OIL AND THE PROSPECT of oil have made the state of Alaska suddenly covet land that for centuries no one but the natives had ever wanted. They have also made the natives even less eager than they would otherwise be to part with their land. And, wonder of wonders, they have made the stakes so high that although the natives may not be able to keep much of their land, they will be paid a tremendous sum for what they lose. Of course, the sum, though tremendous, will be much lower than market value. The natives will be treated as justly as is politically feasible.
The original inhabitants of Alaska, the Eskimos, Indians, and Aleuts (who now constitute about one-fifth of Alaska's nearly 300,000 people), were never coerced or tricked into signing, away their land, as the Indians of the "lower 48" were. White settlers found most of Alaska too inhospitable to bother taking. The summers are short, the winters are long and cold, the soil in the northern third of the state stays frozen all year long, much of the 32,000-mile coastline is ice-bound most of the year, the whole land is broken by rugged mountains, including 20,000-foot Mount McKinley, and distances are vast. (The state is larger than Texas and California put together, stretches 1,300 miles from southeast to northwest, and spans three time zones.) By and large, white men stayed in settlements and cities, and the natives were free to roam uncontested over almost the entire territory.
The first white settlers in Alaska were Russians who came to trade with the natives for furs. Vitus Bering, a Dane sailing for the Czar, discovered Alaska in 1741. He was followed by fur traders and adventurers who ransacked the Aleutian Islands and traded with the Indians along the southeastern coast. During the early nineteenth century, Russians made trips into the interior and set up trading posts, but aside from their headquarters, first on Kodiak Island and then at Sitka, they were transients. Traders from the British Hudson's Bay Company penetrated the interior, too, and established a trading post at Fort Yukon. And starting in 1848 whalers fished along the coast, but they didn't take up much room. Then the United States, under Secretary of State William H. Seward, bought Alaska from Russia in 1867. The Americans set up canneries and sawmills along the southeastern coast, whalers and fur traders roamed the Arctic coast, the gold rush of 1897 drew people into the interior, and subsequent gold discoveries led to the founding of Fairbanks and Nome; but by and large, the Americans, too, took little of the land. Even today, most of the people outside south-central and south-eastern Alaska are natives. Until thirty years ago, before the war and the postwar construction of the Alcan highway had brought thousands of additional whites to Alaska, natives were the majority all over the state.
This is not to say that even the earliest white men brought no changes. They had a tremendous impact on all the native cultures. When the Russians came, the population of Alaska was probably about 80,000. The Eskimos were concentrated in the northern part of the state. Those along the coast depended on whales, walruses, seals, and fish for their living. Those inland, more nomadic than the coastal people, depended on the caribou. In the Aleutian Islands lived the Aleuts, who depended entirely for food, clothing, and even parts of their shelter on the fish and animals of the sea. Most of the interior of the state, the part in which living off the land was most difficult, was inhabited by Athabascan-speaking, Indians who hunted, fished, and gathered plants for sustenance. Along the southeastern coast were the highly developed salmon-fishing Indian cultures of the Tlingits and the Haidas.
The Russians first directed their attention to the Aleutians, where their weapons and their diseases managed to reduce the native population from about 20,000 to about 2,000. "The Aleuts' flourishing culture and economy did not long survive [Bering's] discovery," wrote T.P. Bank in Scientific American in 1958. "When the Bering expedition returned to Russia and told of the vast herds of fur animals in the North Pacific, fortune hunters started a stampede almost equal to the great Klondike gold rush that came some 150 years later. Adventurers, thieves, exiles, murderers, and princes alike set out to plunder this remote region of its treasure. A tide of greed, cruelty, and bloodshed swept over the Aleutian Islands. The Aleuts fought back, but they were overwhelmed by the superior weapons of the Russian hunters. Whole villages were wiped out; the population was decimated not only by guns but also by smallpox, measles, tuberculosis, and pneumonia."
European weapons and diseases made inroads on the mainland, too. The authoritative government study "Alaska Natives and the Land," prepared in 1968 by the Federal Field Committee for Development Planning in Alaska, reported that in the area around Cook Inlet, "The 1838 smallpox epidemic . . . decimated the Indian population and broke down group morale and action, enabling Russian exploitation to expand and [to] start the decline of native culture in the region." White traders destroyed native trade patterns. "The historic gatherings at the great trading centers of the Arctic were absolutely essential to the [Eskimo] way of life and settlement patterns that existed prior to European contact," the Field Committee said, but, according to Robert F. Spencer's standard study of the North Alaskan Eskimo, "This important trading system, which had been in existence for many years, was halted with the advent of extensive commercial whaling in the north Bering and Chukchi seas beginning in 1848. Whalers transporting goods chiefly in their own ships and distributing them directly to the Eskimo effectively curtailed the native traders, who could offer little in the way of competition. This, in turn, had a dramatic effect on the inland Eskimo. Many inlanders, no longer able to obtain trade goods upon which they were quite dependent, were forced to move to the coastal villages and learn a new way of life." The goods available from traders and whalers sucked the natives into the white man's economic system, bringing them in to live around trading posts and driving them into activities that could bring them enough money to buy the white man's goods.
"Up to about 1915," recalled Alfred Hopson, a 72-year-old Eskimo, "the whaling was the business that changed the life of the Eskimo." Hopson, the son of an Eskimo woman and a Liverpool sailor who had come to Point Barrow on board a British whaler, said, "Many whaling ships came in the summer and passed Point Barrow to go into the Canadian Arctic and whaled from Herschel Island and also Bailey Island [across the Amundsen Gulf]. . . . Some whaling companies established whaling stations at Point Hope and Point Barrow. At one time there were two companies in Barrow, and many people came from along the coast and also some from the inland. The whalers supplied food and clothing for the families year around just to have them man their boats in April and May and also in the fall. The average estimate price of the baleen [whalebone] from one whale was $10,000. Some Eskimos had their own boats and whaled independently. Three Eskimos had three crews each and caught whales, but the traders usually got the baleen.
"After a time the whalers wanted too much for the baleen, and manufacturers offered a prize of $25,000 to anyone making a suitable substitute. So about 1910, it was produced. When the price of baleen dropped, the whaling companies gave their men an allowance, and all Eskimos went into debt. . . . The whalers did not come any more, and the Eskimos had to find a living elsewhere. The price of fur increased about this time, which again caused many families to move. They used whale boats and umiaks [boats made of sealskin], and the whole North Coast was populated in one summer, from Point Barrow to the boundary line of Canada, some even going to the Mackenzie River.
"In 1930, when I took census and traveled east, there were families camped all along the coast about ten miles from each other, many places having as many as four to five families. . . . Again the fur prices went down and the people moved back, and by 1950 only the traders, with a small number of Eskimos, settled at Barter Island. . . .
"In 1944 the Navy came with the Seabees to start oil exploration, and that was the beginning of an era whereby people began to look at jobs for a living. . . .
During the 1920's inland Eskimos moved to the coast, where they trapped foxes and other animals whose pelts they sold to traders. With the money they bought tobacco, white flour, and manufactured goods. When they could no longer get credit at the trading post, which had fallen on hard times, they moved back inland.
Farther south in Alaska, beginning in the late nineteenth century, Americans set up canneries and sawmills, and they, too, drew natives from their old homes and their old ways of life. All over the state, white hunters and trappers made inroads into the huge populations of game animals and fish on which all the native cultures depended.
The gold miners who flooded into interior Alaska in the '90's and the hunters who supplied them made permanent changes in the number and migration patterns of Alaskan game. "The Gold Rush period greatly affected the native subsistence pattern," says the Federal Field Committee report. "Not only were there shifts in native populations, but also the impact of feeding thousands of prospectors made wildlife resources very scarce. The harvest of wildlife resources was particularly disastrousthousands of big game animals were required by the booming mining communities, and they were extirpated from many areas of former range. The indiscriminate use of fire also greatly affected wildlife populations. Caribou migration routes changed, and these animals completely disappeared from former ranges. . . .
"The placer mining period also disastrously affected many bottom-land habitats that the native people depended upon for food and for harvest. The result of gold-washing procedures of the time was great saltation in bottom-land flatsthe habitat of waterfowl, muskrat, and beavercausing wildlife populations to either shift or disappear."
In the places where white men chose to settle, the natives lost effective sovereignty over the land. As cities built up, natives moved into them to work. Today, many natives work in the cities for a while, then go back to their villages. Alaskan cities have large transient, basically unassimilated, populations of natives.
Most natives still live in villages, though. In 1968, the Federal Field Committee observed, "Village Alaskathe 178 predominantly native places [of 25 persons or more] scattered across the stateis the home of about 37,400 Eskimos, Indians, and Aleuts, about 70 per cent of the native population residing in the state. Village Alaska stretches from the communities of Metlakatla and Hydaburg, in the rainforests of the southeastern Panhandle, north and west 1,300 miles to Barrow and Wainwright on the tundra along the Arctic Ocean, and south and west nearly 1,600 miles to Nikolski and Atka on the foggy, lushly vegetative islands of the Aleutian Chain.
"In a number of ways these places . . . are unalikein size, in climate, in landscape, in cultural heritage and its continuing influences, and in patterns of life and workbut in important ways they are alike. Most importantly, they are alike in that village people rely upon gathered resources of the lands and watersnot upon income from jobsas a base for their subsistence. While not all villages or all village people depend to the same extent upon hunting, fishing, trapping, and other activities of gathering for food, reliance on gathering activities is generally characteristic of village Alaska."
On my first trip to Alaska, I flew into the Eskimo village of Anaktuvuk Pass, which lies in a flat, elevated valley among the jagged Brooks Mountains. The people of Anaktuvuk Pass are inland Eskimos, whose traditional economy was based on the caribou and who still hunt the caribou, which often migrate through their pass, for food and skins. As noted, the inland Eskimos are generally more migratory than those on the coast, and Anaktuvuk Pass has existed as a fixed settlement only since 1948. Like many small, remote places in Alaska, it has an airstrip. Wien Consolidated Airlines flies scheduled flights in twice a week. There are no arrivals and departures on the same day, though, and I had no invitations to spend the night, so I chartered a small plane in Fairbanks for my trip. We flew right in among the mountains, which were very sharp and snow-covered, and when we landed, we found a group of curious men in parkas waiting for us at the runway. I identified myself to one, to whom I had been given a letter of introduction, and he led me off toward his house. A couple of the men went off on snowmobiles. There were huskie dogs in the village, standing or playing or curled up peacefully in the snow (it was 22 degrees below zero), but it was obvious that snowmobiles were the standard means of transportation. Except for a slightly larger one-story grammar school, the village consisted entirely of flat-roofed one-room houses. One or two older houses were made of logs, but all the others were plywood. The front door to every house was protected by a low, enclosed entryway. Inside, the standard set-up was a stove with a stovepipe extending through the roof, a table, beds on one side of the room, and kids all over. A pot of coffee was kept hot on the stove all the time. In the houses I visited, I saw uncompleted caribou-hide masks, trimmed with fur. The people of Anaktuvuk Pass make these masks, which have no traditional or ritual significance whatsoever, to send to the cities, where tourists buy them for as much as thirty-five dollars apiece. Outside, among the empty metal oil drums that litter the village, caribou and other hides are hung on platforms made of poles to cure. In one house, I talked with an old Eskimo named Simon Paneak, who was a great caribou hunter in his youth. He remembered the way the mountains had been fifty years ago, and when he told me about a great migration from the mountains to the Arctic coast, he pointed to an old man hunched in a chair beside the wall and said, "His grandfather led the people up northeast near Herschel Island." The epic history of the place was that close. So was a transistor radio that picked up nothing but the conversation of the pilots of passing airplanes and was kept on apparently for that purpose. Paneak told me that the young people from the village who went away to schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs often returned just because they liked village life. His own grandson, he said, went away to school for training as a mechanical engineer but married an Indian girl from New Mexico and came back to Anaktuvuk Pass. "Now he's in Fairbanks earning money, and she's living here in the village." Paneak said he hoped the village would survive. The village proper may be relatively new, but, he said, "When my mother and father were kids, a lot of people lived in these mountains." When he talked about the state's taking land that the natives in other areas had used, he said the state was "like a raven that comes down and eats your meat."
Wherever they live, the natives are far and away the worst-off people in Alaska, In many respects, they are worse off than any other group in the United States. Ramsey Clark, former Attorney General of the United States, told the Senate Interior Committee on August 6, 1969, "The present condition of the native Alaskan is intolerable. His average age at death is 34.3 years, barely half the life of all our citizens. Infant mortality is nearly two and one-half times that of white Alaskans. Ninety-five per cent of all native dwellings need replacement. A survey of twenty native villages in northwest Alaska found [that] fewer than 10 per cent of the households had water wells, the only satisfactory water source. Flush toilets were found in only two villagesa single flush toilet in each village, none in the other eighteen. [Only] one-fourth of the households had privies, and only half of these were adequate from a health standpoint.
"A government report finds the native population averaging less than one half the calories medically recommended and variety in food grossly deficient.
"Joblessness in the winter averages 50 per cent of the labor force and runs 80 to 100 per cent in many native villages. The average per-capita income of all native Alaskans is less than one-fourth that of white Alaskans. Prices in Alaska are the highest in the nation, and prices in native areas are the highest in Alaska. Eighty per cent of welfare in Alaska for Aid to Dependent Children goes to natives.
"Educational opportunities for native youth are terribly limited. Many villages offer nothing beyond the eighth grade. In 1960, only 8 per cent [of the natives of secondary-school age] finished high school. . . .
"Perhaps no single fact more graphically dramatizes the fate of native people in the advance of our civilization than that today, from the hundreds of millions of acres they have used and occupied of the 375,000,000 in the state, 60,000 native Alaskans now have . . . [full ownership of] 500 acres. This is roughly 400 square feet each, a room twenty feet by twenty feet. This in Alaska, where hunters must still cover many townships to feed and clothe their families."
Representative Wayne Aspinall of Colorado, chairman of the House Interior Committee, suggested to Clark that despite the grim statistics, "The treatment we have been giving to all the people of Alaska during this century has led to a better way of living . . . and increased their opportunities for longer life and more education and so forth. Is this not true?" he asked Clark. "Well, you know," Clark replied, "I think the statistics and our experience and our knowledge demonstrate beyond question that the disadvantages of the Alaskan natives are immense today, and that many years ago there were many more of them living in their native way. Who is going to judge which is the better? In their native way they were thriving. They did not have our diseases and they did not have the incursions of our hunters and our fishermen and our exploiters seeking timber and oil. . . .
The land is very important to natives of all the Alaskan cultural groups. Howard Rock, an Eskimo who is the editor of a very literate native weekly called the Tundra Times, says that the Eskimos have always had a great reverence for the land, "The Eskimos have named every hill and rock. When I was a boy in Point Hope, the hunters would come in and say they had killed an animal at such and such a hill with a certain big rock at the bottom, and the other hunters would know exactly where they had killed the animal. The villages are all built in the best locations, right where the animals come through."
James Thomas, a Tlingit who for a while was director of public relations for the statewide Alaska Federation of Natives, says, "I got a great respect for the land from my mother. She was always reminding me that my grandfather and great grandfather had lived there. My family has lived and fished on the river for hundreds of years. My grandfather owned twelve slaves. When he was dying, they took the slaves upstream and killed them, then floated the bodies down the river one by one past the old chief to show him that his servants had already gone to prepare the way for him." Thomas says that a feeling of possessiveness about the land is basic to Tlingit culture. "When Tlingits pray, the opening phrase is, 'O great land-owner above.' "
Athabascan Emil Notti, a thin, quiet man who has been president of the Alaska Federation of Natives since 1967, says, "I fly into villages and sit down with the village men to talk. I tell them that the state can take their land and . . . can sell it or do whatever it wants. They get angry. They say, 'My father had a camp here and my grandfather had a camp twenty-five miles over there. I inherited the land from them, and I want to pass it down to my children.' "
Cultural values aside, the land and water and their products are vital to the economic survival of whites as well as natives in Alaska. Salmon, gold, copper, lumber, pulp, and now oilnot agriculture, trade, or manufacturinghave sustained white society in the state. Fish and animals sustained the natives' traditional societies. Now that the natives have been sucked into the white man's economic system, they want access to minerals, too. For all this, they need the land.
The natives' first attempt to get legal title to their land was probably made in 1917, when, according to the Tundra Times, a claim "was filed by a trader named Newton on behalf of the Tanacross natives. [Tanacross is an Athabascan Indian village in east-central Alaska.]
"Newton reportedly had the natives mark hunting trails, fishing sites, trap lines, village sites, burial grounds, and other lands relating to historical use on a map of the area," the Times said in July, 1969. "Chief Andrew Isaac of Tanacross indicated that the map was registered with the Territorial Commissioner for the Upper Tanana, John Hakdukovich. This claim, Isaac said, extended from Delta Junction to the Canadian border and included all the villages in that area.
"A letter from the late Senator E.L. Bartlett to Chief Isaac, in which the Senator said that he had located an old claim, is in the possession of the Tanacross village. The Senator said that he discovered an unsigned copy of an old Tanacross claim. It is believed that this was a copy of the claim filed in 1934 by Tanacross. This claim is reported to have been dismissed by the Interior Department, which said the claim was too large.
"Tundra Times research revealed the existence of another early claim, made in 1946. Chief Isaac said that a man who identified himself as Judge Goldstein, from the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Native Legal Service, came to Tanacross and had the villagers mark maps. All lands claimed through historic use and occupancy by the Tanacross-area natives were included in this claim. Judge Goldstein told the villagers that a road would soon be built through the area and the claim was made for their protection. . . .
"The road was built. Judge Goldstein and the Native Legal Services were never heard from again in the Tanacross area. Other claims, of which four were made between 1950 and 1967, have also been ignored. . . .
The first land-claims effort that got results was made by the Tlingit and Haida Indians in the southeast. It was probably inevitable that the Tlingits and Haidas would be the first Alaskan natives to beat the white man at his own game. They had the most materially sophisticated culture in Alaska before the white man's advent, and since the white occupation they have done better than any other native group in business and the professions. The Tlingits and Haidas, an anthropologist told me, "had the Protestant ethic before the Protestants ever came."
The first organization formed to look after the natives' own interests, the Alaskan Native Brotherhood, was founded in the southeast in 1912 and is still active, although it now functions chiefly as a fraternal society. The first native elected to the territorial legislature (in 1923) was a Tlingit lawyer named William Paul, who was also the first native lawyer. (Paul, who is still very much alive, remembers clearly that in 1920 "Natives weren't allowed to vote. They weren't allowed to go to the white man's school. Restaurants had signs, 'No dogs or natives allowed.' ")
Most of the land the Tlingits and Haidas owned had been incorporated by the federal government into the Tongass National Forest, which takes up most of southeastern Alaska. In order even to sue for return of their land, the Tlingits and Haidas needed a special act of Congress permitting them to do so. In 1935, after ten years of work by William Paul and at the urging of Alaska's delegate, Congress passed a law permitting the Indians to sue. The legal process dragged on for decades. In 1946, Congress established the Indian Claims Commission to settle any claims made by Indians against the government, and in 1959, the Claims Commission finally decided that southeastern Alaska would have belonged to the Tlingits and Haidas if the federal government hadn't created the Tongass National Forest, and that therefore the Indians were entitled to some compensation. The court also decided that some 2,600,000 acres which hadn't been included in the national forest still belonged to the Indians. Nine years later, in 1968, the court fixed the compensation at $7.5 million.
The Tlingits and Haidas weren't the only natives who tried to recover their ancestral land. The people in Tanacross, despite the absolute inattention given to their first formal claims, kept trying. The Alaska Review of Business and Economic Conditions, a publication of the University of Alaska's Institute of Social, Economic and Government Research, said in 1967, "The Tanacross Village claim, filed in the early 1940's, again in 1961, and a third time in 1963, illustrates the position of many of the smaller native groups.
" 'We the people of Tanacross Village do here now place our blanket claim for the land in this area. There are twenty-one families living in our village. No one in the village is employed year round, and only two men have been able to find part-time work this summer. Some of older people get aid but they still must get part of their food from this land to be able to survive.
" 'There are thirty-seven traplines, nine fish camps, twelve berry camps, and the complete area we have claimed is used for hunting caribou, moose, ducks and for trapping. Our first blanket claim was sent into the Bureau of Land Management in the early 1940's, but it seems no one has a record of this claim. So we the Tanacross Indian people do once again claim this land as ours.
" 'We have not had the opportunity to receive an education which would enable us to share equal employment openings, therefore we must have the land needed to at least be able to feed and clothe our families and to see our children gain the education they must have.' "
In the far north, the idea of claiming land slowly. Simon Paneak, the old Eskimo from Anaktuvuk Pass, recalls, "I first heard about land claims in 1925, when I was living over near Barter Island, trapping foxes. ["We were trapping white foxes and colored foxes, too," he remembers. "We needed furs. They were the only way we could get money. We needed money to buy groceries and tobacco. We were learning to eat the white man's foodnot like our grandfathersand Eskimos like to smoke."] The person who started the talk about claims was a schoolteacher in Barrow, a white man. Nobody paid much attention. It wasn't until around 1950 in Barrow and Kotzebue that young men who had been educated got interested."
Perhaps because the land itself is so important and conspicuous a part of Alaska, native land claims have attracted a lot of attention. E.L. Bartlett, then the Alaskan delegate to Congress (and later a Senator from Alaska), said in 1944, "No matter has come before the Alaska public in years which has occasioned so much discussion, public and private, and which has aroused such controversy."
The controversy didn't reach its height until after 1959, when Alaska became a state. The Statehood Act gave Alaska the right to select 103 million acres, but it also said specifically, "The State and its people do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to . . . any lands or property (including fishing rights), the right or title to which may be held by any Indians, Eskimos or Aleuts. . . ." This provision of the Statehood Act followed the Organic Act of 1884, which established a civil government for what was then the territory of Alaska. "The Indians," the Organic Act said, ". . . shall not be disturbed in the possession of any lands actually in their use or occupancy or now claimed by them." The trouble was, neither the Organic Act nor the Statehood Act specified which land the natives used, occupied, or owned, and neither specified how native use, occupancy, or title could be legally defined or determined.
The state of Alaska wasn't bothered by those legal ambiguities or by any discernible scruples, so it simply ignored the natives' claims of ownership and began selecting its 103 million acres wherever it pleased Alaska's Department of Natural Resources to do so. The first choices included part of the Athabascan village of Minto and various other lands the natives had always thought were theirs. There was no reason to believe that the people of Minto, for instance, had any wish to part with their land. The Alaska Review of Business and Economic Conditions reported: "In 1951, the Minto Village Indians, along with several other native groups, filed a petition with the Department of the Interior asking for hearings to determine their land boundaries. The petitions asked that the lands they claimed be reserved under a section of the Townsite Act. The hearings were never granted, and, after statehood, a large portion of the land in question was included in an application for selection by the state. In 1962, the Bureau of Land Management director in Fairbanks dismissed the protest against state selection of land in the Minto area."
The state also selected part of the village of Tanacross, driving a surveying stake right in the middle of the village, and tried to sell parcels carved out of the village as "Wilderness Estates" at the New York World's Fair. It took the Prudhoe Bay area, which no one but the Eskimos had ever used. It applied for the area around Point Lay, which was claimed by the Inupiat Eskimos.
Understandably, the Alaskan natives began to worry. After the state selections gathered steam, they organized a number of regional associations and filed a load of claims to the land. The Eskimos of the North Slope, who had already (in 1961) formed a cultural and quasi-political group called Inupiat Paitot (People's Heritage), in 1966 formed a group specifically to press their claims to the land between the Brooks Mountains and the Arctic Ocean. Charles Edwardsen, one of the organizers of the Arctic Slope Native Association, wrote to William Paul, the Tlingit lawyer, by then living and practicing in Seattle, to ask him to represent the group.
"We are in the process of organizing a Native Association composed of the Eskimo people on the northern slope of the Brooks Range in Alaska with the express intent of securing in court our aboriginal rights and title to said land," Edwardsen wrote.
"In that this land is presently being exploited for oil and other minerals by the State and Federal Governments and also by private agencies," he continued, "we on behalf of the people wish to be advised on the feasibility of obtaining an injunction in San Francisco Federal Court to halt further sale of leases and exploration, thereby forcing into court the issue of native land rights in Alaska.
"It can be factually shown that our ancestors have historically used this entire area for the past 5,000 years for hunting and fishing. It can also be shown that from time immemorial, they have made use of the pitch and coal of the area and that the mineral deposits of the lower slope of the Brooks Range were also known to them in that they used raw gold to make small toys and fishhooks for their own use.
"We wish to obtain an injunction on the ground that our people have not adequately been compensated for said land and that by decisions in similar cases, neither the Federal Government nor the State has a clear title to said land, and therefore cannot exploit such land until either compensation, adjustment, or title is settled by court decision.
"Further, we feel that an injunction could be obtained on behalf of a native individual of the area, but that it would be more effective if obtained by the association representing a major cross-section of the native inhabitants, and therefore are organizing this group to be known as the North Slope Native Association."
The North Slope natives never got an injunction, but through Paul they did file a claim to the entire North Slope. Paul also filed claims on behalf of the natives of Tanacross. All in all, the twenty-two native groups in Alaska have now filed claims to almost the entire state.
At the end of 1966, when the organizing of local groups and the filing of claims had acquired a lot of momentum, native leaders from all over the state got together and established the Alaska Federation of Natives. Emil Notti, president of the Federation, says that so far as he knows, what sparked the land-claims activity was the state's selection of land in Minto. Certainly, he says, that was what upset people in the Athabascan areas of the state. He himself just drifted, without ever planning to do so, into the thick of the land-claims fight. He then decided he wanted to talk with natives in other parts of Alaska who had gotten involved. "I wrote a few letters in April, 1969, to guys I had heard of but never met: people like Willie Hensley [an Eskimo from Kotzebue who was for a while executive director of the AFN], Jerome Trigg in Nome, Joe Upickson and Eben Hopson [the present executive director] in Barrow." He invited them all to meet with him in Anchorage. "I expected fourteen or fifteen people," he says; "we had three hundred." At that meeting, the AFN was formed. The new Federation persuaded Alaska's two senators, E.L. Bartlett and Ernest Gruening, to introduce a bill that would have settled native land claims once and for all, giving the natives some 250 million acres. The bill got nowhere. But the federal government did act.
Despite the flood of native claims filed in 1966, it was obvious that if no one stopped the state from selecting land, much of the territory the natives claimed would be gone before the claims had a chance to be settled. It was also clear that the state's title to much of its land would be bitterly contested. To make sure the land wasn't gone by the time the natives' claims to it were settledor, cynics say, to make sure that the state's title to the lands it selected was secureSecretary of the Interior Stewart Udall in December, 1966, put a "freeze" on all federal land claimed by Alaska natives, saying that it couldn't be taken for any purpose except perhaps for roads, airports, or other "public facilities." A standard rhetorical explanation given by Alaskans is that Udall, a Democrat, had imposed the land freeze in order to punish Alaska for electing a Republican governor, Walter Hickel.
Certainly Hickel himself didn't take the land freeze lying down. Claiming that the freeze was illegal, the state promptly sued Udall in Alaska's U.S. District Court to make him lift it. The Alaska court ruled in favor of the state (on December 19, 1969, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco reversed the decision), but the freeze remained. Then Richard Nixon was elected President, and he made it known that the very same Walter Hickel was his choice for Secretary of the Interior. Udall, before he left office, signed Public Land Order 4582, which froze all federally owned land in Alaska until the end of 1970. What Udall had done Hickel could undo, but Hickel had the bad taste to say so publicly before his appointment was confirmed. After several such slips of the tongue, the Senate Interior Committee turned Hickel's confirmation hearing into a long grilling, in the course of which the committee chairman, Senator Henry Jackson of Washington, got Hickel to promise that he wouldn't lift the land freeze without the consent of the Interior Committees of both the Senate and the House.
Hickel's object as governor had not been to defeat the natives but to end the land freeze and get the business of land claims cleared away. He not only sued Udall; he also tried to work out a settlement of the native claims. He held a conference of state and Alaska Federation of Natives officials in 1967 to work out a bill that would be satisfactory to both sides. The natives said they'd settle for eighty million acres. Hickel said that was too much and suggested ten million acres. They said that was too little. Finally, Hickel and the natives compromised on forty million acres. There was also the question of a cash payment to compensate the natives for the land they wouldn't get. Hickel got the Alaska state legislature to approve a state payment of $50 million as part of a settlement if the claims were settled and the land freeze was lifted by October, 1969. The bill proposed by the state and the natives got nowhere.
Other bills were introduced, too. In 1967, the Interior Department came up with a proposal that the natives' land be expropriated in return for payment at 1867 land values. In 1968, the Department recommended that the natives be given as much land and money as they needed to maintain themselves. President Johnson said in 1968 that the government should "give the native people of Alaska title to the lands they occupy and need to sustain their villages."
The second Interior Department proposal had a hearing before the Senate Interior Committee in 1968. In the course of the hearing, it became painfully clear that no one even had any good idea of how many natives there were in Alaska, much less how much land they needed to sustain themselves or on what their claims to the land they occupied were based. Senator Jackson, the committee chairman, decided that it might be nice if someone found these things out. Alaskan Senator Bartlett urged him not to look outside Alaska for his information gatherer; the Federal Field Committee for Development Planning in Alaska already knew more than anyone else about the subject, Bartlett said, and should be allowed to do the job. Jackson agreed, and in a matter of months the committee, chaired by Joseph Fitzgerald, who is a former Rhodes Scholar and former president of Ozark Airlines, ground out a massive 565-page report, far and away the most thorough study ever done on Alaskan natives. It described the terrain in which they lived, their economic patterns, their history, and their current situation, concluding that "Alaska natives have a substantial claim upon all the lands of Alaska by virtue of aboriginal occupancy." The Federal Field Committee's report in effect legitimized native land claims.
Before the Committee issued its report, critics had found it easy to dismiss the native claims as based on nothing more substantial than opportunism and delusion. It is still possible to dismiss the claims, but it is no longer easy to do so, and dismissals carry little weight in Congress.
By the time the oil companies paid $900 million for North Slope leases in September, 1969, the natives had dug in for a long battle, and the stakes had risen considerably. As soon as oil was discovered on the North Slope, it became clear that the land over which the natives, the state, and the federal government were contending was worth a great deal of money. The natives considered applying leverage on the other parties concerned by getting an injunction against the lease sale, but they decided against it. Instead, they simply picketed the building in which the sale was being held, calling for settlement of their claims. They did, however, revise their estimate of how much they could reasonably demand as payment for the land they were giving up. In 1969 they presented a bill to Congress proposing that they be given clear title to forty million acres of land, a payment of $500 million in cash spread over nine years, and a perpetual 2-per-cent royalty, to be deducted from the state's 121/2 per cent, on all oil taken from the North Slope.
Walter Hickel and the Nixon administration proposed 12.5 million acres, $500 million spread over twenty years, and no royalties. Both proposals went to Senator Jackson's Senate Interior Committee, and it was generally assumed that the Senate as a whole would more or less follow the Interior Committee's lead. Jackson said he wanted to get a bill out of committee by Christmas, 1969, and in mid-December his committee seemed to be moving toward some kind of decision. But then his sister was killed in a fire; he left Washington, D.C., for his family home in Everett, Washington, and the committee lost its momentum. It didn't get back to work on native claims until February, 1970, when it started deliberating behind closed doors in the hope of reaching a decision without pressure from the various interest groups involved in the conflict.
By the end of 1969, former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg had agreed to be the natives' chief counsel; former California Senator Thomas Kutchel had joined the le-al staff; and former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark (by then a law partner of Goldberg) had taken charge of relations with Congress. The AFN entered 1970 well representedand insistent on the arbitrarily selected but increasingly symbolic formula of forty million acres, $500 million in nine years, and a 2-per-cent royalty, to be taken from the state's 121/2 per cent. The administration showed no sign of wavering from its own proposal. The state of Alaska favored the administration's stand and in any case bitterly opposed giving up even one penny or one acre of land it regarded as rightfully its own. The state was in a hurry to obtain some kind of settlement so that the federal government could lift the land freeze and the state could continue selecting land and developing its economy. The natives were in a hurry to obtain a settlement because the land freeze was due to expire at the end of 1970, and once it expired, there would be nothing to prevent the state from taking land as it had before December, 1966.
The magic number of $900 million was important to both sides, too. To the natives, it symbolized how much they were giving up even if they kept forty million acres and how much white society could easily afford to pay. To the state, it symbolized how much there was to lose, and how much white Alaskans were fighting to keep. The oil companies, which had provided the $900 million, remained officially neutral. They just wanted to see everything settled so that they could go ahead and remove their oil and make their profits with minimal uncertainty and disturbance.