Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act
The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, known as ANCSA, has been called an extraordinary experiment in relations between the federal government and indigenous people because it uses business models to mold the federal government's relationship with Alaska's indigenous peoples.
At the time ANCSA was passed, Alaska Natives had made claims to lands covering the entire state of Alaska. These were valid claims by peoples whose cultures dated back into the pre-history of the region.
As Congress struggled to craft the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, what emerged was the view held by both Alaska Native and congressional leaders that a reservation system with sustained federal government oversight was not what was wanted by either party. Alaska Native leaders fought hard for full and complete control of their destiny, without the oversight of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. And that is what they got.
The Act dealt with all Alaska Native groups, creating twelve distinct regional and over 200 village corporations representing about 79,000 Alaska Native people. A 13th regional corporation was established later to accommodate the wishes of some Alaska Native people who had moved outside of the state - although this was not strictly necessary as Alaska Native people living outside the state had other options that allowed them to enroll into one of the other twelve regional corporations formed within the state.
The Act provided for the conveyance of 44 million acres of land in Alaska through an entitlement process that allocated land to each of the regional and village corporations. The Act also provided for nearly $1 billion as compensation for land not returned, which funds were allocated to the corporations and when distributed were to act as seed capital.
Alaska Natives benefited from the fact that the claims were settled by an act of Congress as opposed to a treaty because Acts can be amended; treaties cannot.
ANCSA is a living document, and some of the changes that have been made to the Act have been very significant. For example, ANCSA originally called for Alaska Natives to be allowed to sell their Native corporation stock 20 years after the passage of the Act. In other words, Native control could have been lost. As a result of major amendments enacted in 1988, however, Alaska Native shareholders were authorized to continue the restrictions on the sale of stock in perpetuity. This means that Alaska Native control of the corporations can continue as long as the shareholders want. As a result of the amendments, stock restrictions can be lifted only by a vote of the majority of shares. To date, no corporation has voted to lift the restrictions.