ANCSA and Native Corporations

Alaska was admitted to the Union as the 49th state on January 3, 1959. Under the terms of the Alaska Statehood Act, the federal government would transfer ownership of up to 104.5 million acres of land to the new state, but none of this would be land that was subject to Native claims. (Alaska Statehood Act, 1958. To read the law, click here. )

Former Alaska Governor Walter Hickel. (Click button for citation)


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The law gave the state 25 years to select which tracts of land it wanted. In the 1960s, the state began to make its selections—but much of the land it wanted was subject to Native claims. Several Native groups filed lawsuits to stop the land selections, and the Alaska Federation of Natives* (AFN) was founded to advocate for a fair and comprehensive settlement to the land-claim issue. In response, the federal government shut down the selection process and told the state to negotiate an agreement with the Natives. (Jones, 1981)

The discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay in 1968 added urgency to those negotiations. Without a resolution of the Native claims, it would not be possible to build the massive Trans-Alaska Pipeline that the oil industry said was needed to carry Alaskan oil to markets in the Lower 48*. (Naske, 1994)

The pressure to come to a quick settlement in the interest of economic development was in fact reminiscent of the pressure to seize Native lands following the Georgia Gold Rush in the 1830s. In each case, the opportunity to extract a highly valuable natural resource suddenly made Native land even more valuable than before. But several factors helped to produce a very different outcome for the Alaska Natives:

· The Natives had effective political representation, through the AFN and other organizations;

· U.S. courts were more sympathetic to the Alaska Natives’ claims, ruling in their favor in several instances;

· The state government was willing to seek a negotiated settlement with the Natives;

· The federal government—including Secretary of the Interior Walter Hickel, a former governor of Alaska—also favored a negotiated settlement; and

· Greater public awareness of the injustices done to Natives in the past increased the social and political pressure to find an equitable settlement. (Jones, 1981)

After protracted negotiations, Alaskan officials and the AFN reached an agreement in principle: Natives would receive land that they had historically used and drop their claims to any other land in the state in return for a cash settlement. The exact terms of that agreement would be for the federal government to decide and—after initially offering the Natives far less than they wanted, in terms of land and cash—Congress and President Richard Nixon eventually agreed to a historic deal.

A map of the original 12 Alaska Native regional corporations. A 13th regional corporation was established later. (click map to enlarge) (Click button for citation)

On December 18, 1971, President Nixon signed into law the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA*), which at the time was the largest land claim settlement in American history.

In return for letting the federal government “extinguish” their claims to most Alaskan land, Natives received 44 million acres and a cash payment of $962.5 million. The 44 million acres was one-ninth of the total area of the state of Alaska; the monetary settlement represented a direct payment of $462.5 million from the federal government and another $500 million to be paid over time from state oil revenues. (ANCSA, 1971)

Even more historic than the size of the ANCSA settlement was the way it was structured—a radical departure from the traditional model of Native reservations in the Lower 48, in which the federal government holds Native lands in trust. Instead of establishing reservations ANCSA set up a system of Native corporations* to administer the land and invest the monetary settlement for the benefit of Natives. (Thomas, 1986)

The law set up 12 regional corporations, each associated with a particular part of the state and the Natives who traditionally lived there. All Natives who were alive in 1971 could enroll in one of the corporations, and each received 100 shares of stock in the corporation in which they enrolled. (A 13th corporation was established later, for Natives who were not living in Alaska in 1971). The law also established more than 200 local or “village” corporations, in which Natives could also enroll and receive shares of stock. The corporations were given free rein to use the land and any mineral or other natural resources it might hold to develop for-profit businesses and to pay Native shareholders a yearly dividend based on those profits.

The corporation structure was the brainchild of the AFN, which saw this proposal as an opportunity to extend “the transformational power of capitalism…to Alaska Natives,” while also preserving the land and cash settlement so that it could benefit future generations. (Linxwiler, 2007)

A Tlingit totem pole in Sitka, Alaska. Click on the image to go to the Smithsonian’s Alaska Native Collections. (Click button for citation)

ANCSA was generally well-received in Alaska by both Natives and non-Natives. After years of legal wrangling over exactly who was entitled to Native corporation shares, many of those corporations have grown into successful businesses that generate substantial dividends and provide thousands of jobs for Native shareholders. And, by removing one critical barrier to construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, ANCSA paved the way for the emergence of the state’s “oil economy,” which has generated substantial economic benefits for both Natives and non-Natives. (Alaska Humanities Forum, 2016)

One unique aspect of Alaska’s “oil economy” is the Alaska Permanent Fund, a state fund that collects 25 percent of all oil-land royalties and invests those funds for the benefit of all Alaskans. The Fund, which in 2015 amounted to more than $51 billion, pays a yearly dividend to every qualified Alaskan; in 2015, that meant a dividend check of $2,072 for virtually every man, woman, and child in the state. (Klint and Doogan, 2015) By enabling construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, ANCSA in a very real sense made the Permanent Fund, and its yearly dividend checks, possible.

Still, the law remains controversial, especially among Natives who believe it weakens ties to Native heritage. (Thomas, 1985) Almost a half-century after its passage, the jury is still out on whether ANCSA was a “good deal” or a “raw deal” for Natives. But it is, in almost every respect, a very different sort of deal than that received by any other group of Natives in American history.

Week 8 Short Responses

Historians, like judges and juries, come to conclusions after considering all the evidence. A conclusion* is essentially a brief thesis statement; it’s the judgment that a historian makes about a historical event, after considering the relevant evidence.

In each of the following exercises, you will be asked to consider the evidence about ANCSA and Native corporations that was presented in this assignment. Based on that evidence, you will be asked to assess the validity of different conclusions. Be sure to respond to each question in one to two sentences, using proper grammar.

Week 8 Short Responses – Question 1

Consider the following statement: The support of non-Native Alaskans was an important factor leading to the settlement of Alaska Native land claims. Is this conclusion consistent with the evidence presented in this learning block? Answer Yes or No, and then explain your choice in one or two sentences.

Week 8 Short Responses – Question 2

Consider the following statement: ANCSA was a fair settlement for Alaska Natives. Is this conclusion consistent with the evidence presented in this learning block? Answer Yes or No, and then explain your choice in one or two sentences.

Week 8 Short Responses – Question 3

Consider the following statement: ANCSA led to economic benefits for white Alaskans as well as for Natives. Is this conclusion consistent with the evidence presented in this learning block? Answer Yes or No, and then explain your choice in one or two sentences.

Exercise: Applying Historical Thinking

During the course of your college career, you’ll probably take a wide variety of courses. The lessons you’ve learned in this course—about how to think historically, how to conduct research and evaluate sources, how to construct a thesis and build arguments to support it—can be applied to most of them.

Week 8 Short Responses

On this page you’ll find possible assignments from college-level courses that you might take here at Southern New Hampshire University, or at other similar institutions. For each assignment, please tell us—in two to three complete sentences—which specific skills from this course can be used to help you complete the assignment in question. Be sure to use proper grammar.

The first assignment is a sample, designed to give you a sense of the sort of responses we’re looking for.


For a Marketing course: What skills from this course would you use to create a three-paragraph promotional tool that explains the value of a chosen product and a sales pitch aimed at individual buyers?

Suggested/Sample Response

To explain the value of the chosen product, I will develop a thesis statement, based on research, which takes a strong position about the unique value of this product. The sales pitch is, essentially, a series of arguments that support my thesis statement. The sales pitch/arguments incorporate evidence of my product’s value, and can include assessments of the reliability of this evidence.

The next activity uses a rich text area. You can tab to the editor body. Press ALT-F10 to get to the toolbar. Press ESC to return to the editor body. A save button is available in the top toolbar all the way to the right and will become visible when it receives focus.

Now that you’ve seen a sample question and response, please look at the next three questions and for each one, tell us which specific skills from this course you would use to complete the assignment in question. Responses to the following three questions will be graded.

Week 8 Short Responses – Question 4

For an American Literature course: What skills from this course would you use to develop a brief essay on the significance of Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” a poem written in the summer of 1865?

Week 8 Short Responses – Question 5

For a Sociology course: What skills from this course would you use to produce an annotated bibliography for your course research project?

Week 8 Short Responses – Question 6

For a Business course: What skills from this course would you use to decide between two different investment proposals?

Reflecting on Your Essay

Week 8 Short Response

Throughout the research process for your historical analysis essay, you have learned a lot about your topic. The historical thinking you have been using in this course has probably changed your perception of the event—and it may well have changed the way you look at other things, as well.

Week 8 Short Responses – Question 7

How can history serve as a lens for the rest of the academic program you’ll pursue at SNHU? Has this course changed the way you think about what you want to study? Why or why not?

Please respond to this question in two to three sentences, using proper grammar.

Reflection and Revision

Think back to the historical case studies that have been covered in this course:

· Irish immigrant experience

· Québécois immigrant experience

· Women’s suffrage and the Nineteenth Amendment

· Equal Rights Amendment

· School desegregation in Boston

· Voting Rights Act of 1965

· Cherokee “Trail of Tears”

· Alaska Native Corporations

Week 8 Short Responses – Question 8

What did you learn about one of these topics or historical events that was new or surprising to you? Explain in at least two to three sentences; be sure to use proper grammar.

Week 8 Short Responses – Question 9

In one paragraph, explain which parts of your historical investigation and analysis were most interesting to you. Which parts were less interesting? Be sure to use proper grammar.


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