Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act

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The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) was signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon on December 18, 1971, then the largest land claims settlement in United States history.[1][2] ANCSA was intended to resolve the long-standing issues surrounding aboriginal land claims in Alaska, as well as to stimulate economic development throughout Alaska.[1] The settlement established Alaska Native claims to the land by transferring titles to twelve Alaska Native regional corporations and over 200 local village corporations.[1] A thirteenth regional corporation was later created for Alaska Natives who no longer resided in Alaska.[1] The act is codified as 43 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.[3]


When Alaska became a state in 1959, section 4 of the Alaska Statehood Act provided that any existing Alaska Native land claims would be unaffected by statehood and held in status quo.[4][5] Yet while section 4 of the act preserved Native land claims until later settlement, section 6 allowed for the state government to claim lands deemed vacant.[5] Section 6 granted the state of Alaska the right to select up to 103 million acres from the public domain with the exception of Native lands.[6][5] All the same, the state government attempted to acquire lands under section 6 of the Statehood Act that were subject to Native claims under section 4, and that were currently occupied and used by Alaska Natives.[6] The federal Bureau of Land Management began to process the Alaska government's selections without taking into acccount the Native claims and without informing the affected Native groups.[6]

It was against this backdrop that the original language for a land claims settlement was developed.[7] In 1968, Governor Walter Hickel summoned a group of Native leaders to create a settlement that would be satisfactory to the Natives.[7] The group met for ten days and asked for $20 million in exchange for requested lands.[7] They also asked for 10% of federal mineral lease revenue.[8]

A 9.2-magnitude earthquake struck the state in 1964.[9] Recovery efforts drew the attention of the federal government, which found that Alaska Natives had the poorest living conditions in the country.[7] The Federal Field Committee for Development Planning in Alaska decided that the Natives should receive $100 million and the 10% revenue royalty.[7] Nothing was done with this proposal, however, and a freeze on land transfers remained in effect.[10] In 1969 President Nixon appointed Hickel as Secretary of the Interior.[7][11] The Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) protested against Hickel’s nomination, but he was eventually confirmed.[7][11]

Hickel worked with the AFN, negotiating between them and state government over the disputed lands. Offers went back and forth, with each rejecting the other’s proposals. The AFN wanted rights to land, while Governor Keith Miller thought the state should pay nothing and that the Natives did not have legitimate claims to state land. The final bill was written in 1971 and was challenged in both the United States Senate and House of Representatives. Soon a new Alaskan state administration was able to stake out a position that the state’s Congressional representatives could agree upon. The state’s newly elected Senator, sole Congressman, and governor finally reached an agreement, in addition to the leaders of the Natives. The most controversial issues that held up the process were determining methods of land selection by Alaska Natives and financial distribution.[12]

In 1968, the Atlantic-Richfield Company discovered oil at Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic coast, catapulting the issue of land ownership into headlines.[13] In order to lessen the difficulty of drilling at such a remote location and transporting the oil to the lower 48 states, the oil companies proposed to build a pipeline to carry the oil across Alaska to the port of Valdez, built on the ruins of the previous town. At Valdez, the oil would be loaded onto tanker ships and sent by water to the contiguous states. The plan was approved, but a permit to construct the pipeline, which would cross lands involved in the native dispute, could not be granted until the Native claims had been settled.

With major petroleum dollars on the line, reaching agreement had new urgency, and in 1971, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was signed into law by President Nixon. It abrogated Native claims to aboriginal lands.[14] In return, Natives received up to 44 million acres (180,000 km2) of land and were paid $963 million. The land and money were divided among regional, urban, and village tribal corporations.

Effect of land conveyances[edit]

ANCSA and related legislation produced changes in ownership of about 148,500,000 acres (601,000 km2) of land in Alaska once controlled by the federal government (after it assumed control of territories occupied for thousands of years by indigenous peoples). That is larger by 6,000,000 acres (24,000 km2) than the combined areas of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.[15]

When the bill passed in 1971, it included provisions that had never been attempted in United States settlements with Native Americans. The newly passed Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act created twelve Native regional economic development corporations. Each corporation was associated with a specific region of Alaska, and the Natives who had traditionally lived there. This innovative approach to native settlements, engaged the tribes in capitalism. It was the idea of the AFN, who believed that the Natives would have to become a part of the capitalist system in order to survive. As stockholders in these corporations, the Natives could earn some income and stay in their traditional villages. If the corporations were managed properly, they could make profits that would enable individuals to stay, rather than having to leave Native villages to find better work. This was intended to help preserve Native culture.[16]

To grant stock to Natives, the act had to define what constituted a “Native.” It granted stock to anyone with 1/4 or more Indian blood. Each person received one hundred shares of stock. More than 208 villages were included in the act, involving 227 different tribes. ANCSA gave $962.5 million to Native Alaskans. Half went directly to the villages, while the other half went to fund the twelve corporations. About 100,000 Natives were affected by the legislation. About 99 million acres of public land were allocated for Natives to choose from, 40 million of which they could claim for themselves. The twelve regional corporations received mineral rights for 22 million acres of land, as well as surface and sub-surface titles to 16 million more acres. This accounted for 38 million of the 40 million acres. The last 2 million acres were expected to be designated for protection as holy sites, burial grounds, historic sites, etc.[17]

Native Land Selection[edit]

Natives had just a few years to sort through these millions of acres of land and make decisions. In some cases corporations received outside aid in surveying the land. For instance, Doyon Limited (a Native corporation) was helped by the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska. The Institute helped in determining which land was most rich with resources such as minerals and coal. NASA provided satellite imagery to aid in finding areas most suited for vegetation and subsistence. The imagery also showed locations of caribou and moose, and forest with timber conducive to the market. In total about 7 million acres were analyzed for Doyon Limited. Natives were able to choose tens of thousands of acres of land with rich timber, and Doyon used the mineral analysis to attract businesses.[18]

Criticism of ANCSA[edit]

There was largely positive reception to ANCSA, although not entirely. The act was approved by Natives as well as non-Natives, and was praised for such bipartisan support. Natives were heavily involved in the legislative process, and the final draft of the act used many AFN ideas. Most criticism of ANCSA came from Natives, who in some cases argued that it hastened a cultural genocide. Some Natives critiqued ANCSA as an illegitimate treaty since it dealt with tribal leaders and was not voted on by the indigenous populations. One native even described it as a social and political experiment. Critics have also argued that Natives feared massacre or incarceration and only complied with the negotiations as such. Others have argued that the settlement was arguably the most generous afforded by the United States to a Native group, and point out that some of the largest and most profitable corporations in the state are of the twelve created in ANCSA. The corporation system has been critiqued, as majorities of stockholders have sold land to outside corporations who have leveled forests and extracted minerals. But supporters of the system argue that it has provided economic benefits for the indigenous peoples that outweigh these consequences.[19]

Selected provisions of ANCSA[edit]

  • Native claims to almost all of Alaska were extinguished in exchange for approximately one-ninth of the state's land plus $962.5 million in compensation distributed to 200 local village and 12 Native-owned regional corporations, plus a thirteenth corporation comprising Alaska Natives who had left the state.
  • Of the compensation monies, $462.5 million was to come from the federal treasury and the rest from oil revenue-sharing.
  • Settlement benefits would accrue to those with at least one-fourth Native ancestry.
  • Of the approximately 80,000 Natives enrolled under ANCSA, those living in villages (approximately 2/3s of the total) would receive 100 shares in both a village and a regional corporation.
  • The remaining 1/3 would be "at large" shareholders with 100 shares in a regional corporation plus additional rights to revenue from regional mineral and timber resources.
  • The Alaska Native Allotment Act was revoked and as yet unborn Native children were excluded.
  • The twelve regional corporations within the state would administer the settlement.
  • A thirteenth corporation composed of Natives who had left the state would receive compensation but not land.
  • Surface rights to 44 million acres (180,000 km2) were patented to the Native village and regional corporations
  • The surface rights to the patented land were granted to the village corporations and the subsurface right to the land were granted to the regional corporation, creating a "split estate"

Alaska Native regional corporations[edit]

Regional corporations established by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
Main article at: Alaska Native Regional Corporations

The following thirteen regional corporations were created under ANCSA:

Also, most of these corporations set up nonprofit corporations of their own.

Alaska Native village corporations[edit]

ANCSA created about 200 separate "village corporations." Below is a short list of some of the village corporations created under ANCSA:

A more complete listing is available at

Land selection by the state of Alaska under the Statehood Act and for the regional and village corporations has continued through the present.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Thomas, Monica E. "The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act: Conflict and Controversy". Polar Record, 23(142): 27-36 (1986). Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 26 November 2014. 
  2. ^ Kroerner, Claudia. "U.S. To Pay Navajo Nation $554 Million In Largest Tribal Settlement In History". Retrieved 26 November 2014. 
  3. ^ "43 U.S. Code Chapter 33". Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School. Retrieved 27 November 2014. 
  4. ^ Jones, Richard S. "ALASKA NATIVE CLAIMS SETTLEMENT ACT OF 1971 (PUBLIC LAW 92-203): HISTORY AND ANALYSIS TOGETHER WITH SUBSEQUENT AMENDMENTS Report No. 81-127 GOV". (June 1, 1981). Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c "Alaska Statehood Act Public Law 85-508, 72 Stat. 339, July 7, 1958". Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c Richard S., Jones. "ALASKA NATIVE CLAIMS SETTLEMENT ACT OF 1971 (PUBLIC LAW 92-203): HISTORY AND ANALYSIS TOGETHER WITH SUBSEQUENT AMENDMENTS: Introduction". Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g "STATEMENT OF RAY CHRISTIANSEN, STATE SENATOR FOR DISTRICT K". Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  8. ^ Haycox, Stephen W. (2002). Frigid Embrace: Politics, Economics, and Environment in Alaska. Oregon University Press. p. 99-112. ISBN 0870715364. Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  9. ^ "The Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964". Alaska Earthquake Center. Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  10. ^ Grabinska, Kornelia. "Excerpts from HISTORY OF EVENTS LEADING TO THE PASSAGE OF THE ALASKA NATIVE CLAIMS SETTLEMENT ACT". Tanana Chiefs Conference, Inc. Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  11. ^ a b "1 Testimony of Sealaska Corporation Native Regional Corporation for Southeast Alaska’s Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian People May 16, 2013". pp.41-66. Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  12. ^ Stephen Haycox, Alaska, An American Colony, University of Washington Press, 2006, 286.
  13. ^ Coile, Zachery (August 9, 2005). "ARCTIC OIL: Oil is the lifeblood of Alaska, with residents ready to drill". San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on 3 October 2005. Retrieved 2005-09-12. 
  14. ^ "Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act". U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Archived from the original on 31 August 2005. Retrieved 2005-09-01. 
  15. ^ "Areas As Vast As Whole States Now Change Hands In Alaska". New York Times. October 8, 1982. 
  16. ^ Haycox, Frigid Embrace, 132-33.
  17. ^ Haycox, Frigid Embrace, 132-33.
  18. ^ James B. Haynes, "Land Selection and Development under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act," Arctic Institute of North America, Vol. 28, No. 3 (Sep., 1975), pp. 201-208
  19. ^ Kirk, Robin, and Orin Starn. The Alaska Native Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Edited by Maria Sháa Tláa Williams. Duke University Press Books, 2009, pp. 215, 284. Walter R. Borneman, Alaska: Saga of a Bold Land, 470-72.


  • Arthur Lazarus, Jr. & W. Richard West, Jr., The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act: A Flawed Victory, Law & Contemp. Probs., Winter (1976).
  • J. Tate London, The "1991 Amendments" to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act: Protection for Native Lands?, 8 Stan. Envtl. L.J. 200 (1989).
  • John F. Walsh, Settling the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, 38 Stan. L. Rev. 227 (1985).
  • James B. Haynes, Land Selection and Development under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Arctic, Vol. 28, No. 3 (Sep., 1975), pp. 201–208
  • Libby Roderick, Alaska Native Cultures and Issues: Responses to Frequently Asked Questions. University of Alaska Press, (2010).
  • Walter R. Borneman, Alaska: Saga of a Bold Land. Harper Perennial, (2004).

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]