Why the Arctic Slope Inupiat Said NO to ANCSA

"Why the Arctic Slope Inupiat Said NO to ANCSA," letter to the President of the United States, December 18, 1971 from Joseph Upicksoun, President, Arctic Slope Native Association and Charles Edwardsen, Jr., Executive Director, Arctic Slope Native Association, Alaska Native News (September 1984) v.2, p. 16. Used with permission of the publisher, for educational purposes only.

The Arctic Slope Native Slope Association was the only region to vote against the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. ASNA claimed title to 56.5 million acres of the petroleum rich land north of the Brooks Range.

Arctic Slope Native Association
Barrow, Alaska
December 18, 1971

Honorable Richard M. Nixon
President of the United States
White House, Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. President:

We, the Inupiat Eskimos of the Arctic Slope Region of Alaska, urge you in the strongest possible terms to veto the Alaska Native Claims Bill passed by Congress on December 14, 1971.

We regret taking this action, but are compelled to do so because the last chapter is being written in the tragic history of this nation’s treatment of its Native Americans and their land rights. We hold aboriginal title to 56.5 million acres on Alaska’s cold, barren Arctic Slope. For centuries our people have forged a unique life-style on this land and only now, with the passage of this legislation, will our aboriginal ownership be extinguished—our land lost forever.

We understand the necessity for resolving the land rights issue—it is an obstacle standing in the way of the development of Alaska, and more particularly, a bar to transportation of Prudhoe Bay oil to market via the proposed trans-Alaska pipeline. Along with other Natives of Alaska we have looked to Congress instead of the courts for a fair, just and equitable settlement of our land rights.

But Congress has failed to act in a responsible manner in adjudicating our land rights. It has largely ignored the fundamental premise upon which the entire settlement is hinged: Separate and distinct regional ethnic groups of Alaska Eskimos, Indians and Aleuts have property rights in their land, and congress is acting to extinguish those rights. Unless the present legislation is to be nothing more than outright expropriation, there must be a direct relation between what is being taken from us and what we receive in exchange.

The Inupiat Eskimos of the Arctic Slope hold aboriginal title to perhaps the most valuable land on the North American continent. For the right to explore a mere 412,000 acres of our land, the oil companies paid the State of Alaska over $900 million. We did not receive one penny of this amount. The State of Alaska contends it owns this land, but the State does not abide by the terms of its own Statehood Act in which any right, title or interest in lands claimed or held by Eskimos, Indians or Aleuts is expressly disclaimed. We do not recognize the State’s "tentative approval" status of these lands as it violates this express disclaimer.

The Alaska Native Land Claims Bill before you for signature violates the basic tenets of a land rights settlement in several respects.

First, although some may think $962.5 million, and 40 million acres constitutes a fair settlement, the method by which the land and money are allocated among the Native groups is far more important. Congress has chosen wrongly to follow a population allocation throughout almost the entire settlement, instead of an allocation based upon the size of each Native region’s aboriginal land area. The latter method is the only one that even begins to approach the type of allocation a court would make, which would take into consideration not only the size of the area claimed, but its value.

Our population is sparse, only about 5% of the Native total, but that is because our land will not support as large a population as other Native regions. This does not diminish our aboriginal rights as they are not dependent upon how many of us there are, but upon dominion over land through use and occupancy. Adoption of the population-based formula means that we will receive only 5% of the settlement’s monetary proceeds, even though virtually all of the $500 million in 2% royalty revenues will come from our land. Is this fair? Does it comport with even the most basic concept of justice?

Second, the land which we are allowed to retain will be far from our villages and of little economic potential. Although this is a settlement of our land rights, the State of Alaska comes first, the Federal Government with its Naval Petroleum Reserve and Arctic Wildlife Refuge comes first, the third parties who have federal and state leases on our land come first. We, the aboriginal owners, come last. We were astonished to learn that the Conference Committee had recognized the given priority to land selections filed by the State of Alaska in December, 1968 and January, 1969. These selections came in the face of pending Native protests, a pending lawsuit to decide the State’s right to make selections on Native-claimed land and Congressional consideration of the land rights issue. These and earlier selections directly contravened Section 4 of the Alaska Statehood Act in which the State disclaimed any interest in our land. With the existing and proposed federal reserves, state selections and third party invasions of our land, we will be left with the mountain tops.

Third, a Native group in southeast Alaska has a claim to a land area (2.6 million acres) that is 4-1/2% of the size of our land area (56.5 million acres) having a value that is infinitesimal compared to the value of our land. They are receiving 400% of the amount that we are receiving from the proceeds of the settlement (and when translated into the differences of the cost of living index, represents 1,200%), which under the terms of the Bill continues forever.

We have been denied our lands, the value of our lands, the opportunity to form an economic basis, and our culture is being banished to the eternal night of the Arctic Slope. Our lands are yielding substantially all of the $500 million, 2% royalty payment which Congress is giving to the other Natives. Meanwhile, the same favored group mentioned who are receiving the benefits of our land and who under the Bill receive title to 4 billion board feet of marketable timber, a renewable resource, are not required to share that with either ourselves or the other Natives. Political expediency has dictated these results. Congress has again perpetuated the basic error that has always existed in its relations with Native Americans by adopting a philosophy of a frontier society rather than a responsible criterion as is laid down in your message to the Congress in July of 1970.

"The heritage of centuries of injustice" is perpetuated. We are again being "deprived of (our) ancestral lands and denied the opportunity to control (our) own destiny." The Bill fails "both as a matter of justice and as a matter of enlightened social policy," (the current value of our portion of the settlement will not even build a sewer system in Barrow). It contains substantially the same evils of House Concurrent, Resolution 108, which is described in your message. It does cast us adrift from the "special relationship" between Natives and the Federal Government. We will not even be able to build and maintain a high school or needed junior high and grade schools. It places us at the mercy of the frontier philosophy of Alaska and Federal paternalism. (Apart from the 30 million acres of Federal withdrawals that we are denied access to, we are also subjected to the priorities of existing lease applications and leases covering 15 million acres, state selections of [ ] million acres, and potential further Federal withdrawals of 20 to 40 million acres, leaving us nothing but our bitter disappointment.)

As applied to us, the Bill sanctifies the complete violation by the Federal Government and the State of Alaska of the sacred provisions of Section 4 of the Statehood Act. It violates the very legal basis on which Congress purports to act on the one hand and completely frustrates the social goals intended to be obtained on the other hand.

Arctic Slope Native Association,
Barrow, Alaska

Executive Director,
Arctic Slope Native Association,
Barrow, Alaska

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