How are Alaska Natives defined slightly differently than Native Americans in terms of history and law?
- connieLv 75 years agoFavorite Answer
Arriving from Siberia by ship in the mid-eighteenth century, Russians began to trade with Alaska Natives, especially when they learned the quality of their furs. New settlements around trading posts were started by Russians, including Russian Orthodox missionaries. This history is evident in the high number of congregations today of Russian Orthodox among Christians in Alaska, with most of their members being Alaska Natives.
In 1867, near the end of the treaty-making era, the United States acquired Russia’s right to Alaska. The Treaty of
Cession provided that Alaska Natives would be treated the same as aboriginal peoples in the rest of the United
States. Treaties were never negotiated with Alaska Natives, and few reservations were created in Alaska. The
federal government eventually pursued its relationship with Alaska Natives on a village-by-village basis through
the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which was passed in 1971 to
clear the title to Alaskan land for oil development.
Another Act of major importance passed during the early 1970s was the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of
1971 (“ANSCA”), which finally addressed the land claims of Alaska Natives. Native corporations were created to
hold the settlement funds and lands. Alaska has a complex mix of village governments, tribal governments,
village corporations, regional Native profit-making corporations, and regional Native non-profit corporations. In
general, it is the regional Native non-profit corporations that provide health care to Alaska Native people.
Since Alaska was not purchased until 1867, it was, of course, not involved with original treaty deliberations between the United States colonial government and Indian nations. The treaties provided the means of negotiating with Indians who controlled land, resources, and trade routes to which newcomers wanted access. The treaties negotiated during this time recognized the sovereignty and independent nation status of Indian tribes, and when the United States Constitution was written, it specifically authorized Congress to enter into these treaties. Included in almost every treaty were contractual, presumably legally-binding agreements in which the federal government agreed to provide Indian people with education, health care, and social services in exchange for Indian-controlled resources. Between 1778 and 1871, almost 400 treaties were negotiated between the United States government and Indian nations, and through the process a precedent for federal control of Indian affairs, including education, was firmly established. Treaties were the first instance in which federal responsibility for American Indian schooling was identified, and since that time the government has legally extended its educational responsibility through other means including congressional acts, executive orders and court decisions (DeJong, 1993; Tippeconic & Gipp, 1982; Indian Nations at Risk Task Force, 1991).
Although Alaska, for the most part, was not directly affected by treaties or by the establishment of reservations, the beliefs that led the United States government to support the policies regarding treaties and the establishment of reservations were the same beliefs that shaped its future relationship with Alaska Native people. The federal belief system represented in the establishment of treaties, reservations, the Civilization Fund Act, the establishment of boarding schools and a myriad of other policies not directly related to education, was a belief system that endorsed and ensured restricted environments in which the government could control nearly all aspects of American Indian life, including education, religion, medicine, law, hunting and fishing, as well as land acquisition and use.
No treaties had been made with Alaska Natives and few reservations had been set aside for them. They continued to live on the land like their ancestors had done for generations. But Interior Secretary Harold Ickes wanted to establish reservations in Alaska for three reasons:"First, they would define Alaskan 'tribes' by identifying particular groups with the land they occupied; Second, they would define geographic limits of jurisdiction so that Alaska Native communities could exercise power of local government, and Third, they would enable the United States to segregate Native land and resources, thereby preserving the 'economic rights' of the Natives." The pro-reservation stand by Ickes led to much political conflict among Natives, as well as in the political bodies in Alaska and Washington, D.C. Many years of bureaucratic fighting and court suits followed, as the debates raised issues of aboriginal land rights. There was also a controversy about whether as much as one-third to one-half of Alaskan land would become "off-limits" to white settlers and to economic development in the 100 reservations that were proposed. The fishing industry opposed reservations, as did Gov. Ernest Gruening and the territory's businesses.
From the 1930s to the 1950s, about 70 villages set up Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) constitutions, similar to state constitutions, under this law. The largest of six IRA reserves created in the 1940s was the Venetie Reserve in the northeast Interior, covering 1.4 million acres. In the end, the proposed reservation policy was a failure, but the legacy of the IRA movement is important - it became, along with traditional Native governments, one of two types of Native authority recognized by the federal government. Traditional Native governments across Alaska reflected different cultural and subsistence patterns. All of these governments tried to meet the needs of their people however, with rules that governed their society and defined their physical and cultural boundaries.
The Alaska Statehood Act included language that said Congress would resolve Alaska Native land issues in the future. It also allowed the new state to select 103.5 million acres of land, which set up a conflict that increased in the early 1960s. As the state began to select more and more acres, Natives grew upset that their traditional lands for hunting and fishing were threatened. In response to land concerns, the Alaska Federation of Natives was formed in 1966 and lobbied for a settlement of land claims that was achieved five years later.
Tribal governments, both traditional and IRA governments, still exist in villages across Alaska. In some cases they co-exist with state-chartered governments, and with Native profit and non-profit corporations set up under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). In what Case describes as a "bewildering institutional array" of governments, there is still tension and debate about which of these governments best serves the interests of Alaska Natives. The tribal sovereignty movement of the 1980s and beyond drew much of its strength from people who felt that the land claims settlement did not do enough to improve the lives of people in the villages. The tribal governments exercise power and operate programs in certain social service areas dealing with child welfare, health and other governmental services. But they do not have jurisdiction over the lands conveyed to the ANCSA corporations by the federal government.
A unanimous 1998 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court sharply limited the powers of tribal governments. The court said that even though village corporations in Venetie and Arctic Village had transferred their land to the tribal government the land was not "Indian country," meaning that it was not land on which the tribe would have primary jurisdiction instead of the state. The state had taken the Venetie case to the Supreme Court, arguing that a declaration of "Indian Country" in Alaska would have led to 226 "separate and sovereign" tribal governments, with powers over fish and game, and taxes.