The following are public statements provided at hearings held in Fairbanks and Anchorage the 17th and 18th of October 1969 prior to the passage of ANCSA. They provide the reader with some of the issues and concerns discussed prior to the passage of ANCSA.
STATEMENT OF WILLIAM HENSLEY, STATE REPRESENTATIVE (spoken)
My name is Representative Hensley and I live in Kotzebue. I am also a member of the AFN Board. I represented the Northwest Alaska Native Association and previously was Chairman of the Alaska Claims Task Force that came up with the initial proposals to attempt to resolve the problem of the land claims.
It was unfortunate that you didn't make it to Kotzebue, I know you weren't able to fly into the town, but we were expecting you to tell you some of our problems.
First of all, I want to say that I recognize that Congress has the complete power over the land settlement and that we all of us recognize the fact that if we are going to get a settlement within a reasonable time that it will be necessary to try to obtain the legislation early enough to adjudicate this problem.
I want to say a few words about some of the things I stated this morning regarding land, the amounts of money, and the percentage.
First of all, we recognize that Congress has promised that it will protect us in our use and occupation of land. Unfortunately, in some ways because of the law, I think, Congress hasn't been responsible for hurting us in a sense, but through the public land laws, land has been taken from communities that should belong to the Native communities. For instance, churches have been allowed to obtain at least 640 acres if they can prove their existence by 1900. Consequently, in our village we have at least 90 acres of the best land in the hands of the church. Fortunately, it is somewhat enlightened and people are allowed to reside on church property.
Furthermore, takings are made in our communities by Federal agencies, of course large portions of land and quite often the best land.
I think the people who have been living in this country for generations know what land the people like to live on. The 40 million acres, we think, is very reasonable. In our area we have filed upon 35 million acres for a dozen villages and out of the proposed 70 we get just about a fraction, less than 10 percent of that total area.
With the igloo lands, we have problems in some communities along the coast where they are situated right on the beach, on a small peninsula, and the area of land that is used by the villages is often quite some distance from the community, that is, the heavy use and occupation that is for hunting, fishing, berry-picking, and other purposes and you have to be located beyond water. We have the situation in Kotzebue where our use and occupation of land is mainly along the foothills and along the deltas farther from the village.
That is why I think we need this State provision for new lands beyond the communities we live in.
The $500 million we need desperately for development of our own communities. We felt that we would rather have the control of this funding in our home communities. We have taken it pretty much as a basic that we don't want the departments to control reserve lands. We don't want that. We prefer the power to be here in Alaska. It was made by the people, after all, this is their settlement and they should have some control over it.
We also think that if we are going to agree to an extinguishment of Indian title forever that we should have some participation in the resources of the land forever, perhaps, if Congress wishes it that way. That is why we have the privilege of this percent, we are saying that we want some benefit from the resources that have been taken out of the land.
Of course, it is our position that most of the land has not been taken in the sense that you know, that must be proven in order to be compensated. We have also taken it pretty much as natural that the Native people are participants in the Alaskan life. We are not trying to set up a separate state of any sort. We do a lot of traveling. We go to and from our communities. We don't want to set up a separate race group, ghetto to the poor Native people. The fact of the matter is that we like our communities, we prefer to live in them, and I think we can develop the opportunity for the young people to return to their communities with responsibilities that would be upon the people once we made a settlement.
I think, contrary to the feeling of a lot of people, our Native communities are not remaining the same in size, generally they are growing, not only the large ones but the smaller ones are growing. Of course, you have people moving into different areas, and I don't think it will be a matter of tied-up land if we got ahold of it. We want that firm title. I think the land that I have seen most tied up is the land that has been held by the mining companies, for instance, Nome, much of that land is held by the mining companies and take, for instance, Juneau. This land is just tied up, just sitting there, and I don't think our situation would be quite that difficult.
We want to be able to lease it and develop it for whatever purpose we see fit, whoever got title to it. Right now we can't do anything with it. Furthermore, we do not intend to run anybody out. It was our intent when we filed these land claims to simply to put a stop to the disposition, and we don't intend to throw out anybody who has been settled. After all, they are neighbors and we get along with them.
One other point I was asked to bring up is the fact that I am chairman of the board of the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative, and it is probably the most union cooperative in the country. That covers the entire State, and we represent the western States. You know, at these meetings we have electric power, up to this very day, and we are in the process of building at least 60 systems in the villages in the next 2 years.
I have one other point, and that is with regard to the point regarding locatable minerals. An action was taken by the AFN board of directors on September 2 and 3 to delete the locatables from this proposed legislation. Therefore, it is an oversight, we should have made the point earlier, but you will be receiving a letter from the federation regarding this for the record.
Question: Were you in favor of statehood?
About the time statehood was being acquired I was in high school. I was out of the State. I was, however, in Fairbanks when the announcement came that the Senate had passed the bill, and it seems to me that everybody was happy over it, and I was, too. I wasn't really aware of the significance.
Question: Do you think the State of Alaska should participate in the settlement of the Native claims?
Sir, I think my mind was pretty much made up during the discussions of the Land Claims Task Force back in 1967 when Hickel was Governor. It was my impression that he was favorable to State participation in some matters. Of course, Governor Miller initially in Washington supported the idea of State participation in some manner. It is my view, since you have the complete power over the settlement, that Congress should do its will on this particular subject.
I think that with the resources that the State now has, with the selections that it has made, and the discoveries of oil and land, it is probably it is in a better position to participate than it was previously.
Question: I assume, you were here when the people testified for the mining organizations? Would you agree with that position?
I think if we are going to go on the basis of use and occupancy as used in the courts, that is, of all the land that are utilized in the subsistence way of life, then I think we would be going much beyond the 40 million acres that we are talking about.
Question: That was my impression, and it was also my impression that, if this type of interpretation was made, that the AFN bill really does not call for enough land.
That is true, For instance, I mean right today, presently, we are using occupied land, you know, which is contrary to the situation where they are taking possession many years ago, a hundred years ago or less. Right now, even in the largest towns in Alaska, that is, Kotzebue, Barrow, Bethel, and Nome, the people who do have jobs still have to supplement their income by use and occupancy of the land, hunting and fishing and trapping and this sort of thing.
Question: I was also interested in a statement which you made that in terms of the legal definition no taking had occurred at this time. Would you like to enlarge on that a little? I am not quite sure I know what you mean.
Congressman, I am not a lawyer, and you are seated next to lawyers, but my understanding is that the Indian Claims Commission or the Court of Claims, when they determine that compensation, this will be taken. So my point of view is that most villages throughout Alaska, I think there has been no taking in that sense, that is, by specific act of Congress and by treaty or by any battles of any sort.
Question: Before going through any bureau or agency of the government, obviously, they have been taking in your sense, particularly with the Katmai National Park and some of these wildlife refuges you talk about?
And the city of Anchorage, under the law the people who reside in this area should be compensated.
Question: So under your theory, the longer this goes on the more valuable the property becomes in Alaska, the more the cost, assuming it will be settled in court rather than by legislation, the more the cost might be to settle it.
Absolutely. I think this is definitely true, and we are presently even with the lease sale, establishing, you know, the value of land at the time of taking, and I think if we leave this to the judiciary to decide, they can't help but face the facts.
Question: I would be interested in knowing whether the Alaska Federation of Natives would favor the addition of language to the bill, H.R. 14212, to make quite certain that there would be no net reduction of the land areas of a national park by virtue of the application of these provisions.
Yes. I think that there is not a great deal of problem in that. I don't think there are a great many communities or any communities within the national park. For one, in the entire district that I represent, the entire Northwest, we have no national parks to speak of. We have a national wildlife refuge up north, but we have only one community, but I don't know whether their allotment under the bill would cut into the national park. I don't see any real problem with that, but we can provide you with a statement on that.
Question: I think we have a problem which this committee will have to face and that is that if there is any national park or monument or wildlife reservation or any area of this where acreage might be taken away from it, you may very well generate a whole area of opposition from the conservation people and I think you should address yourself to a solution of that problem.
Those of us who have been working with this problem all recognize that it is a very complicated one and many interests are affected by this legislation, but we have attempted to, in all our deliberations on the legislation, minimize the conflicts that are built into the legislation. We all know that we are going to have to live with some of these things in our development of the State.
Question: There seems to be a little problem also as to the checkerboard withdrawals and that that might be given some thought. Perhaps the land withdrawn might e closer to the village land we are talking about, the township.
We recognize that there is a problem there. However, since most villages have a large area of use and occupancy, we like to have at least some amount of choice regarding the selection. It is the same problem I mentioned earlier as to where we really use the land, see. It may not always be right within the confines of the village and a village may want some land further on down the river from where they really live but that is utilized.
Source: Alaska Native Land Claims Part II, "Hearings before the Subcommittee on Indian Affairs of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, House of Representatives, Ninety-first Congress First Session on H.R. 13142, H.R. 10193, and H.R. 14212, Bills to Provide for the Settlement of Certain Land Claims of Alaska Natives, and for Other Purposes. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1970.
Speech by Willie Hensley at Bilingual Conference, Anchorage, Alaska, February, 1981