FOR DIVIDING THE BENEFITS OF ANCSA: THE WHALE.

ØDividin' the maktak is they way it's always been
Dividin' the maktak between family and friends
We're sailin' toward to future, we're anchored in the past
Rich in our tradition, our ways will surely last Ø

IN 1966, WHILE PRESIDENT OF THE COOK INLET NATIVE ASSOCIATION, EMIL NOTTI BECAME THE FIRST PRESIDENT OF THE ALASKA FEDERATION OF NATIVES. HE MADE FREQUENT TRIPS TO WASHINGTON, D.C., TO WORK ON LAND CLAIMS LEGISLATION, INCLUDING THE CONCEPT OF VILLAGE AND REGIONAL CORPORATIONS.

I think Congress' reason for doing that was...uh...a failure, I think, of the reservation system. Uh..the fact that determination had been tried and was not working. And so they were looking for a new way to solve the [indecipherable] Indian problem. And..uh..the experiment here is to get people involved in economic system. You know, what better way and to get people involved all the way through in the villages to the regions. And your involved with the [SCC?], and attorneys, and accountants, and every year they're all required to file taxes, and uh..become concerned about stock ownership, not only in the village but in the region, and the value of the stock, and budgets. And it's a great method, I think, to get people into the mainstream. And I think that's Congress' intent.

ECONOMIST LEE GORSUCH, NOW EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA'S INSTITUTE OF SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC RESEARCH, WOULD AGREE WITH NOTTI...

It certainly took the form of the normal corporation with the capital as the mechanism by which these resources would be distributed as benefits to the individuals. So I think the answer is...uh...yes, essentially, the form of the Native Claims Settlement Act is consistent with all the corporate laws and capitalistic system that's present in the United States. And...uh...I recall when Congressman Aspenall, who was a very powerful figure in the House of Representatives, had said that he wasn't about to attempt to rewrite the...all the corporate laws in the United States for the benefit of..uh..of the Alaska Native population. And if they wanted the money and the land, they'd have to receive it through the...the existing laws have been set up for corporations. And that essentially how it took place. I don't recall any serious discussions about alternatives to that, such as using the traditional councils or the IRAs or anything of that sort.

And there also seem a general attitude among the leadership that...um...what they were really asking for was an opportunity to become a participant in the mainstream. And..uh..and clearly the corporations and the corporate forum were the best understood by all the advisors and consultants that were working with the Native corporations. I think familiarity and experience was one of the strong factors that led to the...uh...acceptance of the corporate forum as the means by which the land and money would be received and managed.

STATE SENATOR JOHN SACKETT, CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD FOR DOYON LIMITED, THE NATIVE REGIONAL CORPORATION CREATED BY THE ACT FOR THE INTERIOR ATHABASCAN INDIANS, GUIDED HIS CORPORATION INTO THAT MAINSTREAM...

I favor the..uh..the settlement as we have now, which is..uh..unique in the sense that it's not the traditional method of other created reservations or having a cash settlement..uh..that would be distributed to everyone all at one time.

SACKETT SERVED AS CHAIRMAN AND PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF DOYON LIMITED FOR THAT CORPORATION'S FIRST FOUR AND A HALF YEARS. IT WAS HIS RESPONSIBILITY TO TRANSFORM THE TANANA CHIEFS CONFERENCE INTO THE STATE'S POTENTIALLY LARGEST LAND OWNERS.

The challenge of having a large corporation created overnight, versus a...myself as an individual starting from a small business, and then through a number of years, trying to develop into a larger corporation. We didn't have that choice..uh..we're stuck with a large corporation..uh..and had to...to think as a large corporation. I suppose that was the greatest challenge to me. The..uh..first couple of years, I think, was a great learning process for everybody, not only for myself, but for all the different regions and all the different corporations. And then you had all the different village corporations..uh..learning, too. I think that was challenging, trying to learn and..uh..not make..uh..major substantive mistakes at the same time.

INEVITABLY MISTAKES, LARGE FINANCIAL ONES, HAVE BEEN MADE. WITHIN THE PAST TEN YEARS, ANCSA'S FIRST DECADE, THERE HAVE BEEN CORPORATIONS VERGING ON DISSOLUTION AND OTHERS DOING VERY WELL. SOME HAVE OPULENT OFFICES AND BUILDINGS OWNED BY THE CORPORATION AND DISTRIBUTE FLASHY ANNUAL REPORTS COUNTING THEIR ACHIEVEMENTS. WELL OTHERS APOLOGIZE TO SHAREHOLDERS FOR THEIR LOSSES AND PROMISE BETTER YEARS AHEAD.

ROGER LANG, A PAST PRESIDENT OF AFN, IS ON THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF SEALASKA REGIONAL CORPORATION, THE FIRST NATIVE CORPORATION TO MAKE THE FORTUNE 1000, AND IS PRESIDENT OF THE ALASKA NATIVE FOUNDATION WHICH PROVIDES TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE FOR VILLAGES...

You've got to realize what we've gone through, see. The first three years that we were in existence, we had to do enrollment, and the corporations did enrollment. I mean, they had to do village selections, and it was 18 months to do that; and they had to do regional selections, and it was a year to do that.

A lot of crap of what normal corporations have to do. And..uh..that's three years out of your corporate life. And the need for leadership at that time was a little different than it was now. As a result was that most corporations, at the regional level anyhow, became kind of conservative in the use of their money and they didn't much in the business world or business ventures.

But once all that the necessary crap was over, then we can get down to being corporations. And I would imagine that out of the ten years that have passed that..uh..somewhere between four and a half and five years have been completely devoted to being corporations. And even of those four and a half or five years, the other factors, the social needs of the people that you represent..uh...are there; and you can't ever erase those from your consideration.

LANG IS NOT ALONE IN HIS THINKING. FOR THE PAST FEW YEARS, A NUMBER OF NATIVE LEADERS HAVE BEEN DISCUSSING OTHER WAYS OF LOOKING AT THE CORPORATIONS. NOT JUST AS AN ENTITY FOR GENERATING CAPITAL, BUT FOR RETAINING CULTURAL IDENTITY AS WELL.

Ø But there are drums [be off a mountain]
Indian drums that you can't hear
There are drums beyond the mountain
And there gettin' mighty near Ø

WILLIE HENSLEY, FOUNDER OF THE NORTHWEST ALASKA NATIVE ASSOCIATION, FORMER STATE LEGISLATOR, PAST PRESIDENT OF THE AFN, CURRENT CHAIRMAN OF UNITED BANK ALASKA AND PRESIDENT OF NANA DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, IN A KEYNOTE SPEECH TO THE 1980 CONVENTION OF THE ALASKA FEDERATION OF NATIVES...

The land, which represents our spiritual homeland, now rests in a corporation, a soulless entity, that is designed for commercial purposes. As you know this was not a usual settlement. Among the Indians, they had a tribe...a tribal government that was responsible for the survival of the people, of their language, and of their culture; and only incidentally were involved in business. Unfortunately [cough], our identity as a people, our tribal soul has an uneasy resting place. If we think that our tri...our corporations exist just for corporate purposes, then we have a problem.

CHARLIE EDWARDSEN, JR., OF BARROW, ETOK, AN EARLY LEADER IN THE STATEWIDE LAND CLAIMS MOVEMENT, DESCRIBES NATIVE CORPORATIONS THIS WAY...

Nobody else can have any more than what each and everyone of us can. And this criteria alone is a very revolutionary technique for the ex..extension..extended life of the Alaska Native people. And no..no place else in..in the world has [a..a sign built in] with a birthright to capital ever been developed in the world at this time. And so it is wrong in the context to ev..to evaluate these..these corporations which are our 12 original corporations from the..the archaic, old American model.

WILLIE HENSLEY...

If we play the game that Congress intended to, then we're going to lose it. All I'm saying is that, sure, you know, we understand what's going on. I mean, we understand, you know, what a corporation is, you know, what it does. But let's not get engulfed by it. Alright, but I'm not..I'm saying that with other institutions as well, you see. And..and don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that, see, the solution that I see is right for everybody. In fact, the intriguing thing about the Settlement is that, you know, you can approach it the way you want and still be right, depends on what your people want.

YOU'VE BEEN LISTENING TO THE CORPORATE WHALE: ANCSA, THE FIRST 10 YEARS. THE THIRD PROGRAM IN A TEN PART SERIES WRITTEN AND PRODUCED BY KAREN MICHEL MCPHERSON, WITH TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE FROM PHILLIP KAKOWSKI (sp?). FUNDING WAS PROVIDED BY KUAC SPONSORS AND THE ALASKA NATIVE HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM OF THE COOPERATIVE EXTENSION SERVICE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA.

SPECIAL THANKS TO THE HISTORICAL TAPE COLLECTION OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA ARCHIVES, KUAC FM, AND MUSICIANS HERBIE VENT, BUDDY TABOR, THE TUNIK DANCE GROUP OF BARROW, AND PETER LAFARG.

 

 

Part 1
"This 10 part series, The Corporate Whale, will listen to some of the events leading to the Land Claims Settlement, the mechanisms that were employed to manage the Act, government agencies, and Native corporations, hear how leaders assess the first 10 years, and predictions for 1991."

Part 2
"Both restrictive provisions included in the Act, what the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement is, and how it divides up the land and the money will be discussed in this program, the second in a ten part series: The Corporate Whale."

Part 3
"In this program, the third in a ten part series, The Corporate Whale, Native leaders and others involved with the framing of the Land Claims Settlement give some of their thoughts on the corporate concept and how well that mechanism works for dividing the benefits of ANCSA: The Whale."

Part 4
"This program is the fourth in a ten part series, The Corporate Whale: ANCSA, The First Ten Years. Agency representatives and Native corporation leaders will give their perspectives on the land's aspect of the Land Claims Settlement."

Part 5
"In this program, the fifth in a ten part series, The Corporate Whale, leaders of Sealaska and Cook Inlet Region, Inc., will profile their activities in dividing the benefits of ANCSA into profits for shareholders."

Part 6
"In this program, the sixth in a ten part series, The Corporate Whale, leaders from NANA, the Northwest Alaska Native Association region, and Calista Corporation will profile their corporation's activities in managing ANCSA's benefit."

Part 7
"Both the Land Loss Formula and 7(i), the revenue sharing provision, were intended to be equalizers in the Settlement providing resource revenues to regions without rich lands and additional land to those without large populations. This program, the seventh in a ten part series, The Corporate Whale, will examine two regional corporations particularly affected by the provisions, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation in the north and Doyon Limited in the interior."

Part 8
"In this program, the eighth in a ten part series, The Corporate Whale, village and regional corporation leaders will discuss centered approaches to managing ANCSA's land and money entitlements, and impact."

Part 9
"This program, a ninth in a ten part series, The Corporate Whale, will examine the role of the Alaska Federation of Natives and its efforts to survive and continue to be a unifying body for the corporations who manage ANCSA's benefits."

Part 10
"In this program, the last in a ten part series, The Corporate Whale, leaders involved in land claims implementation assess the bill that Barrow activist Charlie Edwardsen, Jr., Etok, once referred to as 'a new harpoon.'"

Alaska Native Knowledge Network is responsible for the transcription of this series. We would like to humbly apologize for any misspellings in advance.

 

 

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Last modified August 14, 2006