The following article is the first installment of a four-part series that will discuss the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), BSNC’s land base and how the corporation is managing this important asset. This first part outlines ANCSA and delves into the history of BSNC’s land selections (1968-1977). The second installment reviews BSNC’s early years and the difficulties faced by the corporation (1977-1995). The third article will outline BSNC’s recent history (1995-2013), as land conveyances become finalized and the corporation diversified its business ventures. The fourth article will discuss BSNC’s land holdings, the history of exploration and development on its lands, and the plans for future land management and economic development.
The Bering Straits region pre-ANCSA
By 1968, the year after the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) held its first meeting, the state was blanketed by a patchwork of villages and communities organized as Native Villages under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1937 (IRA) , regional non-profit organizations, a few Native reserves (with lands set aside for reservations) and one reservation. Merging these varied forms of government and authority for the purposes of a statewide solution to indigenous claims would not prove easy.
Alaska Native groups throughout the state were organizing to press for a land claims settlement. For the Bering Strait area, three land reserves had been previously created under IRA: Wales in 1943 with 21,000 acres, Diomede in 1946 with 3,000 acres, and Unalakleet in 1941 with 870 acres. White Mountain and Shishmaref had proposed reserves but these were voted down by the residents. There were two other reserves within the region which had been established by Executive Order of the U.S. President: White Mountain in 1925 for 1,200 acres and Elim in 1925 for 316,000 acres. Approximately half of the region’s villages petitioned for reserves in 1950 but no further action was taken to consider the filings.
As a result of the formation of AFN and the pressing issue of land claims settlement, protest filings were submitted by regional groups in 1968. These claims, combined with the pre-existing reserves and IRA petitions for reserves, set the stage for what would eventually become ANCSA. The Seward Peninsula Native Association and the Arctic Native Brotherhood jointly filed protest F-166, which claimed lands beginning at Shishmaref and extended through the Seward Peninsula to the east bank of the Koyuk River.
The lead up to a final land settlement took three years of Congressional Committee and Sub-Committee hearings and numerous field hearings to gather opinions and expertise in the issues surrounding the Act. In the end, ANCSA was passed on Dec. 18, 1971. Through Public Land Orders and ANCSA, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior withdrew vast tracts of land from any form of appropriation in anticipation of selection by the regional and village corporations. Additionally, lands were set aside under Section 17(d) for inclusion within, or creation of new, Federal Land Management Units. These latter lands would become the basis for the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 (ANILCA).
FORMED IN 1972, BSNC AND THE REGION’S VILLAGES WOULD HAVE ONLY UNTIL 1977 TO FILE ALL LAND SELECTIONS AVAILABLE THROUGH ANCSA.
Restrictions were imposed on specific lands, including Section 17(d)(2) lands – existing Federal Land Management Units (Parks, Preserves, Monuments, Refuges, and National Forests). The eventual passage of ANILCA established new federal management units and established a rural preference for hunting and fishing on federal lands through Title VIII. For the BSNC region, the primary lands that were not eligible were the now-Bering Land Bridge National Park and lands along the Unalakleet River that were selected for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, a designation for certain protected wild areas. Some land south and west of St. Michael would become a portion of the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Along with these exclusions, the Alaska Native Allotment Act of 1906 was slated to be closed upon the passage of ANCSA; however, any applications pending at the time of its passage would be eligible for settlement.
Each village corporation could select lands within “core townships” and the regional corporation would be conveyed the subsurface estate underlying the village’s surface estate. As stipulated in ANCSA, the regional corporation would receive the subsurface estate to the lands selected and conveyed to the village corporations and would also be given an opportunity to select surface and subsurface estate within or adjacent to the village corporation’s areas for conveyance through Section 14(h) of the Act.
Formed in 1972, BSNC and the region’s villages would have only until 1977 to file all land selections available through ANCSA.
The first BSNC Board of Directors was faced with the task of identifying lands that could then — or might someday – providepositive future economic benefits or sustain traditional livelihoods for the Company’s 6,300 enrolled shareholders.
Areas chosen were Salmon Lake , Glacial Lake, the area along the Kougarok road to the Pilgrim River, and the north and south shores of Imuruk Basin delta and Windy Cove.
While other regions in the state have timber or oil reserves, the Bering Strait region has minerals.
For BSNC, this meant selecting areas with tin and gold potential (Cassiterite Peak, Mount Distin, the Kougarok area, and Christmas Mountain, possible oil and gas (Reindeer Cove), geothermal reserves (Lava Creek , and uranium and rare earth deposits (Mount Arathlatulik).
The 17 village corporations within the region would receive approximately 2 million acres of surface estate. Some village corporations chose whole watersheds to protect their subsistence/tradition areas (Mary’s Igloo, Koyuk, and others), some selected the shoreline for the sealing camps and access to ocean they depended upon (Shaktoolik, Golovin, St. Michael), and others combined their traditional land needs with lands that might have future potential for other uses (Sitnasuak, Council, Inalik).
Understanding split estate and 7(i)
Land that is divided and shared between an ownership of the surface estate and one of the subsurface ownership estate is what is known as a “split estate.” As applied under ANCSA, the subsurface estate is comprised of a set, or bundle, of rights that allow the owner the right to access, develop and benefit from the minerals, oil and gas, and geothermal resources located within the lands. Invariably, this sharing or splitting of the lands causes tension between the surface and subsurface owner.
In anticipation of the tension “split estate” would cause, the framers of ANCSA created a specific section that requires a major portion of all proceeds from subsurface resource development to be redistributed to all regional and village corporations. This is a means of insuring that the benefits from development accrue not only to the subsurface owner (regional corporations) but also to the surface owner (village corporations). Section 7(i) of ANCSA also applies to timber resources, and requires that 70 percent of all profit from resource development be distributed to all other regional corporations on a per capita basis. Each regional corporation, in turn, must distribute 50 percent of the 7(i) receivables to their village corporations. These annual, semi-annual, or quarterly payments to the village corporations are called 7(j) payments.
In effect, village corporations (surface estate owners) receive 35 percent of all profit generated from any mining, oil, or timber development on ANCSA lands. If a shareholder of the regional corporation is not a member of a village corporation (an “at-large” shareholder) that person receives a portion of the 7(j) funds based on the percapital formula. It is important to remember where this source of money comes from and that Section 7(i) was an equitable distribution derived from the irregular pattern of resource wealth in the state.
END OF PART I