An Alaska Native's Perspective

By Armstrong, Fred, Jr. | Endangered Species Bulletin, March 1999 | Go to article overview

An Alaska Native's Perspective


Armstrong, Fred, Jr., Endangered Species Bulletin


How does the Endangered Species Act (ESA) affect tribes in Alaska? What are the benefits of tribal involvement in the ESA? Will the ESA impact subsistence activities in Alaska? Will it impede the cultural and traditional lifestyle Alaska Natives cherish? These are some of the questions that came to me when I first heard of the ESA. To answer some of these questions, one must first understand the unique laws that affect the livelihoods of Alaska Natives and determine the course that resource managers must take to implement wildlife conservation regulations.

When oil was discovered on the North Slope, the State of Alaska needed to settle a land claims issue with Alaska Natives in order for the trans-Alaska pipeline to be built. It looked to .Congress to settle the issue. In hopes of changing the way the Federal Government worked with Native Americans, Congress wanted an alternate solution to creating reservations throughout Alaska. At the same time, Congress wanted Alaska Natives to forge their own destiny and become self-reliant. Hearings were conducted and legislation acceptable to both Alaska Natives and the State of Alaska slowly developed. In 1971, Congress passed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). This law provided for the creation of 13 Native regional, for-profit corporations. The corporation boundaries were created along cultural diversity lines, with the exception of one corporation that represents Alaska Natives living outside of Alaska. (That corporation did not receive a land entitlement but instead received a cash settlement.) Congress authorized the 12 remaining corporations to select land from 44 million acres (18 million hectares). This land, along with a cash settlement, would be used to pursue economic development ventures to sustain and support their shareholders. Congress also increased the number and size of national parks, preserves, and refuges in Alaska, and the Secretary of the Interior selected a total of 227 million acres (92 million ha) for these purposes. The authority for this was the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). ANILCA also provided for the protection of subsistence hunting and fishing activities by rural residents of Alaska. Title VIII of ANILCA gives authority for the Federal Government to implement a subsistence hunting and fishing program for rural residents on Federal lands.

One important aspect of ANILCA for tribes in Alaska was the extinguishment of aboriginal hunting and fishing rights. This action paved the way for the State of Alaska to manage fish and wildlife resources throughout Alaska. The passage of ANCSA also revoked the Alaska Native Allotment Act and all reserves for Native purposes, except for one at Annette Island (Metlakatla). Tribes within reservations were given the option of receiving title to their land, but without reservation status. The 44 million acres that the regional corporations selected were based on traditional use and occupancy patterns within each geographic area. These 12 regional corporations represent the diverse cultures within the three ethnic races: Indian, Eskimo, and Aleut.

In 1993, Ada Deer, then Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs, announced the recognition of 226 Alaskan tribes by the Federal Government. …

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