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The Collected Essays of Patrick J. Dubbs

Organizational Congruence and ANCSA

© Patrick J. Dubbs

Symposium on Alaska Native Organizations
Society for Applied Anthropology
1986 Annual Meeting-March 29, 1986
Reno, Nevada


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 retention/protection provisions.

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 historical event.

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.

Why Corporations?

If, as it seems, corporations were not appropriate vehicles for the settlement of Alaska Native claims at the village level, why, then, corporations?

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 1968: 528-529)

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 revealing.

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 long-term benefit.

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 an overstatement.

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/.

End Notes

  1. Researchers probably will find the transcripts of the Berger Commission of more long term research value than Village Journey.
  2. It is possible that the "corporation" mechanism was part of the first AFN settlement bill introduced in mid-l967,
  3. 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 for Alaska.

Kruse, John A. 1984. "Changes in the Well-being of Alaska Natives Since ANCSA". Alaska Review of Social and Economic Conditions 21(3):1-12

Lenz, Mary. 1981." Native Claims Settlement Act - Was It Meant to Fail?". Tundra Drums September 24, 1981:6 and l9.



The essays assembled in this collection reflect over 30 years of first hand observation of, and participation in Native education and rural development in Alaska.




Part I: Alaska Native Education

Cultural Definitions in Educational Programs

The Log School: A Case for Appropriate Design (with Ray Barnhardt)

Alaska Native Education and Development Ideologies

Part II - Rural Development in Alaska

Organizational Congruence and ANCSA

Another Development in Rural Alaska

Decolonizing Economics

The Whale and the Co-op: The Emerging Issue of Animal Rights in Rural Alaska

Arctic Atolls: Small State Theory and Rural Development in Alaska

Sustainable Development and Indigenous People: Authors and Actors in Rural Alaska

Small Alaska Native Villages: Are They Worth Saving?



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Last modified November 7, 2006