FAIRBANKS – An up-and-coming Alaska Native leader called a new-to-Alaska legal mechanism for protecting tribal lands a colonial-era tool and urged tribes and Native organizations to go another way.
The mechanism – putting lands into federal trust to protect them from taxes and ensure that tribes hold them forever – is being highlighted at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention as a promising opportunity. The resolution of a court challenge this year opens up the opportunity for tribes.
Megan Alvanna-Stimpfle, the 33-year-old chief of the traditional council for the ghost village of King Island, said she understand why tribes might go that route but said it isn’t enough and isn’t right.
“Let us have the courage to be honest about what we really should be asking for,” she said. “Because states don’t need federal trust lands to assert their jurisidiction.” By that measure, she said, neither do tribes.
Calls for change in federal law
Some tribal leaders earlier this week called for changes in federal law to establish tribal authority over communities as well as separate efforts to establish trust lands.
Thursday’s opening day for AFN’s convention featured two remarkable keynote speeches — one by Alvanna-Stimpfle as part of the new generation of leaders and another by Emil Notti, who served as the first AFN president 50 years ago when he was the same age Alvanna-Stimpfle is now.
Notti told the story of how the early Native leaders sacrificed to win land for Alaska Natives, eventually enshrined in the 1971 Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act that distributed 44 million acres and almost $1 billion to then-new Native corporations.
The early AFN wasn’t that organized, he said at the convention celebrating its 50 years.
“We had no money. We had no office. We had no telephone. We had no typewriter,” said Notti, now 83 and retired in Anchorage. “And for what we had to do, there was no precedence.”
He said he made $1,200 a month for five years, fell behind on his car and house payments, and was targeted by death threats.
‘Tool of colonization’
The early AFN leaders knew they were fighting for the generations to come, he said. He created the AFN logo that still stands today and drew the boundaries that still define the regions covered by the Alaska Native corporations.
Alvanna-Stimpfle, who lives in Nome and used to work in Washington, D.C., for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, said tribes, corporations and nonprofits “must work together in a way we never have before to strategically invest in our communities. … What if we merged our corporation and tribal offices to provide seamless and integrated services?”
She called for courage and political will for big change. Maybe in a few years, she said, this week’s convention will be seen as “a start to an Alaska Native movement for power.”
In her view, federal trust control is a “tool of colonization” that requires tribes to put their faith in Washington, D.C.
She was overcome at times but was a force on stage in front of thousands of Alaska Native people.
“I frankly don’t want to be talking about this for the rest of my life like too many of us have had to do. Enough is enough,” she said. “Do I need to run for governor to get this done?”
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: Arctic Indigenous leaders to push for permanent voice in world maritime body, Radio Canada International
Greenland: What the EU seal ban has meant for Inuit communities in the Arctic, Eye on the Arctic
Iceland: Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge can help us prevent climate changes says Ban Ki-moon, The Independent Barents Observer
Norway: Stop romanticizing Arctic development say indigenous leaders, Eye on the Arctic
Russia: Russia declares another indigenous group ‘foreign agent’, The Independent Barents Observer
United States: U.S. Attorney General announces new focus on Alaska Native issues, Alaska Public Radio Network