Overcoming Challenges to Business and Economic Development in Indian Country. Special Circumstances Pertaining to Alaska Native Villages and Tribes in Alaska

08/01/2004

Passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971 radically changed the way the United States deals with Indian tribes and Native villages in Alaska and dramatically affected the path of BD/ED for Alaska Natives. What is now Alaska is the aboriginal home of several Indian tribes and many Alaska Native groups, including Athabascan Indians, Aleuts, and Inuit (called Eskimo by some).(12) Before 1971, the United States dealt with Indians and Native groups in Alaska in a fashion similar to that used with Indian tribes in the lower 48 states: through treaties, legislation, and executive orders. ANCSA extinguished native land claims to almost all of Alaska in exchange for about one-ninth of the state's land plus $962.5 million in compensation. By conveying Native land title to 12 regional and 200 local village corporations chartered under Alaska state law, ANCSA changed the relationship between Natives and the land from one of co-ownership of shared lands to one of corporate shareholding (that is, land ownership was based on a corporate model). After ANCSA, Native villages serve members and Native village corporations, and Native regional corporations serve shareholders.(13)

In enacting ANCSA, Congress sought to end, in Alaska, the supervision over Indian affairs that had previously marked federal Indian policy. The settlement of the land claims was to be accomplished "without litigation . . . without creating a reservation system or lengthy wardship or trusteeship." To this end, ANCSA revoked "the various reserves set aside . . . for Native use" by legislative or executive action, and completely extinguished all aboriginal claims to Alaska land. In return, Congress authorized the transfer of $962.5 million in federal funds and 44 million acres of Alaska land to 12 original state-chartered private business corporations that were to be formed pursuant to the statute. The shareholders of these corporations were limited to Alaska Natives. The ANCSA corporations received title to the transferred land, and no federal restrictions applied to subsequent land transfers by them (see Alaska, Petitioner v. Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government et al. Supreme Court Decision 96-1577). The 12 Native corporations and Native village corporations operate very differently from most Native villages and Indian tribes. They have stockholders, substantial liquid assets, and are governed by a board of directors.

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