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History: ANCSA

Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act


For thousands of years, Alaska Natives have occupied and used the lands in Alaska for subsistence hunting and gathering. According to cultural norms, lands were considered communal property – used by groups as a whole as opposed to individual ownership (with the exception of a few individual hunting and fishing camps). Village ownership and boundaries were determined by tradition and passed down through oral histories.


Beginning with the Russians, Native lands were encroached upon for various changing reasons – most stemming from the discovery of abundant natural resources. From fur, to gold, to oil, the resources of Alaska have spurred “boom” periods where immigrants flocked into the area, swelling the population, and calling to question the definition of land ownership.


In 1741, Vitus Bering sailed from Kamchatka, Russia into the Gulf of Alaska. While Bering himself died on the journey, his crew returned to Russia with news of the rich hunting lands they found—marking the beginning of the Russian occupation of Alaska. This occupation would continue for over a hundred years, ending when the United States purchased the land as a territory in 1867.


The United States of America’s purchase of Alaska from the Russians intensified the issue of land ownership and the gold rush of 1870 exasperated it further. More and more American settlers were coming to Alaska with the hope of finding gold. Many of them chose to stay. As a result of this further encroachment, some Native Alaskans began to pursue legally documented land titles and ownership.


In 1906, The Alaska Native Allotment Act (ANAA) was signed. This act permitted individual Alaska Natives to acquire legal title to up to 160 acres of land. It followed a process that was similar to the one used to give Native Americans land in the other states and territories. Information on this act can be found here. As part of this act, the applicant would need to show proof of “substantially continuous use and occupancy of the land for a period of five years by the applicant” in order to claim title. The land was nontaxable and the property of the allottee and his or her heirs in perpetuity.


Alaska became a state when the Alaska Statehood Act was signed into law by Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1959. Full text of the law can be found here.


When Oil was discovered in 1967, many of the claims filed under the ANAA had yet to be settled. Even so, plans to begin construction of a trans-Alaskan pipeline that would transport oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez were already in the works. This made the question of land ownership a pressing issue that urgently needed to be resolved. Therefore, in 1971 the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was proposed. The Act states:


“Congress finds and declares that - (a) there is an immediate need for a fair and just settlement of all claims by Natives and Native groups of Alaska, based on aboriginal land claims; (b) the settlement should be accomplished:



  • Rapidly, with certainty, in conformity with the real economic and social needs of Natives,

  • without litigation,

  • with maximum participation by Natives in decisions affecting their rights and property,

  • without establishing any permanent racially defined institutions, rights, privileges, or obligations,

  • without creating a reservation system or lengthy wardship or trusteeship, and

  • without adding to the categories of property and institutions enjoying special tax privileges or to the legislation establishing special relationships between the United States Government and the State of Alaska…"



The Alaska Federation of Natives approved the ANCSA 511-56, and on December 18, 1971 President Richard Nixon signed the ANCSA into law.


This new Act replaced the ANAA; however, it included a “savings clause” that honored any land claims that were created or still pending under the ANAA. The Bureau of Land Management in Alaska was tasked with surveying and settling land claims to Natives under ANAA as well as to Alaska Native Corporations under ANCSA.
















The ANCSA divided the state into 12 geographic regions mirroring the following pre-established Native Associations:


  1. Artic Slope Native Association (Barrow, Point Hope)

  2. Bering Straits Association (Seward Peninsula, Unalakleet, Saint Lawrence Island)

  3. Northwest Alaska Native Association (Kotzebue)

  4. Association of Village Council Presidents (southwest coast, all villages in the Bethel area including all villages on the Lower Yukon River and the Lower Kuskokwim River)

  5. Tanana Chiefs’ Conference (Koyukuk, Middle and Upper Yukon rivers, Upper Kuskokwim, Tanana River)

  6. Cook Inlet Association (Kenai, Tyonek, Eklutna, Iliamna)

  7. Bristol Bay Native Association (Dillingham, Upper Alaska Peninsula)

  8. Aleut League (Aleutian Islands, Pribilof Islands ant that part of Alaska Peninsula which is in the Aleut League)

  9. Chugach Native Association (Cordova, Tatitlek, Port Graham, English Bay, Valdez, and Seward)

  10. Tlingit-Haida Central Council (southeastern Alaska, including Metlakatla)

  11. Kodiak Area Native Association (all villages on and around Kodiak Island)

  12. Copper River Native Association (Copper Center, Glennallen, Chitina, Mentasta)


​As part of the settlement, an Alaska Native Regional Corporation was established for each of the 12 regions for the purpose of distributing money and managing the land for approximately 80,000 Alaska Natives. 44 million acres and $962.5 million in cash compensation for lands lost was divided among those corporations. A thirteenth region was also established to include Alaska Natives who are not permanent residents of Alaska. As none of the shareholders in the 13th region resided within Alaska, the 13th region’s settlement was limited to cash compensation only.

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