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American Indians and Alaska Natives - What About Alaska?
Published: March 19, 2014
- In 1971, Congress passed a comprehensive law, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), which changed the nature of the government’s relationship with Alaska Natives and gave them rights and interests not enjoyed by any other indigenous group.
- The ANCSA gave Alaska Natives approximately $960 million in compensation for extinguishing all of their aboriginal land claims. ANCSA also gave Alaska Natives ownership rights to 40 million acres of land.
- Of the 40 million acres, the surface rights in 22 million acres were divided among over two hundred Native villages according to their population, with each village selecting its homelands and incorporating itself under state law. The remaining 18 million acres and the subsurface rights in the entire 40 million acres were conveyed to thirteen Alaska Native regional corporations. Therefore, 22 million acres patented to the villages are dually owned: the surface is owned by the village corporation while the subsurface is owned by the regional corporation.
- Under ANCSA, all persons living on December 18, 1971 and possessing one-quarter or more Native blood were automatically enrolled in a regional corporation and issued one hundred shares of its corporate stock.
- ANCSA requires each regional corporation to use its land and resources for the profit of its shareholders.
- When originally enacted ANCSA prohibited shareholders from selling their shares for twenty years and it also exempted the land owned by Native corporations from state and local taxation during this same twenty year period. In 1988, Congress amended ANCSA and extended the restriction on taxation indefinitely and permitted the corporations to extend indefinitely the restriction on sales of corporate stock.
- While ANCSA was enacted by Congress with the intent that litigation could be avoided regarding land claims, it has resolved some disputes but created others.
- In 1993 the Department of the Interior issued a ruling stating that Native villages and corporations have the same status as the tribes in the lower forty-eight states and are “entitled to the same protection, immunities, and privileges as other acknowledged tribes.”
- In 2001, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed three of its prior decisions and held that “Alaska Native tribes are sovereign powers under federal law” and therefore had the right, as was the specific issue in the case, to enforce the provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). See In re C.R.H.