The 50th anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) is fast approaching!
On Dec. 18, 1971, ANCSA become the largest land claims settlement in U.S. history and the first settlement of its kind between Native American people and the federal government. ANCSA settled Alaska Native peoples’ aboriginal land claims in exchange for title to approximately 44 million acres of land, a nearly $1 billion cash payment from the federal treasury and additional resource revenue sharing provisions. In an effort to enable statewide economic development, the act also created 200 Alaska Native village corporations and 12 Alaska-based Alaska Native regional corporations, including CIRI.
ANCSA’s passage represented a significant victory for Alaska Native people. When it was signed into law, the Tundra Times newspaper heralded it as “the beginning of a great era for the Native people of Alaska.” Eligible Alaska Native people born by the enactment date (December 17, 1971) could apply for enrollment as shareholders in regional and/or village for-profit corporations, with each enrolled shareholder receiving 100 shares of stock. In this way, ANCSA established a framework for ANCs to provide for the economic, education, social and cultural well-being of current and future generations of shareholders.
The significance of ANCSA cannot be overstated. Ten years ago, as we celebrated ANCSA’s 40th anniversary, then CIRI President and CEO Margie Brown wrote that the act “empowered some 80,000 Alaska Native people who enrolled as shareholders and generations of their descendants to improve their lives by helping them participate and compete in Alaska’s and our nation’s economic, political and social development.”
“Each corporation has interpreted its ANCSA mandate to benefit current and future generations of shareholders in its own way,” Brown continued. “Through time, the corporations have had varying levels of success. But as a group, they have sustainably enhanced the quality of life of tens of thousands of Alaska Native people. Income levels, graduation rates, employment, health and life expectancy for Alaska Native people have quantifiably improved from pre-ANCSA levels.”
According to the ANCSA Regional Association, the passage of ANCSA had effects that reached far beyond Alaska Native people. By creating Alaska Native-owned, for-profit corporations, ANCSA brought additional economic diversity to the state that has benefited all Alaskans, either directly or indirectly.
ANCs represent a diverse range of industries, companies, regions and cultures, and it is this diversification that has allowed them to grow and thrive. Alaska Business magazine annually publishes a list of the state’s “Top 49ers.” In 2020, 18 of the top 20 businesses were ANCs. In the nearly 50 years since their creation by Congress, ANCs have grown to become an integral part of the Alaska economy, and given the current fiscal crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, their ongoing success and growth is critical.
ANCSA laid the groundwork for economic development across the state, including construction of the 800-mile-long trans-Alaska oil pipeline that stretches from Alaska’s North Slope to the Port of Valdez. And it lifted and strengthened the collective voice of Alaska Native people. Today, after 50 years, ANCs have become a major economic driver in Alaska and our nation’s economic, political and social systems.
Throughout 2021, we will be commemorating ANCSA’s 50th anniversary. I look forward to sharing and celebrating with you.