The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 (ANCSA)
In 1867, Alaska was purchased by the United States from Russia. The Alaska Native people, who have inhabited this land for over 10,000 years, disagreed with Russia’s right to sell their land. The United States Congress recognized Alaska Native land rights as “aboriginal use and occupancy.” However, decisions on how to settle the land claims were left for future legislative actions.
The Alaska Statehood Act passed in 1959, failed to protect or preserve Alaska Native land and the unsettled issue of aboriginal land claims. Alaska Native land ownership was considered “aboriginal use and occupancy.” The problem with this type of ownership is that there is no receipt or written title. This was the dilemma of the Alaska Native people when the State of Alaska and sectors of the federal government began encroaching on traditional Alaska Native land.
In June 1962, Al Ketzler, Sr. of Nenana helped organize a meeting of 32 villages in Tanana, Alaska. This meeting resulted in the formation of the Tanana Chiefs Conference. Tribal chiefs from across the interior banded together to protect Alaska Native land rights. In 1963, Ketzler flew to Washington DC with a petition from 24 villages urging the Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall, to freeze state land selections until the Alaska Native land claims were settled.
In October of 1966, TCC representatives alongside over 400 Alaska Native people representing 17 Native organizations, gathered in Anchorage for a three-day conference to address Alaska Native aboriginal land rights. The Alaska Native Federation was formed to be a unified Native voice for all Alaska Natives during the land claims. In 1966, Secretary of the Interior, Steward Udall froze all land conveyances within Alaska and the struggle to resolve the land claims continued.
In 1968 commercial quantities of oil were discovered on the North Slope of Alaska. Uncertainties over land ownership prevented oil development by stalling the construction of a pipeline over disputed federal lands. The construction of the pipeline would traverse from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, crossing lands that were claimed by Alaska Native people. The pipeline could not be built until the land claims issue was resolved. The land freeze forced both the state and oil industry alongside Alaska Native people to pressure Congress towards a settlement.
Alaska Native leaders from diverse cultures and backgrounds traveled to Washington D.C. to fight for their lands. After four years of debate and compromise, President Richard Nixon signed into law the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act on December 18, 1971. ANCSA awarded 44 million acres and nearly a billion dollars for land lost to the Alaska Native people. More than 200 village corporations and 12 regional land-based regional corporations were established to hold title to the land and to receive and manage the settlement money. Alaska Native people became shareholders of their respective regional and village corporations, basing their land ownership on a corporate model.
Doyon, Limited was incorporated on June 26, 1972, pursuant to ANCSA. Doyon was allocated 12.5 million acres, making it the largest private landowner in Alaska. To be qualified as an original shareholder, a person had to have a direct tie to the region, be at lease one-quarter Alaska Native, and be born on or before December 18, 1971. Doyon voted to allow those born after 1971 to become shareholders.