The History of Doyon Lands: Part 1 – The Boundary Story
Doyon, Limited’s boundaries incorporate features that are unique to the region. In addition to including 37 villages and 26 village corporations, Doyon also has within its boundaries the tallest mountain in North America, four military bases, the longest rivers in the state, the second largest city (Fairbanks), and the largest number of highways. The Doyon region also has the longest border with Canada, in addition to bordering seven other regional corporations.
But how did the Doyon region exclude the village of Cantwell when it virtually surrounds it?
The recent history started when the U.S. purchased the lands known as Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million on March 30, 1867. Russia recognized there were indigenous people living here and sold the land with aboriginal title to the land intact. Alaska became a state 92 years later in 1959. Conflicts increased as the new state government began to pursue establishment of new airports, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and land leasing, which impacted villages and land use. Alaska Native leaders, young and old, from across the state banded together to form the Alaska Federation of Natives in 1966, and began to advocate for land ownership with the U.S. Congress.
The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) was signed into law on December 18, 1971, constituting the largest land claims settlement in U.S. history. Originally, the leaders who worked to establish ANCSA had proposed a “super” corporation. Ultimately, Congress directed the formation of 12 regional corporations with boundaries that corresponded to the cultural and ethnic groups of each area.
Patrick Frank, an original Doyon board member from Holy Cross, recalled, “We negotiated boundaries with the other regional corporations and I recall a lawsuit with Ahtna and we resolved that. And then the other one was Willie Hensley. They came down with the entourage from NANA. It was such a good deal because we were resolving our differences of our land. We thought we had more land further up north and they thought they had more land down south, so we had to negotiate and it was a good process. It was amicable and it worked out well in that aspect.”
In a presentation at the 2016 Alaska Native Education Leadership Panel, former Doyon board member, Ethan Schutt, explained the boundary story of one Interior community. “One of the examples in the Doyon region is the nose that excludes Cantwell,” he said.
The map above shows one of the boundary areas negotiated in ANCSA mentioned in Schutt’s presentation.
He explained that Cantwell was culturally a community that could have gone with one of three regions. “It could’ve gone with Ahtna, as it did, Doyon, or CIRI. The community isn’t very far from the traditional Denaina Athabascans in the northern part of the CIRI region from the Gold Creek area around Talkeetna … and certainly it’s close to and on the same river system as some of the Interior people and the Nenana area, but fundamentally they felt more affinity culturally to the Ahtna people in the Glennallen area with the high plateau pass, the upper Susitna river drainage and the Nelchina Caribou herd.”
The boundaries were an integral first step in the ANCSA process. Strong relationships between regional Native leaders and villages were established through this effort. This was soon followed by the lengthy and exciting process of selecting lands. Watch future newsletters for the next lands story, which will focus on these land selections.