Alaska tribal members were in Portland last week for National Congress of American Indians or NCAI conference meetings where resolutions supporting a variety of initiatives passed.
Edward Alexander is the 2nd chief of the Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in tribal government in Fort Yukon. Alexander points to growing concerns about future control of traditional land and the disenfranchising of Alaska Natives born after 1971 who were left out of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
Alexander says one of the resolutions addresses concerns about traditional lands that are now within Alaska Native Corporations. He says Alaska’s indigenous people need to build consensus for taking control of the future.
“ We’ve allowed a foreign government, the United States to say that our children are separated from their land and resources, they’re not shareholders in our corporations and at some point we have to say, well hey, we’re not going to allow our young people to be separated from us anymore, we’re not going to allow our young people to be separated from our traditional government or our traditional ways and I think that time is now and our young people need to know they have leaders that are speaking up for them,” Alexander said.
The resolution would form an Alaska Native Restoration Commission based on the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin’s successful efforts in regaining their rights as a tribe after their tribal status was terminated by Congress and their successful logging operation was turned into a corporation that begin to have financial trouble. The Menominee fought and prevailed in getting their reservation lands or Indian Country status restored and brought their timber business back under tribal control. Alexander says he sees parallels in Alaska to the Menominee.
“Basically what the restoration commission is tasked with doing is to obtain a legal analysis of the Menomonee restoration act and its potential applicability to Alaska and also look at some of the other legal alternatives to basically restoring some of the rights that tribes have been effectively denied thus far,” Alexander said.
He says commission members must ask Native people if they think the social experiment of ANCSA has been good or bad. The Fort Yukon Gwich’in transferred their land from their village corporation to the tribe and negotiated an agreement that allows the corporation to retain economic development rights, the tribe controls the land and if there are disputes, they are arbitrated by the tribal government. Alexander says he worries ANCs, like other corporations, could go out of business in the future and traditional land could be lost to bankruptcy or taxes.
“The Gwich’in people are forever, the Yupik people are forever, the Inupiaq people are forever and those people, those Yupik people, those Tlingit people, they have the right to retain their land and not in a corporate structure, but in a structure that they have a chance to define. And that’s sovereignty, that’s self determination and to suggest that we don’t have such power is to suggest tyranny,” Alexander said.
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