In 1867, Russia sold Alaska to the United States, but the land was not theirs to sell.  The United States recognized this by saying that Alaska Natives still had title to their land based on aboriginal use and occupancy. So when the State of Alaska began to select lands in the Arctic Slope, the Iñupiat of the Arctic began to protest. Under the leadership of Charles Edwardsen Jr. – Etok – the Arctic Slope Native Association was formed to claim legal ownership of the land. On Jan 15, 1966, in Barrow, they held their first meeting to form the Arctic Slope Native Association, to claim 56 million acres of land in the Arctic, having the natural boundaries of the Brooks Range going south, and going west to the Chukchi Sea, the Beaufort Sea and the demarcation line.

At the same time that Arctic Slope Native Association was being formed, other Native associations all across the state were filing their own land claims. This momentum brought the various Native groups together and created the Alaska Federation of Natives, or AFN. The timing of the land claims couldn’t have been better, since it coincided with the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay.

Based on that 1968 discovery it was determined to be the largest oil field ever discovered in North America. In order to get the oil to market, a pipeline had to be built. The pipeline, which would go from the North Slope to Valdez, traversed the entire state, which of course was blanketed by the land claims of a number of Native groups. Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall, then placed a freeze on the land and said that there could be no pipeline built – nor could the state claim further land – until the land claims issue was resolved. The freeze jolted the state and the oil industry into action, they along with Alaska natives, began to pressure Congress for a settlement.

Over the next few years, Congress came up with dozens of bills and the oil industry proposed its own settlements. But it was always the Arctic Slope Native Association that said “no” to all these ideas – because they weren’t enough. ASNA wanted a settlement based on the value of their land – not a social welfare handout. Arctic Slope Native Association fought for a regional settlement that would be based on the amount of land each group lost, rather than the population of each region. Although the Arctic Slope people represented only 5% of Alaska Natives, their land represented 16% of Alaska. Most of the proposed bills did not incorporate this perspective. But the one that was finally signed into law – the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 – did, at least in terms of land.

PO BOX 129 BARROW AK 99723 (907) 852-8633