North-South-East-West: American Indians and the Natural World
Newcomers: When Many Came
Alaska's natural resources have drawn many nations to its shores. Russian, Spanish,
French, British, and American explorers and fur traders all arrived in their sailing
ships in the last quarter of the 1700s. At first Russia dominated the market, establishing
fur trading headquarters in southeast Alaska. Tlingit elders still tell the story of
their ancestors' first meeting with white men. Except for the introduction of diseases, early trading
encounters did not greatly interrupt traditional Tlingit life.
The United States purchase of Alaska in 1867 brought settlers, missionaries, educators, gold
prospectors, and fish canneries. This influx of outside philosophies and economic interests
severely impacted Tlingit land ownership, language, culture, and self-esteem.
Alaskan Tlingits have a unique status in the United States as a result of their historic
Indian rights movement that began early in the twentieth century. As a result of
the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, Tlingit people
do not reside on reservations but are shareholders in their own regional corporation,
Sealaska Corporation, and a
dozen smaller village corporations that manage tribal
lands and natural resource enterprises.
Alaska Native Corporations
The U.S. government created the Alaska native corporations in 1971, as
part of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
In all, ANCSA established some 200 village corporations and 13 regional
corporations (12 in Alaska and one in the state of Washington to
represent Alaska natives in the Lower 48). The act gave the state's
native peoples $967 million in cash and 44 million acres of Aleut,
Indian, and Eskimo homelands in exchange for their promise to give up
any other land claims.
Though the native corporations aren't cooperatives, strictly speaking,
they are cooperatively structured. Like traditional co-ops, they're
member-owned groups (each Alaska native was given 100 shares of stock in
her/his corporation) with democratically controlled boards that are
organized on a one-member, one-vote basis.
Today these native corporations are involved in almost every kind of
business conceivable in Alaska. They mine for gold and other minerals,
harvest timber and process wood products, operate fisheries and process
seafood, manage hotels and other commercial activities, own port facilities,
sell reindeer antlers (which grow back every year), provide a host of
services to the oil industry, develop real estate, and run everything from
grocery stores to shipping firms to construction companies.
Increasingly, the native corporations are also becoming involved in tourism.
A subsidiary of Doyon, Ltd. recently won the U.S. Park Service concession to
offer tours, history programs, and other activities at Kantishna Roadhouse
in the heart of Denali National Park, and this spring Goldbelt, Inc., a
Juneau-based native corporation, is expected to assume the cruise and tour
operations in Glacier Bay National Park. The corporations will use the
contracts to provide employment opportunities to their shareholders and figure
to offer programs that emphasize native culture and history.
Image 1: Pipe
Haida, ca. 1900
Euro-American fur traders introduced commercial tobacco and the
custom of smoking to the northern Northwest Coast Natives. The
Tlingit and Haida were already cultivating native tobacco, which
they mixed with lime and ash before sucking it like snuff.
Around 1821, in response to maritime trade opportunities, Haida
carvers began making pipes in argillite. This soft, black stone
occurs in only one vein on the Queen Charlotte Islands. The
enterprising carvers produced these pipes solely to sell to sailors
and shipboard passengers. Figures of Euro-American seamen intertwine
with Northwest Coast sea and land creatures in these mazelike
Argillite; L 28.0 x W 3.5 x H 7.5 cm; 23102-431, gift of John A. Beck
Image 2: Jacket
Tlingit and Haida, Juneau, Alaska, ca. 1996
In 1912 a group of educated Tlingit and Tsimshian men founded the
Alaskan Native Brotherhood (ANB) to fight for civil rights. For
decades ANB leaders fought against rampant racial discrimination,
finally convincing the Alaska legislature to pass the first
antidiscrimination law in the nation in 1946, twenty years before
the national Civil Rights movement.
The brotherhood fought for the return of millions of acres of
land that the federal government had appropriated for the Tongass
National Forest. The organization's early efforts culminated in the
Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971.
Congress mandated the
creation of the Sealaska Regional Corporations in Southeast Alaska,
conveyed lands to these corporations, and paid compensation for the
remaining land claims. Today Sealaska Corporation manages thriving
natural resources enterprises for its Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian
The logo of the Sealaska Corporation on the back of this jacket
displays the joined heads of a raven and an eagle, representing
the two moities of the Tlingit and Haida nations.
Cotton denim, copper, steel, nylon, synthetic leather,
commercial dyes, ink; L 64.8 x W 150.0 cm; 36211-1, gift of