WE OWN THE LAND
Statement By William L. Paul, Sr.,
AFN Board of Directors
Alaska Federation of Natives' Convention
|"We Own the Land: Statement by William L. Paul, Sr., to the AFN Board of Directors, Alaska Federation of Natives' Convention, Fairbanks, Alaska, October, 1971," Alaska Native News Magazine, (August 1984), p. 18. Used with permission of the publisher, for educational purposes only. (Transcription Note)|
The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was passed in December, 1971. In October, that year, the AFN met in Fairbanks and a draft of a settlement bill was presented and defended by Congressman Nick Begich.
William L. Paul, Sr., then 76, went as an Alternate Representative of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indians. He was a lawyer with more than forty years experience in the fight for Native land rights . . . and he was a fighter. The importance of his points in this largely forgotten speech began to become apparent years after passage of the Settlement Act. [Published in the August 1984 edition of Alaska Native News]
This is my first appearance before this august body for whom I have the greatest respect. The reason I have been so long in coming to address you is because, to tell the truth, I have been quite frightened. Rather surprising for a man of my experience. But you know, I'm approaching my second childhood. And so it takes so long to screw up my courage so that I might talk to you.
On the motion asking this board of directors to support the proposed Native land bill by "unanimous consent," I have to object. Because when you look over the bill that lies before you, I doubt very much if you have the best of the many bills which have been brought before you.
We had a good bill in the very first instance. It's entitled S 2020. That was a good bill. But you know, since that time we've been pushed back and pushed back and pushed back, until it has come to the point where nothing is left, but every white statesman who comes before you says we have a good bill.
It reminds me of the story that is told about an Indian and a white man that went hunting in Oklahoma. They went out and came back with one turkey and one turkey buzzard. The white man said to the Indian, "I want to be fair to you, so I will give you a choice. You can have the turkey buzzard and I will take the turkey, or you will take the turkey buzzard and I will take the turkey, or I will take the turkey and you will take the turkey buzzard, now which will you have?"
I've been listening to the speakers that came before us during the past week and I've noticed this one fact: nobody talks about the quantity of land which rightfully we claimed. Nobody said we claimed three hundred and seventy-five million acres. All they talked about was forty million acres. The very same people have produced bill after bill and every one of them is unsatisfactory with this explanation, that this is the very best that we can have. And therefore we are told, we should take a bill that is unsatisfactory because these gentlemen here say that is our very best.
And you heard, only yesterday or the day before, Ramsey Clark tell us that he advised us earlier to take a small amount of acreage and admits now he was mistaken. And today he says this bill is a good bill. He says it is twice as good as the previous bill.
In the bill you will find you people who live Outside you find that you will have no subsistence hunting or fishing. If this bill, as it is now, passes, you will All have no aboriginal rights, for hunting or fishing. No subsistence rights. How are you going to live in the Illiamna area? Or the Aleutian Island area? Or any other area, if that is not corrected?
Take the matter of extinguishment. You will turn to your bill and you'll find that your rights your aboriginal rights are extinguished. What does "extinguished" mean? It means all your privileges on which you live are gone forever.
You take the matter of taxes. Why should you not be free from taxes? As long as you are making your bargain, let's make it a good one. Freedom from taxes. (applause) While I have downgraded the gentlemen here for a moment, I see that they are clapping, so I am also expressing their feelings. While they have a love for you , nevertheless, I think they are misguided more or less because I'm not put on the board. (laughter) Freedom from taxes is a property right. There are families in England that have had freedom from taxes for more than one thousand years and it is not inconsistent with full citizenship.
So I have written two or three proposed amendments in the absence of my chairman. Just how these men appoint chairmen to committees, I don't know. We have had one meeting and our chairman was late, almost one hour. Now I am seventy-six years old and I was here at 7:30, ready to work. (Comment from audience about "8 o'clock") I am corrected, I am one hundred and seventy-six years old. (laughter)
All right! Now I have an amendment. That's one of the troubles I find when you people gather together to do something: you talk, but you don't make a motion. I will, at a suitable time. I will make the following motion: To section 21, paragraph 1, add "and permit hunting and fishing in all unoccupied areas, the proceeds of which may be used in barter, exchange, and gifts in the manner of aboriginal mode of life." Don't let me forget to make that motion.
On page four, to the definition of public lands, add to line twelve, "or lands not adjudged extinguished by the decision by the Court of Claims in the Tlingit and Haida case."
Now this refers particularly to Southeast Alaska, which is the area in which I was born and raised, although I now live in Seattle. We have a decision in the Tlingit and Haida case in which we were told we have lost our forestry lands. That decision should have been appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States. But we did not appeal, on the argument that if we agreed to take seven and a half million dollars for seven hundred million dollars worth of timber, we would get our money sooner, and we would help the Alaska Federation of Natives to carry on their fight for legislation. But we did not give the AFN any money. We did not help them with their legislation until recently. And finally, through my motion, they got an authorization for two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. That is the amount of confidence which I had in these gentlemen here.
The Tlingit and Haida case should have been appealed because an Executive Order does not extinguish Indian rights. Keep that in mind. From the beginning, my family had educated all the lawyers in the State of Alaska.
What's the matter with you people? We know more than anybody about this subject and an Executive Order does not extinguish your right. So you people that live in the Chugach area and other areas down in the Bethel area: those proclamations do not take your aboriginal rights. And if you will fight for your rights, it will be demonstrated: Indian rights aboriginal rights are primary. We have the best rights in law in all the United States because we have the first rights. That has been demonstrated many times.
I want to offer one more amendment. On page three, paragraph five, line three, "no provision of this act shall constitute a precedent for reopening, renegotiating or legislating upon any settlement involving land claims or other matters with any Native organization." The thing that the United States and our senators and our representatives want is to put an end to aboriginal rights. As far as I am concerned, I WANT ABORIGINAL RIGHTS. And I am only willing to give what I have to give up. And I am not going to propose a bill with less than what I want. If Congress wants to cut my wishes down, let Congress do it, but Don't go before Congress with a poor bill. Something like the one that we have now.
There is one thing more. It seems to me that your leaders are coming before you as though they were afraid. As though they are bargaining from weakness. Basically, WE OWN THE LAND. And I'm not going to go before Congress and tell them I want only forty million acres. I want three hundred and seventy-five million, not eighty million, or sixty million, or forty million.
Now suppose the bill is defeated. How are you hurt? How long has that land stayed there? And it's still here! And it's still valuable and it is more valuable now than ever! How are you going to be hurt if this bill fails? So don't be afraid.
In a way I am talking contrary to the opinion of my noble son (Frerdrick Payl, Attorney at Law representing Arctic Slope Native Association), but after all I have to talk to my own convictions. I think I have been in this Indian land fight longer than anybody else. And as I started from the very beginning, I have learned. The mistakes I made are the mistakes the Tlingit and Haidas made. The mistakes that the Tlingit and Haidas made are the mistakes that you have made and we are learning as we go along. One thing I have learned and that is this: WE OWN THE LAND, IT IS OUR LAND. The United States is bargaining with us. And the men that advise you to put that Alyeska pipeline through . . . it is not to your advantage to let that go through until the land question is settled. So don't be afraid.
[Transcribed in the office of Dennis Demmert in March 1981, from a tape provided by Roger McPherson.]