This editorial originally appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News:
The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, enacted in December 1971, authorized Alaska Natives to select 44 million acres of public land in Alaska, and $962 million in cash as settlement of their aboriginal claim to state land. The act also established a system of village and regional Native corporations to manage the land and cash payments, and made extensive provisions regarding the operations of the corporations, according to the digest of federal resource laws posted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In the ensuing 40 years, since the act was passed, Alaska Native corporations have been among the drivers of Alaska’s economic engine, with eight of the top 10 Alaska-owned businesses on Alaska Business Monthly’s Top 49 being Alaska Native Corporations, according to Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
Alaska’s congressional delegation passed a resolution recognizing ANCSA’s 40th anniversary, and all three members commented on the significance of ANCSA and what followed its passage. Murkowski noted the responsibilities Native corporations undertook when they started out.
“They are not just part of an industry that may come and go, but they bear the heavy responsibility of managing and developing the resources of the Alaska Native people while contributing to the success of present and future generations, village communities, and our state and national economies,” she said.
Sen. Mark Begich described “astonishing economic growth” as the result of ANCSA, growth that has benefited all of us, not just Alaska Natives.
“This historic piece of legislation allowed for a new group of people — who for centuries were economically disadvantaged — to enter into the business world, and to become economic leaders. Under ANCSA they have contributed to the state and the national economies in unprecedented ways,” said Begich, calling the legislation “monumental” and something America needs more of.
Rep. Don Young noted that many of the Native corporations created by ANCSA had become leaders in industry. But, he cautioned, “as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of ANCSA, let us not forget that there is still more work to be done for Alaska’s Native people.”
It has not been easy for the past 40 years, and we are confident the coming 40 will have equal challenges. But it is fitting at this juncture and appreciate the work by Alaska Native corporations to make all Alaskans strong.
Forty years! Quite the milestone. Congratulations to all who have persevered through the good and bad times.