After intense internal negotiations among the various Alaska Native groups and between Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) delegates and the state and federal government, Congress finally passed Alaska Native land claims legislation in 1971. On Dec. 18, 1971, President Richard Nixon addressed the delegates of AFN by phone and informed them that he had just signed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act into law.
At the time, ANCSA constituted the largest land claims settlement in U.S. history, and evidenced a change in federal Indian policy by the U.S. government. ANCSA extinguished aboriginal land claims in Alaska and mandated a for-profit model with land title under corporate ownership. Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) were the first socially responsible for-profit entities tasked with promoting the social, cultural and economic advancement of Alaska Native people and communities in perpetuity.
Washington D.C. (Standing left to right): Albert Kaloa, Jr. (Tyonek), Stanley J. McCutcheon (Tyonek Lawyer), Emil Notti (Ruby), Flore Lekonof (St. George), Cliff Groh, Sr., Barry Jackson (Fairbanks), Margaret Nick, and Morris Thompson (Tanana). Seated left: Willie Hensley. Seated right: Laura Bergt.
Upon the passage of ANCSA, a new era began for Alaska Native people. The federal government transferred 44 million acres of surface and subsurface land to Alaska Native regional and village corporations and distributed $962.5 million to the corporations as part of the settlement of aboriginal land rights. Approximately 80,000 Alaska Native people enrolled as ANCSA shareholders. Many of the early ANC leaders did not have educational opportunities past high school, and had limited experience in corporate management.
The first BSNC Board of Directors faced the task of identifying lands. Some of the Directors pictured are Richard Atuk, George Waters, Martin Olson, Bill Barr, Fran Degnan, Vern Olson and Suzanne Wassman during a land selections meeting in 1973 or 1974. (Photo by Bartz Englishoe)
On July 30, 2020, an historic milestone was reached when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) signed a final patent transferring more than 2,000 acres of ANCSA land at Point Spencer, adjacent to Port Clarence. The lands and adjacent waters of Port Clarence have served as a port of refuge for people of the Bering Strait region for centuries and the site holds important strategic geopolitical as well as historic ancestral and cultural significance.
“This conveyance has special meaning to me, as it represents partial fulfillment of lands selected by BSNC’s original Board of Directors, realizing the promise of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act nearly 50 years ago,” said BSNC President & CEO Gail R. Schubert.
The lands at Point Spencer are of national interest for the Coast Guard to more permanently conduct its duties in the Arctic. The conveyance allows for public and private sector facility and infrastructure development that will benefit the United States. The lands being conveyed to BSNC contain an 8,000-foot airstrip that was constructed by the Coast Guard, and additional lands will be transferred to BSNC at a future date, once environmental mitigation has been completed.