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Time to take back control of Alaska Native corporations

The claims for recognition of the inherent right to property of the indigenous peoples of Alaska and the furtherance of individual self-actualization arising from that right, that has long been a pre-eminent foundation of America, were envisioned settled by the passage and implementation of the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971. The result was the creation of 13 regional corporations encompassing the traditional groupings of 227 village corporations representing the 227 federally recognized Tribal entities in Alaska.

These corporations were organized under the laws of the state of Alaska as "for-profit" corporations with an exclusively Native board of directors elected by exclusively Native shareholders of the appropriate regional and village heritage that would establish policy, manage the lands titled to them, and enter into business enterprises to the direct benefit of each and every individual shareholder that each might thereby realize their inherent right so long denied.

At the time of ANCSA's passage, Dec. 18, 1971, there was an assumption that Alaska’s indigenous peoples were not sophisticated enough to protect their own assets and manage their corporations. Congress mandated that Native shareholders of these ANCSA corporations could not sell, trade or collateralize their stock (which Congress interpreted would be a par substitute for an individual indigenous person’s inherent right to property) until 1991 when that mandate would expire. Then, and only then, would the indigenous people of Alaska individually gain full ownership of their recognized inherent right to property.

Consequently, the indigenous peoples of Alaska were, in effect, put into bondage -- their master being these restricted-stock corporations -- until they were emancipated by the expiration of restrictions, and thereby emerging, once and finally, in control of their own inherent property right and destiny like all other American citizens. All of which was to occur in 1991. But it did not.

ANCSA, in its original passage, was a codified agreement between the individual indigenous peoples of Alaska and the United States government. It required approval of those people to become law. However, subsequent amendments to ANCSA -- such as that which extended stock-restriction provisions beyond 1991 -- were introduced and passed by Congress without the concurrence of the individual indigenous peoples that the original legislation required. Slowly and, in effect, under the cover of darkness, the inherent right of property conferred the indigenous peoples was thusly usurped through the corruption of by then deeply entrenched and corrupt boards of directors, with the support -- and often at the instigation -- of their self-serving lawyers, accountants, consultants, hired non-Native managers and lobbyists.

Driven by money and sudden wealth, the "law of unintended consequence" reared its ugly head. A select few became the board members and officers of the now land-rich Native corporations. Then, like sharks in a feeding frenzy, lawyers and non-Native opportunists descended upon the corporations. By rewarding the select few comprising the boards with money and previously unreachable opportunity, the wealth bestowed in land and capital to the indigenous peoples by ANCSA -- the peoples’ inherent right -- became concentrated exclusively in the select few and their non-Native co-conspirators.

With the concentration of the wealth came the consolidation of power for strength, force and authority that is necessary to maintain control of the rights of all in the hands of the few. The select few -- driven by and plotting with their attorneys, accountants and lobbyists -- applied influence gained through consolidating the wealth meant for all into the hands of the select few. This was to persuade Congress to extend indefinitely the restriction on their corporate stocks when that restriction was mandated to expire in 1991.

The control of the indigenous peoples’ right to property has been further consolidated in the select few by what quickly developed as corruption-driven legislation and judicial intervention that:

  1. Subjected individual shareholders of the restricted stock to repressive securities laws and regulations, effectively silencing their voices and denying them the inherent American right of free speech; this mooting any effort they might make to seek and gain a seat on the corporate boards that have usurped their own indigenous peoples’ property right.
  2. Permits and provides the structure for the select few to successfully initiate legal action disenfranchising their own shareholders of the ability to seek corporate office, to visit or frequent corporate owned and held properties, or participate in corporate function.
  3. Provides the select few with the means and authority to sue their own shareholders. Shareholders seeking through elective process to hold and maintain office are levied judgments against them, stripped of personal assets by writs of execution, which effectively quashes any ability to have a voice in the administration of their own inherent indigenous peoples’ right to property as promised by ANCSA.

The unforeseen dilution of stock through gifting and inheritance, coupled with the extension of restriction, has had the effect of further reducing the influence and entitlement of individual indigenous peoples and augmenting the consolidation of control, wealth and property in the select few. All of which is contrary to and in violation of the stated intent and purpose of ANCSA.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states, “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, or be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

It is the position of the Indigenous Justice Alliance Inc. that by the perpetuation of restriction on ANCSA stock, the corporations established thereby have evolved into a caste system in which the vast majority of the indigenous peoples of Alaska are, in effect, being held in bondage by the select few, their lawyers, advisers, accountants and lobbyists in direct violation of the Civil Rights Act. Further, that the assets of the individual indigenous peoples of Alaska as intended for them in ANCSA have been, and currently are, unwillingly denied them by virtue of the control of those assets having been consolidated into the boards of directors of their corporations comprised exclusively of the select few. Finally that the inherent right of property, as well as the right of free speech that is integral to American civil liberty, is being denied to the indigenous peoples of Alaska.

The Indigenous Justice Alliance seeks to give back the promised inherent right to property and free speech to the indigenous peoples of Alaska by seeking legislation, promoting judicial action, and supporting fundamental change in the membership of various boards of directors of ANCSA corporations that will facilitate an end to the corruption and self-serving practices that have become endemic. The Alliance’s goal is to return the power to all of the indigenous peoples of Alaska, that which has been self-servingly absconded by the select few.

Frank Peterson Sr. is president and Frank Pagano is vice president of the Indigenous Justice Alliance Inc., a nonprofit advocating for the eradication of segregation and racism against indigenous people of Alaska by promoting the elimination of stock restrictions of Alaska Native corporation shareholders.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.