RURAL DEVELOPMENT IN ALASKA
The Collected Essays of Patrick J. Dubbs
Organizational Congruence and
© Patrick J. Dubbs
Symposium on Alaska Native Organizations
Society for Applied Anthropology
1986 Annual Meeting-March 29, 1986
** NOT FOR QUOTATION
A few months ago, one of the original rural Alaska Native members
of the Governor's 1967 Land Claims Task Force was recounting his
version, of those early presettlement events to a group of rural
Alaska Native college students. In the midst of a pleasant question
and answer session following his remarks, a young Eskimo woman,
in a surprisingly bitter tone given the person involved and the
ambience of the situation, soon asked the inevitable question, "Why
corporations?" Indeed, almost any discussion of the Alaska Native
Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in rural Alaska these days raises
questions about ANCSA corporations.
While there are many divisive features inherent in ANCSA, e.g.,
at-large vs. village stockholders, or subsurface vs. estate, the
corporation question, particularly as it pertains to the focus
of this paper - the village corporation, appears today to be the
wedge that is separating Alaska Native society at a most inopportune
time - a time when there is an attempt to achieve Congressional
relief from some of the more glaring weaknesses in ANCSA prior
to the 1991 deadline which essentially ends the Act's resource
The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 is, foremost,
a political settlement of a long standing, legitimate Alaska Native
claim to the land mass now known as the State of Alaska. ANCSA
conveyed 42 million acres of land to Native ownership and set in
motion the machinery for the eventual payment of close to one billion
dollars as a final extinguishing payment for all the rest of claimed
but "lost" lands in Alaska.
In order to administer this unprecedented Native American settlement,
Congress also designed a complex corporate infrastructure, and
thereby instantaneously created a new institutional framework for
Native Alaska - a framework consisting of 12 large regional for-profit
corporations and over 200 small village or community level corporations
who chose to adopt a for-profit structure.
This paper focuses on the village organization level as opposed
to the regional level and in it, I will attempt to sketch out some
of the major reasons for the increasingly widespread concern with
village corporations, why corporations were selected as the particular
vehicles for ANCSA, and how this all seems to be more a logical
extension of the colonial pattern in Alaska than it is a unique
However, before proceeding into the main part of this paper it
is necessary to point out that it is exceedingly difficult to isolate
causal factors when talking about stability and change in Alaska
Native society over the past 15 years or since ANCSA. ANCSA, the
pipeline boom, the State oil bonanza, decentralized educational
systems, etc. have all impacted Alaska Native society as well as
the larger Alaskan society in a variety of ways depending on whatever
factors you might care to examine. For example, Kruse (1984) suggests
that the improvements, however slight they might be, in Alaska
Native income levels, educational attainment, and housing quality,
contrary to common opinion, have little to do with ANCSA and are
primarily attributable to the increased provision of governmental
services, particularly state and local government services made
possible by Alaska's improved financial status.
The Village Corporation Problem
The title of this section is actually a misnomer. There are many
problems with corporations in general as well as in the particulars
of their application to village Alaska. Concern with these problems
certainly is not new and the remediation of some of these weaknesses
has occupied ANCSA organizations, State and Federal Government
agencies and a virtual army of consultants and advisors for almost
as long as ANCSA has been around. This has caused ANCSA, at various
times, to be referred to as the Alaska Lawyers Settlement Act,
or the Alaska Native Corporation Settlement Act. Most recently,
the Alaska Native Review Commission, or as it is commonly known,
the Berger Commission, conducted extensive in-depth hearings throughout
Alaska on ANCSA, particularly on how ANCSA was viewed by those
who heretofore had been on the periphery of the ANCSA complex -
the residents of Alaska Native villages. Berger eloquently summarizes
the mountains of testimony and develops his particular findings
in a controversial report entitled Village Journey (1985). Many
of the following points, if not explicitly examined in the Berger
report, certainly are in harmony with it as they too relate to
the impact of ANCSA on village society./1/
At the most fundamental level of analysis, ANCSA for-profit corporations
are culturally inappropriate organizations for Alaska Native villages.
This fact is well recognized throughout the Alaska Native community.
In 1983, for example, the Alaska Native Federation convention,
then a statewide assembly of ANCSA regional corporation delegates,
adopted a resolution related to the Protection of Native Values
(Bass:1984). This resolution stated that "Western business corporations
. . . are foreign to Native culture and in many ways inconsistent
with Native values."
This AFN resolution was part of a larger mandate to evaluate the
appropriateness of the ANCSA settlement vehicles as well as to
evaluate other possible vehicles to administer ANCSA (Bass l984).
The resulting Bass (l984) report contrasts the salient corporate
values of increasing "bottom-line" profitability, maintenance of
high stock market values, and retention of control by management,
with such "Native" values as sharing with and respect for others,
particularly elders, maintaining an identification with the land,
and a concern for kinship and group welfare. Clearly, the corporate
concern with money and structural control will pose difficulties
for Native villages concerned with people and their land. But,
this is not the only or even the major reason why the corporation
is culturally inappropriate in the village content.
According to the provisions of the Act, each village corporation,
depending on the size of its enrollment, would receive surface
estate to between 69,120 and 16l,280 acres of land including a
core village township of 23,040 acres (6 square miles) and the
remainder in compact, contiguous sections of no less than 640 acres
(1 square Mile). Additionally, the corporation was to receive a
monetary compensation for "lands lost". The exact amount again
depended on enrollment size and Arnold (1978:225) estimates the
final amount will vary from approximately $100,000 to $10 million.
Individuals, born on or before the day ANCSA became law-December
18, 1971 and who chose to enroll in a village corporation, would
be issued 100 shares of stock in that corporation. Those born after
that date were excluded from the provisions of the settlement.
While carefully set-out, this set of procedures, along with its
corporate mechanism for administering them, gutted the cultural
base of Alaska Native society. Alaska Native societies, as almost
everyone knows, have evolved remarkable cultural systems which
have allowed them to adapt to and thrive in some of the world's
more difficult environments for thousands of years. But, these
remarkable cultural systems are physically, psychologically and
spiritually anchored in communal lands. Individuals used, enjoyed,
and gained sustenance from the land; they did not own it. As one
person commented to Berger ". . . with our traditional relationship
to the land, we were stewards, we were caretakers and where we
had respect for the resources that sustained us (No page-Subsistence
Photo Section of Berger 1985)". ANCSA divided up what was culturally
indivisible; it rearranged that which was culturally unarrangeable;
it conveyed ownership to that which culturally could not be owned;
and it organized that which was unorganizable.
By disturbing the cultural core of Alaska Native society, ANCSA
and its corporations have radically altered how individuals perceive
and interrelate to one another within and between communities. "Ours
and Theirs", "Mine and Your's", and "We and Them", have all taken
on new meanings in terms of land since ANCSA. As David Case has
asked, "How can Natives own land or stock as individuals and promote
cultural values as whole communities (Alaska Native Review Commission
Transcript, Volume III, 1984:216)?" In one sense, this threat to
the Alaska Native cultural spirit underlies the core of the dispute
now raging in Native Alaska between the so-called "culturalists" and "capitalists" (Dolan
1985:F-1), or the "tribalists" and "corporatists".
Another and perhaps the most immediately alarming problem of many
village corporations is their economic ineffectiveness. The economic
difficulties of village corporations are well documented [for example,
see Alaska Native Foundation (1982), Arnold (l978) and Berger (1985)]
and seem to center around four main problems: under capitalization,
lack of adequate resources to develop for profit, a shortage of
managerial talent, and the costly and cumbersome requirements of
ANCSA and State corporate law. As a result, several of these for-profit
corporations are floundering on the edge of bankruptcy or are simply
defunct. While this trend obviously could have serious economic
implications for Native villages, its potential cultural implications
are devastating and could obliterate the remaining foundation of
Native culture, at least as it is today. The problem is a simple
one: if a village corporation goes bankrupt, incurs an unpayable
tax burden, or is taken over by outside interests, those having
a claim against the corporation will attach the corporation's assets.
The major and, in some cases, the only asset of most ANSCA village
corporations is the land. It is quite conceivable that some Native
communities will lose their land base and literally become trespassers
on their ancestral land. This immense, almost incalculable risk,
is why there is widespread concern with corporations throughout
rural Alaska. As many village corporations now start to exhaust
their settlement funds and the effects of the oil-induced Alaskan
recession increasingly impact the State's economy, ANCSA failures
concern with the corporation as an appropriate settlement vehicle
for Village Alaska.
If, as it seems, corporations were not appropriate vehicles for
the settlement of Alaska Native claims at the village level, why,
Unfortunately, there appears to be no simple answer to this question
and, recently, it seems as if no one was ever for corporations.
Admittedly, the passage of time and the unfolding of events no
doubt have influenced recollections about the design of ANCSA and
made it easy to retrospectively rationalize earlier decisions,
especially in light of the problems that now beset corporations.
One would have hoped that the decision to choose the corporate
organizational form as the settlement vehicle was a decision arrived
at by a systematic consideration of a wide range of possible alternatives,
extensive involvement of the affected population in choosing a
vehicle which it felt was appropriate, and finally, a thorough
analysis of the possible consequences of the selected organization
on Alaska Native society. This does not seem to be the case.
The first public reference to the "corporation" seems to have
been made in 1968 /2/. However, there is some dispute as to who
originated the "corporate idea." Arnold (1978:120) attributes it
to the 1968 report of the Governor's Land Claims Task Force-a
group comprised of 10 Alaska Natives, 3 attorneys, representatives
of State Government, and representatives of the Federal Department
of the Interior. According to Arnold (1978), the task force recommended
that the settlement should be ". . . carried out by business corporations
organized by villages, regions, and by one which would be statewide." Bass
(1984:5), on the other hand, believes that the genesis of the corporate
vehicle lies in the 1968 Federal Field Committee for Development
Planning in Alaska's seminal report: Alaska Natives and the Land.
The Federal Field Committee was created to coordinate planning
among state and federal agencies after the 1964 Alaska Earthquake
and, in many ways, became the Federal government's policy research
bureau in Alaska. In this prodevelopment report, the committee
rejects individual lump-sum settlements because of the fear that
most would quickly dissipate and prefers:
...[land] ownership by Native corporations, like private ownership
in general, would probably result in a more rapid rate of development
and a greater concern for maximizing the economic returns from
the land resources than would management by government agencies.
. . . A large cash settlement distributed to a Native corporation
or corporations, if treated as investment capital rather than
distributed to individuals, could be expected to provide a continuing
stream of income to individuals as well as a source of funds
for enterprise and for community development (Federal Field Committee
From 1968 on, all settlement legislation seems to have uncritically
accepted that some form of the corporation would be the vehicle
for administering the land claims settlement.
However, there is no real explanation as to why corporations were
recommended by the Task Force and/or the Federal Field Committee.
Anders (1983), for example, thinks that:
The rationale for choosing corporations as an organizational
framework to manage Native assets was predicated on the belief
that only a business institution could survive the fluctuations
of shifting Federal policy (558-559).
Bass, on the other hand, feels that:
There is simply no discussion of that policy choice. It might
appear that the decision to use corporations was made without
any thought or examination of alternatives. While that view is
not completely inaccurate, it is somewhat misleading. Other alternatives
were considered, but none were strongly used on Congress and
no alternative legal entities were discussed in the published
legislative history (Bass 1984:5).
The elderly Native quoted at the start of this paper seems to
have revealed the path to solving this origination problem in his
response to the question of "Why Corporations?" He gave this telling
response: "We [Alaska Native negotiators] wanted something more
suitable and workable, but they wouldn't budge off this corporation
set-up." If we are able to identify the "they" in this design process,
we might be able to develop an acceptable rendition as to why there
was a "corporation set-up" in the first place.
The "they" clearly seems to be non-Natives and I would guess that "they" consists
of the legal advisors to Native organizations, State government
employees, aides to various Congressional delegates, and staff
members of various Federal agencies, particularly the Federal Field
Committee. It is important to remember that all of these individuals,
however well intentioned they may have been, simply were not Alaska
Natives and they did not have a cultural relationship to or real
stake in the focus of the settlementóNative lands.
Recently, a session of the Alaska Native Review Commission entitled "ANCSA
Institutions and Legal Regimes" brought together some of the original
non-Native architects of the settlement Act. Their comments are
A Member of the Federal Field Committee stated that ". . . I do
not believe that Alaska Natives truly understood what their rights
would be as land owners in the new world after ANCSA. There wasn't
particular time to provide the in-depth explanations. . . . [the
State] just didn't choose to make it a real priority in explaining,
you know, how the state was going to handle these new corporations
which were creatures of the state and so forth (Alaska Native Review
Commission, Transcript 1984-Vol. IV, page 393, Walter Parker testimony).
Another a senior staff assistant to Alaska's Congressional representative,
said that ". . . many of the issues which we now regard as the
serious make-or-break issues for the Alaska Natives were certainly
not discussed in detail at the time the initial act was passed
and some of them . . . were really never raised in any serious
way. And I suspect that by and large those issues were not raised
because they really weren't understood and weren't known. . . .
The best example of the issues that were not well known or not
well thought through and, certainly, not well discussed as far
as I'm concerned are all the issues that relate to village power
and . . . the role that the villages would play in the future of
this new structure that was being created under the terms of the
settlement (Alaska Native Review Commission, Transcript 1984-vol.
IV, pages 317-318, Guy Martin testimony).
A staff assistant to a Senator Jackson related that "It [ANCSA]
was . . . a very radical effort at social engineering and it was
done on a very, very calculated basis. . . . most of the people
who wound up in positions of top leadership in the regional corporations
and the village corporations knew very, very little about the corporations
. . . (Alaska Native Review Commission, Transcript 1984-Vol. IV,
pages 375ñ376, William Van Ness testimony).
The State of Alaska Attorney General under Governor Egan points
out that ". . . one also needs to look at the unconscious things
that were going on and one of the unconscious things that was going
on was the analogy to the formation of the American republic .
. . there is, spotted throughout ANCSA, observations on relationships
in which you can see that some people were moved in one way or
another by the idea that the regional corporation was going to
stand as a super sovereign with relation to villages, which would
stand like states do to the United States. I think that there's
an unconscious adoption of this structure . . . (Alaska Native
Review Commission, Transcript 1984ñVol. IV, pages 346-347,
John Havelock testimony).
And finally, a member of the Federal Field Committee who eventually
became a staff assistant to one of Alaska's Senators states that ".
. . what we were trying to do there was consciously avoid a womb
approach of endless trusts, of substituting a law firm wardship
or a consulting firm wardship for a BIA wardship or a federal wardship.
. . . the idea of the possibility of alienating, as the attorney's
say, assets into non-Native hands was exactly the possibility that
we had in mind. That possibility would be rooted on something that
could be variously described, and one is normalcy-normal
commercial behavior, a movement toward business as usual, a movement
toward providing a sameness for the Native population in terms
of the legal recognition and treatment that it had. That is, being
like everyone else. It's got nothing to do with, I don't think,
cultural traditions and this and that, but in part of one's life,
it's important to be like everyone else. . . . remember what we're
trying to do. We were trying to extinguish a claim and we devised
a notion to do it with a combination of land and money, and the
implication of that was that good things would subsequently happen
because good things generally do happen with abundant land and
money. . . . still we probably misguessed that land was quite as
central and not very substitutable for dollars as we maybe thought
they might be. . . . the institutions that were talked about were
fee simple and private corporations. . . we had in mind, using
institutions that were common and recognizable, with long histories
and understandable, . . . [and] having to do with the State. .
. . It's pretty frightening, I suppose, and it could be pretty
painful, but the notion of shareholders behaving as shareholders,
presumably freely and willingly, is, I think, a concept that we
had in mind playing out when this feature [stock alienation] of
the 1985s and the l991s come due (Alaska Native Review Commission,
Transcript 1984-Vol. IV, pages 359, 360, 362, 365, 367, and 370,
Douglas Jones testimony).
It seems quite clean at least to me, that the corporate model
was adopted primarily because of its familiarity, both tangible
and symbolic to the ANCSA non-Native architects. This familiarity
was grounded in personal experience with the mainstream of the
Western, capitalistic economic system-a system which was
unquestionably accepted throughout the settlement process. As a
policy report of the Joint Federal-State Land Use Planning Commission
(1979:11-12), an entity created under Section 17 of ANCSA, states:
Congress clearly intended to put in the hands of Alaska Natives
the means by which they could shape their own destiny. It avoided
per capita distributions of either land or money. Instead, the
modern business corporation was chosen to hold title to the land,
invest the money, and provide the institutional vehicle with the
greatest degree of Native control, flexibility, and potential for
That this closely corresponds to orthodox capitalistic development
models persistently advocated by United States policy makers should
not be surprising, especially given some very real parallels between
Village Alaska and the "underdeveloped" world. Private ownership,
diversified markets, the capitalist firm, unrestricted operation
of trade processes, and the entrepreneurial spirit permeate ANCSA
as well as other orthodox development Models (Weaver and Jameson
1978). Unfortunately, this type of orthodox development model has
been no more successful in or appropriate for Village Alaska than
it has been in most rural areas of the "underdeveloped" world (see
Olson and Tuck 1982.)
The Colonization of Native Alaska and ANCSA
While it is tempting to hail ANCSA as a historic breakthrough
in Federal Government-Native American relationships, vestiges of
other settlements, for example, the Menominee (see Lurie l972),
persist in ANCSA. As Price (1979) indicates, ANCSA is directly
within the historic rhythm of United States Indian policy, particularly
in terms of opening up Native resources to nonNative use and development.
It also is equally tempting to hail ANCSA as a historic deviation
from the pattern of Alaska Native colonization, but that too is
Over the course of Alaska Native contact with societies, there
has been a colonial ". . . history of externally generated and
oriented activities which have either attempted to extract valuable
natural resources from Native lands and/or remould Native human
resources (Dubbs l984:73)." The vehicles for these efforts generally
have been external institutions imposed on Alaska Native society
with little regard for existing Native organizations. The cash
economy with its market institution of the trading post, the institutional
church, and the educational system with its formal schools all
functioned to promote external goals. As such, this historic organizational
framework in Village Alaska conforms closely to Dryzek and Young's
(1985) depiction of an internal colonial model for the Circumpolar
North. This model stresses economic relationships, particularly
a rural periphery exploited by and dependent upon a decision-making
industrial core for goods and services, markets for its resources,
wage employment opportunities, etc. Absorption of the rural economy
and culture into the dominant economy and culture of the region,
state, or nation becomes justified and perpetuated by some vague
notion of "economic development" and the "larger" common good.
ANCSA and its corporate organizational mechanisms clearly conform
to the external imposition, absorptive colonial pattern that characterizes
Alaska Native contacts with Euroamerican industrial systems. This
was a deliberate intent of ANCSA. ANCSA village corporations were
externally imposed by law rather than being generated by existing
internal economic needs or business opportunities (Pulley 1978:23).
Perhaps the most influential document related to the settlement
is the previously cited Federal Field Committee's massive
study Alaska Natives and the Land. In it, the colonizing role of
the corporation is clearly spelled out:
To the extent that lump sums, tracts of commercially valuable
land, or a share of revenue from public lands in Alaska are transferred
to Native corporations, a major purpose is to assist the Natives
as a group to get a firm footing within the money economy and the
capitalistic organization of the United States. . . . legislation
providing a special role for Native development corporations is
directed toward economic equality for Natives with other Americans,
and toward their economic integration into the life of the nation
(Federal Field Committee l968:531).
Indeed, in classical colonial style, the Federal Field Committee
refers to the corporation as an "organization of beneficiaries" rather
than as an organization for beneficiaries. It is little wonder
that Dryzek and Young 1985:138) see ANCSA as promoting "assimilation
with a vengeance," or that an influential Alaska Native State Senator
and former president of the Alaska Federation of Natives referred
to ANCSA as an " . . . unique but treacherous idea (Lenz 1981:6).
In reflecting recently on the settlement process, one of the original
Native participants, Byron Mallott, stated that:
The corporate structure turned out to be much more complex and
difficult to deal with than anyone dreamed of. Virtually no one
in the leadership had a sense of what for-profit corporations were,
especially in the context of land ownership (Tundra Times 9/26/1984:5).
That this type of settlement structure was advocated by, accepted
by, or acquiesced to by the Alaska Natives in l971, who genuinely
sought a land-based settlement much more than a development settlement,
is simply further proof of the United States' successful colonization
of and dominance over Native Alaska. It was not only the only game
in town, it was a game which had predetermined winners.
If ANCSA is to achieve its purported goals of self-determination
and self-sufficiency for Alaska Natives, then the Federal Government
must decolonize ANCSA and facilitate the local formation of more
appropriate village-based organizations that will keep in Alaska
Native hands, in perpetuity, the land which is the only true foundation
for Alaska Native self-determination and self-sufficiency /3/.
- Researchers probably will find the transcripts of the Berger
Commission of more long term research value than Village Journey.
- It is possible that the "corporation" mechanism was part of
the first AFN settlement bill introduced in mid-l967,
- Bass' (1984) exploration of numerous organizational options
provides a starting point for the decolonization of ANCSA.
Alaska Native Foundation. l982. A Study of Village Corporations
Created Under the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act.
Anchorage: The Alaska Native Foundation.
Alaska Native Review Commission. l984 . The Spirit of ANCSA.
Proceedings Transcript Volume III. Anchorage: Alaska Native Review
Commission. 1984b. ANCSA Institutions and Legal Regimes. Proceedings
Transcript Volume IV. Anchorage: Alaska Native Review Commission.
Anders, Gary. 1983. "The Role of Alaska Native Corporations
in the Development of Alaska". Development and Change 14:555-575.
Arnold, Robert D. l978. Alaska Native Land Claims. Anchorage:
The Alaska Native Foundation.
Bass, Kenneth C. III. 1984. The ANCSA Structure Beyond l99l:
Patching Up or Total Revision. Washington: Reasoner, Davis & Fox.
Bergen Thomas R. 1985. Village Journey: The Report of the Alaska
Native Review Commission. New York: Hill and Wang.
Dolan, Carrie. 1985. "Native Leaders See Peril in '91 decision". Fairbanks
Daily News-Miner. August 25, l985. F-1 and F-6.
Dryzek, John and Oran Young. 1985." Internal Colonialism
in the Circumpolar North: The Case of Alaska". Development
and Change 16:123-145.
Dubbs, Patrick J. 1984. "Development Training in Village
Alaska". Education with Production 3(1):69-93.
Federal Field Committee for Development Planning in Alaska. 1968.
Alaska Natives and the Land. Anchorage: Federal Field Committee.
Joint Federal-State Land Use Planning Commission for Alaska. 1979.
Study 44: Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, l971-1979 Policy
Recommendations. Anchorage: Federal-State Land Use Planning Commission
Kruse, John A. 1984. "Changes in the Well-being of Alaska
Natives Since ANCSA". Alaska Review of Social and Economic
Lenz, Mary. 1981." Native Claims Settlement Act - Was It
Meant to Fail?". Tundra Drums September 24, 1981:6