ANCSA milestone coming up
Tim Bradner - Associated Press
Alaska's Native corporations, now part of the foundation for the state's economy, will turn 40 soon. It's certainly a thing to celebrate, though it's a sobering milestone for me.
I wrote extensively about the land claims movement as a young pup reporter for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and the Tundra Times, a weekly Alaska Native newspaper. The 40th anniversary is a happy milestone but it reminds me of my age.
The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, or ANCSA, was passed by Congress and signed by President Richard Nixon on Dec. 18, 1971. The regional and village corporations conceived by ANCSA were formed in 1972.
It goes without saying that the corporations have now become hugely important for the state. They represent a large pool of Alaska-owned investment capital, and the owners prefer to invest in Alaska when they can, in businesses, property and, most important, in major resource development projects.
They are among the state's largest employers and own drilling and oil field service, engineering and construction companies. They own out-of-state businesses, particularly in government services, which bring millions of dollars of profits back home to Alaska.
The corporations own more than 45 million acres across the state and as large private landowners they hustle for development of resources on their land. Had it not been for the claims act, we would not now have the Red Dog Mine in Northwest Alaska, one of the world's largest zinc mines, which is owned by NANA Regional Corp. Nor would we have the Donlin Creek gold project, which will be one of the world's largest gold mines when it is developed. Donlin Creek was discovered by geologists working for Calista Corp. and is on land owned by that regional corporation and TKC Corp., a consortium of local villages.
Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and Cook Inlet Region Inc. are petroleum producers and work diligently to encourage new exploration and production from their land on the North Slope and in Southcentral Alaska with petroleum potential. In Southeast, Sealaska Corp. and several village corporations are active in the timber business.
As for the 40th birthday, an ad hoc committee is now organizing a series of workshops and forums to be held around the state next year. I occasionally volunteer to help this committee. The goal of these sessions will be to help Alaskans, and particularly a younger generation of Alaska Natives, to understand what the claims act and the corporations are all about. As the years go by, it's easy to forget what a remarkable achievement it was.
PUBLIC LAND IS PRIVATE
Fundamentally, the claims act was to resolve legal issues raised by claims of land rights by Alaska Native people. Congress had recognized the validity of the claims but Congress itself had to resolve them. Had that not happened there would have been lawsuits by the dozen and a big cloud would have descended over title to a lot of Alaska land. It was because the land status was clarified by 1971 by ANCSA that we got the trans-Alaska pipeline built and oil production from the North Slope by 1977, as one example.
I'm not certain it was intended by those who drafted the ANCSA legislation, but the bill was also a brilliant economic development instrument, although most Alaskans didn't appreciate it at the time.
The significance of having more than 45 million acres of federally owned land pass to private landowners who would move promptly to get some development going was not clearly understood in Alaska in the 1960s.
It also wasn't understood how the ANCSA corporations would come to economically reinforce the state's urban communities through investments in businesses and real estate. Look around at all the new commercial buildings in Anchorage, including the large retail Tikahtnu Commons shopping center, and who the owners are.
None of us expected that the corporations would expand out of state, not only in expansions of their Alaska-based firms but also in the new field of government contracting.
LITTLE RURAL DEVELOPMENT
It's not all peaches and cream. Some corporations did better than others. Some skirted failure but most recovered.
One area where ANCSA somewhat failed to meet expectations is in rural development, except where mines can be developed. Many shareholders work in businesses owned by the corporations but many of these jobs require moving into cities.
That there has been little development in rural areas just reflects, sadly, that there are limited opportunities except for mining and, in some coastal areas, fisheries. In terms of fisheries, the nonprofit Community Development Quota groups, which are not ANCSA corporations and which were formed separately, are fostering some local development with earnings from offshore fishing royalties, but these investments are required by law.
To what extent the ANCSA corporations can become engaged in a broader rural development initiative to help secure the fragile economies of small rural villages is for them to decide. They are not social service entities.
The private corporation structure was one of the innovative parts of ANCSA that is still somewhat controversial within the Native community. Recognizing the limitations of this model, however, several of the corporations have established nonprofit arms. Numerous tribal entities have also been formed to work in areas that may not be appropriate for private corporations seeking to maximize profits.
It's fascinating to consider the rich tapestry that has developed from this one federal action four decades ago, many parts completely unexpected. Alaska is much richer because of it, in many ways beyond money.
Posted on 2010-08-31 by Ben Goenett