On December 18, 1971, President Richard M. Nixon signed the Alaska
Native Claims Settlement Act – or ANCSA – into law. The act created 12
Alaska land-based regional corporations and awarded Alaska Natives 44
million acres of land and nearly a billion dollars as compensation for
the rest of the land lost. The 13th Regional Corporation was formed in 1975 to represent Alaska Natives living in the Lower 48.
ASNA opposed the act on the grounds that it was not fair. However,
the people of the Arctic Slope immediately went about setting up a
corporation that would represent the interests of the Iñupiat.
Our leaders had become expert lobbyists and learned to tell our
stories and refined them – now they had to administer. They went from
running dog teams to whaling to caribou hunting and subsistence
lifestyle and fishing to running a business.
ANCSA called for each region to incorporate as a for-profit business.
Joseph Upicksoun, Warren Matumeak, Edward Hopson Sr., Wesley Aiken and
Lester Suvlu were the incorporators for the Arctic Slope region. On June
22, 1972, the articles of incorporation were signed. ASRC was ready to
go into business, almost…
There were just a few hurdles for the new corporation to get over.
One of which was to enroll every Alaska Native in the region who
had one-fourth or more Native blood and was born before December 18,
Jacob Adams Sr., Oliver Leavitt and others like Nelson Ahvakana and
David Brower Sr., went door to door to enroll shareholders. By the time
they had finished, more than 3,700 Iñupiat had enrolled in ASRC. Another
hurdle facing the corporation was to select nearly 5 million acres of
land in less than four years’ time. This major task had to be
accomplished with limited funding. ASRC had received only $500,000 as an
advance from the Department of the Interior.
Despite the hard times, the officers and staff at the new corporation continued their jobs with dedication and pride. The corporation began to select its land based on two criteria: subsistence and economic potential.
Just before ASRC had received its land conveyance, it experienced a
crisis at the corporate office. A fire broke out in the fall of 1975 and
destroyed the building – including all of ASRC’s original enrollment
files. This didn’t slow down the directors of ASRC. For the next four
years, ASRC set up temporary offices in the Christian Education
Building, which belonged to the Presbyterian Church, until its present
corporate headquarters in Barrow was built.
The economic side of the selection process was a challenge for ASRC.
Unlike most other regional corporations, ASRC was severely limited in
the lands it could select. For example, it was prevented from selecting
lands in the National Petroleum Reserve or the Arctic National Wildlife
Refuge – two very large areas. ASRC had limited information about
available lands in the other areas.
By 1976, ASRC had selected its lands and was the first regional
corporation to receive a land conveyance. The initial conveyance to ASRC
was 3 million acres of land.
In the late 70’s, ASRC’s leaders were focused on creating new
business and job opportunities for shareholders. The corporation’s first
subsidiary was Iñupiat Builders.
This was a company assigned to build new, insulated homes for
residents; and to rebuild the communities of Pt. Lay and Nuiqsut. Other
subsidiaries that formed ASRC’s economic engine during this time were
SKW/Eskimos, Inc., Arctic Slope Consulting Engineers and Arctic Slope
Alaska General –ASAG – all of which would be wholly owned subsidiaries
by the 80s.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, ASRC signed oil and gas exploration
leases with Union Oil, Amoco, Texaco and Chevron. The revenue from
these leases provided ASRC’s main source of income during the
subsidiaries’ start-up periods. Other businesses ASRC created were
Eskimos, Inc., a fuel distribution company. Tundra Tours, a tourism
company which built the Top of the World Hotel. ASRC’s goal in creating
these businesses was to provide jobs and services to shareholders.
As the regional corporations were going about implementing the land
claims settlement, a major dispute arose over how to interpret a
one-sentence clause having to do with resource development revenues:
ANCSA Section 7(i).
On June 29, 1982, the 7(i) Settlement Agreement was signed which set
out in very certain terms how resource revenues would be shared among
all 12 regional corporations.
Regardless of the Settlement Agreement, ASRC was faced with a new –
and very serious – obstacle. In litigation brought by the other eleven
regional corporations, a 1980 court ruling found that ASRC must share
70% of it’s exploration revenue with other regions – meaning, it owed
them approximately $7 million.
Faced with a financial crisis, the leaders of ASRC came up with an
ingenious solution. ASRC approached the federal government about
possible land exchange. It owned lands in the Gates of the Arctic
National Park, which had been established in 1980 when the Alaska
National Interest Lands Conservation Act – ANILCA – was passed. Under
the original provisions of ANCSA, ASRC was not allowed to select any
subsurface in either ANWR or NPRA. However this exchange was to trade
surface estate in the Gates of the Arctic National Park for subsurface
beneath the village of Kaktovik, which is within ANWR.
ASRC and the Secretary of the Interior entered into a land exchange
agreement in August 1983. With the Kaktovik land exchange, ASRC was able
to once again enter into exploratory agreements with oil companies.
These agreements brought in several millions of dollars during the early
It was now the mid-80s and some of the companies ASRC purchased
during this period were Natchiq, Inc., an oilfield service company,
which later became ASRC Energy Services, and Petro Star, Inc., a
petroleum refinery and distributor. These companies – along with other
subsidiaries - established ASRC as a leader among Alaskan-owned
companies, in terms of gross revenues and employment.