Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Alaska Native people from around the state are gathering in Fairbanks. The primary attention is on the ongoing Elders and Youth Conference and the Alaska Federation of Native Conference later this week, but there’s also a smaller event happening. The Alaska Tribal Leaders Summit is the sixth in a series aimed at turning back Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act provisions that stripped Natives of tribal lands, hunting and fishing rights and self governance. Yupik leader Harold Napoleon gave a presentation Monday on the history of assimilation of Alaska Natives by outside forces. ANCSA set up corporations to manage native lands, an arrangement Napoleon said has fallen short.
Napoleon and about 50 other Alaska Native leaders from across the state are meeting through Wednesday, pushing changes that would retain native corporations, but re-establish tribal lands and governance. Virginia Commack of Ambler said the elimination of tribal jurisdiction in favor of a corporate structure, was part of an orchestrated assimilation plan.
Commack called ANCSA the latest in a long history of U.S. policies aimed at terminating the uniqueness and power of Native Americans. The Native leaders are preparing resolutions for consideration at the Alaska Federation of Native Convention that begins Thursday in Fairbanks.
One resolution seeks to halt implementation of a 2005 law that instructs the federal government to consult with Alaska Native Corporations on the same basis as Indian tribes. Another seeks to open up enrollment to Alaska Native Corporations to all Natives born after the 1971 ANCSA cut off. Ivan Ivan of Akiak encouraged attendees not to be daunted by the challenge of changing federal law.
The group has heard speeches by a number of Native elders including Howard Luke of Fairbanks. Elders addressed the gathering in mix of English and their own languages, recounting traditional ways, and their erosion in recent decades, a rapid change they say made Natives ashamed of who they are, and turned them inward with destructive practices. They say regaining tribal land and status is an essential step toward recovering and prospering again.
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