About the www.Alaskool.org project and its developers
Why ANCSA for Elementary Students?


By Paul Ongtooguk with Claudia Dybdahl

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, enacted in 1971, is one of the most important pieces of Congressional legislation affecting Alaska.  The legislation determines the ownership of almost all Alaska lands; it involves hundreds of millions of dollars, and it resulted in the creation of over 180 new and special corporations. Further, it influenced the development of over 80 million acres of new Federal parks, preserves and monuments in Alaska. Land ownership and land use in Alaska remain contemporary issues, as various interest groups try to resolve claims and legal interpretations through the court system. Thus, it is important for all the citizens of our state to know the basic terms of this legislation.  This curriculum is designed for the elementary school level and provides a partial answer to the question, "What can and should be learned about ANCSA at the elementary school level?" The unit focuses on  the historical and legal basis for the Alaska Native claim to much of the land of Alaska.  In a more general sense the unit deals with issues of ownership and how persons or groups become the owners of anything - but especially in this case - land. 


The study of economics in elementary schools is sometimes an integral part of the social studies curriculum, but often it is relegated to a role that is, at best, supplemental to the study of history. Most elementary students are not especially interested in, or able to articulate, basic economic questions. And yet some of the most fundamental economic concepts, such as ownership and value of goods are highly relevant to the lives of elementary students. Elementary-aged children are also finely tuned to questions of fairness and the issues of ownership, value, and fairness are topics rich in opportunities for developing a better sense of reasoned, informed and thoughtful perspective.  ANCSA is a source for the education of students in the development of their ideas and in the development of their understanding of why they think as they do. 


An ANCSA unit for elementary students should develop the students' capacity to participate in discussion about a significant topic. The discussion should occur in a way that allows students to learn about the issues at stake, while simultaneously learning to respect the right of others to thoughtfully disagree. Opinion should be well grounded which is not to say that all opinions will be the same. Part of social studies education is about learning the differences between flawed and thoughtful arguments. Students in elementary school are readily able to learn to recognize assumptions that are reasonable, unreasonable, sound, or unsound. Children are also able and willing to adapt and change their thinking, when confronted with new facts or more sophisticated interpretations. Education, at all levels, includes increasing our understanding about ideas and deepening our understanding of important issues.  Children can learn and discuss ideas that are often surprising in their depth to many adults. 


The questions of children, it has been said, are the home of philosophy. What children in our schools need is the opportunity to learn more about why they think the way they do and why others may think differently. Topics, such as ANCSA, may generate differences of opinion critical to the development of clearer thought and an understanding of the various perspectives that are held by intelligent and respected citizens of our State.


This ANCSA unit, then, is premised on the argument that children should learn how to understand and discuss important ideas in a safe and respectful classroom organized by a thoughtful teacher.  Let us know how well this unit meets its goal and the various ways that you, as teachers, have changed and adapted the suggested structure that follows.


Annotated bibliography of print, media, and Internet resources


Teachers must have an adequate background knowledge in the issues and legislation related to the ANCSA in order to teach this unit. The following sources are recommended for teacher preparation. The first two are available on the ALASKOOL web site. Teacher references are also included in some of the lesson objectives, beginning with Lesson 3.


References for the development of teacher background knowledge


Ipani Eskimos,  A cycle of Life in nature. By James K. Wells - available on the WEB site www.alaskool.org


People of Kauwerak by William Oquilluk -also available on the WEB site www.alaskool.org, particularly, the chapters entitled How to Tell the Weather, Clothes, Fire, The First Net, The First Boat, The First Houses and The Writing of This Book.


Village Journey by Thomas Berger, New York: Hill and Wang. 1985.


The Inupiaq Eskimo Nations of Northwest Alaska by Tiger Birch, Jr. - challenges stereotypes about Alaska Native land use and occupation.


The ANCSA legislation is also available on the web site with a somewhat dated annotation.  An updated set of annotations about ANCSA is forthcoming. Teachers must read the actual legislation, as there are a surprising (and unacceptable) number of inaccurate and false statements about ANCSA that are made in the media. Since the media has such a powerful influence on people's knowledge and thinking, it is imperative that the teacher read the primary document and be familiar with the facts. When combating inaccurate and misleading information, reference to the primary document is the most effective counter evidence to present.


Unit Title: Land Ownership and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act


Unit Goals: 

1. To develop an understanding of the concept of ownership and the value of goods owned, particularly land

2. To develop an understanding of some of the fundamental issues related to the Alaska Native land claims


The goal of this mini-unit is developed in 10  lessons. The lessons are intended as a guide and should be modified by teachers to meet the needs of the students' developmental levels and background knowledge. 



Lesson 1: Object Ownership



Students will learn:

1.      that ownership can be demonstrated through the possession of receipts or laws of possession that are recognized by our society



1.Teacher brings in a collection of objects that he/she owns and that demonstrate the types of ownership in 3 below.

2. Students bring in a favorite object that they own.



1.Students, in small groups, present a favorite object that they own; describe what it is; why it is a favorite object; and state how they know that they own the object.


2. Class brainstorms how ownership of objects can be determined. List will include such ideas as purchased, receipts, gifts, inheritance, "found," etc.


3. Teacher shows some objects for which she/he

1.     can show the receipt (possession of receipt)

2.     were received as a gift (laws of possession)

3.     were handed down from family members (laws of possession)


4. In small groups the class discusses the question, "How can a person prove ownership of an object, if they do not have a receipt?"


5. Ask students, in small groups, to list four to five objects that they own for which they 1) have receipts; 2) were received as gifts; 3) have been handed down by family members; 4) that were received through other means. Once students have a list of objects, then the

teacher will show students how to organize their information through the use of columns with headings. Headings will include: Name of object; Receipts; Gifts; Handed down; Other.


6. Student’s organizational charts are displayed in the room. 


Lesson 2: Land Ownership



Students will learn that:

            1.  rights to land can be demonstrated by legal papers called deeds or titles

            2. rights to land can be demonstrated through occupation and use of the





2        Teacher brings in the deed to a piece of property that is owned by self or other.






1. Students draw a picture of a favorite place. In small groups they share pictures and then discuss the questions, "Who owns this place?" "Why do you think so?" “How do you know?” Some responses are shared with the whole class.


2. Teacher shows a deed to a piece of property that demonstrates legal ownership.


2.     Discuss in small groups, "Is there any property for sale that you have seen?" "How does a sale occur?" "How is price (value) determined?" "What does the buyer need from the seller to prove ownership?"


3.     Discuss the above questions as a class. The teacher clarifies and provides additional information, as needed.


4.     Teacher asks the students to consider the case of Alaska Natives who occupied the land, but did not have a system of "paper" ownership. This concept will be developed through a series of questions that are written out for the students. Students will brainstorm, in writing, working in small groups with one person selected as a recorder.


1."What groups of people lived in Alaska thousands of years ago?"

2.“How did they use the land?”

3."Why did they think that they could use the land?"

2.     “Who owned the land?”

3.     "When European people arrived in Alaska, did they want the land?"

4.      "How did they get the land?"

5.     "What happened to the Alaska Native people who lived on the land?"

6.     “Who owns land in Alaska today?”

7.     "Do Alaska Native people own land today?"

5.      Student work should be collected (with the names of the group participants) and saved, as the questions are relevant to the content of the next few lessons. Teacher should also record these questions and display them prominently for reference.


Lesson 3: Precontact: Alaska Natives and the Land



          Students will learn that:

1.     indigenous people in Alaska occupied and used the land for thousands of  years, prior to the arrival of the Europeans

2.     Alaska Natives established systematic patterns of land use, known as  “traditional cycles of life”


Teacher Materials

          1. Alaska Map

2. Access to www.alaskool.org

3. Village Journey (1985). Thomas Berger, New York: Hill and

Wang, chapter 2, “Subsistence” (while this book is not available on the web site, teachers will find it an invaluable reference for the issues discussed in this unit.)

3.Ipani Eskimos A cycle of life in nature” at www.alaskool.org

4. “Traditional Alaska Native Education” by Paul Ongtooguk at www.alaskool.org



1.Ask students to describe typical images that they associate with the terms: "Alaska," "Alaska Natives", "Eskimo," and "Indian"?  List the items with a marker on a large sheet of paper for the students to see.  Keep the listing as a pretest of associations.

3        Present the photographs of subsistence life found on the web site at …………. to the students. Present the students with the following list of questions in writing to guide the analysis and interpretation of the photographs.


What activities are taking place?

Who is engaging in these activities?

What tools are being used?

What clothes are being worn?

Where did the clothing come from? What food is being hunted or


What season might it be?

 Where in Alaska do you think this photograph was taken?

How do you know?

What else do you see in the photograph that tells us about how

 people lived?

How do you think that Alaska Native people lived 5,000 years ago?


4        Following this group discussion and viewing of the photographs, the teacher gives some brief background information on the traditional cycle of life stressing that each Alaska Native group moved from place to place systematically and intelligently for thousands of years. Some key points to present, with examples, include: the gathering of food is systematic and planned; seasonal changes necessitate movement to other sources of food and shelter; hunting requires great skill that was developed and passed down through the generations; tools were developed to support the cycle of life; clothing and other equipment that supported the culture were also developed; traditional life was not static in place or development, as new tools, techniques and strategies were continuously being developed, adopted and refined. Encourage students to look again at the photographs to find examples that illustrate these major points.


5        Refer the students back to the association chart that they created in number 1 above. What have they learned today that they can now add to their previous associations? Record the responses on the chart.


6        Ask each student to write a paragraph about the Alaska Native cycle of life. As the students write, they are to be encouraged to seek clarification of ideas from each other, from the teacher, and from the photographs.


Lesson 4: The Arrival of the Russians and their Occupation of Land in Alaska



          Students will learn that:

a.      the Russians were the first European group to settle in Alaska

b.     Russian settlements were only in a few locations

c.     Russian settlement had a significant impact on Alaska Natives


Teacher Materials

2.     World Map

3.      Access to www.alaskool.org.

4.     Read William L Hensley’s  “Why the Natives of Alaska Have a Land Claim” at www.alaskool.org.

5.     Any basic history of Alaska text that discusses the Russian period in Alaska. Copies of the text for the students to read and find information, or, use of the Internet and library resources. If available material is too difficult for young students to read, then the teacher will present information and then ask the students to talk about it.



1.     Review with the students the first four questions from lesson 2,

      procedure 5:

"What groups of people lived in Alaska thousands

               of years ago?"

“How did they use the land?”

 "Why did they think that they could use the land?"

 “Who ‘owned’ the land?”

2.     Teacher shows on a world map the areas that the Russians occupied in Alaska and discusses the economic base for the occupation, including the Aleutian Islands (furs); Kodiak (furs, wood for ship building); trading posts in the interior of Alaska; and Sitka (headquarters for Russian government in Alaska)

3.     In pairs, the students will respond to the following question, “What do you think happened to the Alaska Native people who lived in these areas? Students will skim the text (see “d”under “Materials”) to find examples of the impact of the Russian settlement on the Alaska Natives.

4.     Teacher brings the class back together and asks students to share examples.

5.     Ask students, in small groups, to review the information that has been presented in numbers 2 and 3 above. Why did the Russians come to Alaska? Where did they establish settlements? What did they do? What happened to the Aleuts during this time period? What do you think about these events?

6.     After the small group discussion students will form four groups representing the four major areas of Russian settlement (Kodiak, the Aleutian Islands, interior Alaska, and Sitka). Each group will create a poster that demonstrates the impact of the Russian settlement on Alaska Natives in that area. Further reading and research is encouraged.

7.     Groups share their posters.



Lesson 5: The Russian Claim to Land in Alaska: The Laws of Discovery



Students will learn that the:


                  1.  The Russian claim to ‘Alaskan’ land was related to an agreement,

called the “laws of discovery” that the European powers began to define in the 15th century and that the Russians applied to Alaska.

 2. The Russians, based on their claim to Alaskan land, ‘sold’ Alaska to the United States in 1867.



Teacher Materials:

1. 6 – 8 World Map outlines (see procedure 3 below)

2.Access to www.alaskool.org

3. Materials for researching procedure 8. below.




1. Ask  students, “ Why did the Russians believed that ‘Alaska’ was theirs to sell?” Note: Students may come up with a variety of reasons that may be acknowledged as good ideas.

2, Explain to students that the Russians believed that they “owned” Alaska, because of the “Laws of Discovery.” Review these laws with the students, including the key points that:


a.      as the European countries began to explore the world and claim land as their own, they did not want to fight with each other over these newly discovered lands

b.     they established the “laws of discovery” as a way to try to such avoid conflicts

c.     a European country demonstrated its “discovery” of non European land by mapping the territory that had been “discovered”

d.     when the European country settled in the ‘discovered’ land, the native people did not necessarily lose their rights to their lands

e.      there were two conditions by which native people lost their rights to the land”: 1) through a “just” war; and 2) by giving up specific land in a treaty to a European government



3.     Arrange students in small groups and provide each student with an outline of a  world map. Teacher will move from group to group to facilitate discussion.

2.     Have students locate and label Russia on the world map.

3.     Have students locate and label other European colonial powers, such as Portugal, Spain, and Great Britain and draw lines to parts of the world that these colonial powers claimed

4.     Have students locate and label Alaska, as well as the major areas of Russian influence, including, the Aleutian Islands, Sitka, Kodiak, and others that they may have read about.

5.     Have students discuss: When European people arrived in Alaska did they want the land? Why did European people think that they could claim the land? What parts of Alaska did Russia “own?” (remind students that according to the laws of discovery that native people did not lose their rights except through a ‘just’ war or a treaty.)

4.     Ask students to partner write (2 students working together) a response to the question, “What were the laws of discovery and how are they related to Alaska?” Students are encouraged to continue to discuss the concept of the laws of discovery with other group members and to ask the teacher for clarification. This is a difficult concept and students will need lots of time to think, as they write.

5.     Ask for 2 or 3 volunteers to share their written responses.

6.     Ask the students, “What did Russia end up doing with Alaska?”

Note: They sold Alaska to the United States.

7.     Ask the students, “How could you find out in what year the Russians sold Alaska to the United States?”

8.     Provide the students with the means to find out the year and have them research the correct answer.




Lesson 6: The Russian Sale of the Land called Alaska to the United States



Students will learn that the:

1.The Russians sold Alaska to the United States in 1867.

2. The Russians only sold what they believed they owned.

3. The treaty between the United States and Russia states that Alaska Natives would be treated by the United States like other native peoples were treated, according to the U.S. Constitution and U. S. policy

4.  Alaska Native people disagree that the Russians had a right to ‘sell’ the land to the United States


Teacher Materials:

1. . Access to www.alaskool.org

2.     Treaty with Russia of 1867 at www.alaskool.org. The teacher must

familiar with this document in order to present information about the meaning of this event. See Procedure number 5 below for an orientation to some of the key points.

1.     Prepare handout, per “Procedure 4” below.



1.     Ask students, “”Do you remember in what year Russia sold Alaska to the United States?”

2.     Ask  students, “What do you think that Russia sold?” Encourage students to brainstorm and record all reasonable answers on the blackboard or a piece of chart paper.

3.     Discuss the Russian-American Treaty of 1867. Encourage students to explore the original document found on the “alaskool” site, particularly beginning with Article II. Even if the document is difficult for the students to read and understand, some sections may be read and some facts noted. Encourage students to write down any facts that they read underneath the brainstormed list from procedure “2” above.

4.     Distribute prepared handout to each student.

a.      What was sold?

1.     power of government

2.     Russian military forts, public squares, barracks, etc.

3.     Russian administrative headquarters

4.     Russian papers and documents having to do with Alaska

b.     What was not sold?

1.     privately owned property

2.     Orthodox Church properties

c.     What would happen to the Russian people who remained?

1. if they stayed in Alaska, then they would be granted U.S., citizenship after 3 years

d.     What would happen to Alaska Natives?

1.     that they would be dealt with according to U.S. Policy, as it was applied to other aboriginal groups

e.      What was the price for buying Alaska?

1. $7,200,00

5.     Discuss the handout and the facts of the Russian-American Treaty. Encourage the students to ask questions, as they interpret the facts.

6.     “What will happen to Alaska Natives as a result of this treaty?” Have each student write out a prediction to this question. Explain that in tomorrow’s lesson we will begin by hearing their predictions and then exploring the facts.