Sam Demientieff was interviewed on March 2, 2022 by Bill Schneider and Karen Brewster at Sam's home in Fairbanks, Alaska. In this interview, Sam reflects on the legacy of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and his involvement in various aspects of its implementation. He talks about the setting up of regional and village corporations, shareholders and types of shares, the business focus of the corporations, business and resource development, and net operating losses. He also talks about working for the Interior Village Association to help villages set up their own corporations, serving on the board of Doyon Ltd., some of the business ventures and investments made by Doyon, Ltd., and working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs during the time when Alaska tribes were working toward gaining federal recognition. Sam also shares his thoughts on the future of ANCSA corporations and the Native way of life.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act
Date of Interview: Mar 2, 2022
Narrator(s): Sam Demientieff
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider, Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Ruth Sensenig
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Early land use issues between Alaska Native and non-Native prospectors
Land use issues during World War II
Long term Native presence in Alaska
Effect of oil discovery on land use issues
Push to settle Alaska Native land claims in the 1960s and 1970s, and Native versus non-Native perspectives on land
Establishing Alaska Native regional corporations and having shareholders
Types of shares and inheritance
Village corporation versus regional corporation land ownership and management
Selecting board members
Funding travel to attend meetings
Establishing village corporations and the Interior Village Association
Working on the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline
Getting a job with the Interior Village Association and traveling to villages within the Doyon Ltd. region, and becoming a member of the Doyon board
Some of Doyon's early business ventures
Resource development and net operating loss
Revenue sharing through ANCSA Sections 7(i) and 7(j)
Changes between traditional lifestyle and business-oriented corporations
Interior Village Association's role in identifying lands, business development, corporation administration, and training
Defining subsistence for managment purposes
Sam's role as president of the Interior Village Association, and helping with smaller corporation mergers
Working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and getting federal recognition for Alaska tribes
Attending school and the role of the Catholic Church
Importance of federal recognition of tribes
Issues of sovereignty, and relationship between corporations and tribes
Challenges facing leaders
The Doyon board making business and investment decisions
Establishment of Doyon Drilling
Serving on the Alaska State Board of Fisheries, and impact of large fish nets on ocean species
Future of ANCSA Corporations and the Native way of life
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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
KAREN BREWSTER: This is Karen Brewster, and today is March 2, 2022, and I’m here with Sam Demientieff for the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act Project Jukebox. And Bill Schneider is also here to join us in this conversation.
So um, Sam, we wanted to talk to you about your involvement with land claims and the implementation after it was passed and your work with all of those different organizations.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Yeah, that’s -- I’d be very happy to talk about it. You know, when I was asked to think about the Claims Act and how it came about and when it was implemented and the implementation and how different things took place, I had to stop and think about that for awhile.
And it goes back to -- I thought about, well, the thing that really I remember was, of course, 1971 (ANCSA passage), 1959 (Alaska statehood), and when I was a kid, but I then thought of, oh, ok, well, it goes back to the time when the Native people -- that the village chiefs along the Tanana River and Yukon River were being bothered by explorers.
Not explorers, but prospectors, coming up the Yukon River, headin’ to the Klondike. So they either came up the Chilkoot Trail and went across over to Skagway up there, or they went all the way around Alaska into the Yukon River, and from there they took steamboats all the way up the river to, uh -- into Canada where the Klondike strike was.
Now, on the way up there, they were seeing cleared areas, and they would stop and camp or stop where -- or see, oh, here’s some old building or something. So they started using camps, fish camps and seasonal camps of the Native people in some of the villages. Close to some of the villages.
And those people started seeing their camps being used. And they’d come down, and in fact, there were people camped there. So they complained to -- told the chief, you know, "Gee, there’s some guys down the camp."
And as it built up, there was more and more people, and they had one thing in mind, and that was, go up there and get the gold from the Klondike, and we’ll just bypass all of this stuff here, which was Alaska. Just camp wherever you can and -- and get on into Alaska.
So, but as those complaints built up, the Tanana Chiefs met together and said, "Gee, this is something that’s -- or we hear some, you know, some of our people are complaining about people using the land, camps and other parts of the village. We need to do something about it."
Yeah, they said, "Well, they got this federal judge." This judge -- not federal. Yeah, federal judge in -- in Fairbanks. Uh, Wickersham. "We’ll go up and see him."
They made the journey up there and met with Wickersham, and he said, "Yes, uh, I understand." I heard, and there are people coming into Alaska and into Canada for gold. And they have one thing in mind. That’s to dig in the streams and get the gold, regardless of whatever property they’re on, if they filed a claim.
Uh, so anyway, the -- that, I believe, was the start of the Native people claiming, or saying, this is our land. These camps are places we use.
So I think that initially that was primarily the first claims of identifying lands that they use and occupy, which not only included along the Yukon and Tanana Rivers, but also along the Southeast Alaska. As people came up along, from Seattle into the Territory of Alaska.
So this goes back to 1906 and ’04 when Fairbanks was first established. And so, it was after that that the Tanana Chiefs met with Wickersham.
But if you think about -- I continue to think about that, I also think about, ok, when did this act, this federal act, really take place? And I think there was lots of talk early in the 1940’s because of the World War II.
A lot of people don’t think about the World War II when it comes to Claims Act, but military coming into the Territory of Alaska ended up in Anchorage, Aleutian Islands, and down at Nenana, and into Ladd Air Force Base here in Fairbanks. Those were military sites.
And the lend-lease program, those planes that they transported from the Lower 48, Seattle into -- into Canada, and then into Northway and into Fairbanks, Ladd Field, and then right on to Nome, and then across to Siberia, and then to Russia.
So that was when people started really coming through and using and occupying the territory. So that -- that takes an understanding.
So those -- those different things that took place in history really didn’t consider Native people and land. They knew -- "they" meaning the federal government, which purchased Alaska from the -- from Russia in 1867. They knew that this territory was theirs, but there was lots of activity where -- you know, from that point on.
But when you -- we think now to where we are today, when I was asked to talk about Claims Act, I thought about how long the Native people have been in this land.
And uh, I remember reading about the discovery of human remains on the bluff up the Tanana River Valley here at Shaw Creek. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Towards Delta. When you drive out there 70 miles at Shaw Creek up on that bluff, that’s where they discovered two infants, young babies, uh, in a site which they were excavating. UAF and other archeologists.
When they DNA-sampled those remains, they were Dena Athabascan people from this area. BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: So that all the people here, it is directly descended from them. Or not from them, but they were here then, which was eleven thousand years ago.
I remember, you know, people saying a long time ago, saying, "Well, we’ve been here for thousands of years." And I would think, "Well, how the heck do we know we’ve been here thousands of years?" Well, the saying was that we’ve been here ten thousand years. Now, this thing actually is proof. There it is, right there.
And when you talk to Howard Luke, you know, we all -- we both know -- we all know Howard Luke, generally. And he talks about the use of this valley and how they used to chase caribou and reindeer down the valley and had fences from here on down towards Nenana, and they corralled the reindeer and the caribou towards the Healy area. And so, they funneled them in, and then they were able to get them.
So this goes -- that’s just a little bit of history of what we’re talking about as far as the territory and the land mass that we call Alaska.
And when I think about directly to the Claims Act itself, in 19 -- I graduated from high school in 1959, and there was talk about the land.
And I was just a teenager then, and, of course, not really interested in what’s going on with the business of land and -- That’s up to the older people that run the villages and the country.
But as the federal government became more interested in Alaska as they were exploring it, they discovered up on the North Slope of Alaska, in what is called the Native Arctic Research Lab, it’s called NARL, they discovered oil. I mean gas, and oil in seeps close to Barrow.
And so they -- they sampled, drilled, and they found oil. And so they -- "they" meaning the federal government, selected land there as uh -- a federal site for oil. Potential oil and gas development.
And so there was a segment of land dedicated to oil and gas development.
Now as time went on, in 18 -- 1960’s, they start to defer their looking for oil. "They" meaning the oil companies. And they were going further towards the East from Barrow.
And in 1968, the Atlantic Richfield company drilled into an oil body and found out there’s lots of oil and drilled another well.
And they look -- they have their seismic data, and they look at the oil. When it looks like a great big oil body underneath, and they said, "Well, this is oil, and we’re here on this one end on the west side, we can follow this whole line and drill on the east side. And we can confirm that there is a mass of oil underneath there." Which they did. It was called Sag River No. 1. BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: And that was in 1960 -- 69, I think it was.
And I remember that because I was -- I hired on to Atlantic Richfield in 1969 and went to work up there for them, and yeah, there was 30 billion barrels of oil. You know, a huge amount.
And so, the whole thing was declared -- now this is important for us to think about, remember, is when you have that much oil potential for a nation, that’s security. That’s national security if you have that much oil on your -- that you own and occupy.
So they declared -- the government declared, the North Slope and that oil area, National Security Interest. Now that takes precedent over anything as far as relates to land in the whole of America. BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: The federal government said, "This is our national security, and we --this comes first before anything else." And we need to get that oil out of the North Slope and get it down to the refineries, and get it into our government and to lands.
And, of course, you know, the territory government here, and there’s -- what is there? There are Natives claiming land in different areas, including the Interior and the North Slope, and the -- Well, what is it? You know, what do we have to do?
And they said, "Well, we have to talk to them." And they said, "Yeah, and we have representatives. We have three. A couple of Senators and a congressman."
And they will -- they got busy and started saying, "Well, geez. We better talk to the Native people. And so we need to -- "
So they gathered together people from around the state to meet in a group in Anchorage, I think. No, it was in Fairbanks. And then they talked about it and said, "Well, let’s get all the Native people together in Anchorage."
Which they had the first Alaska Federation of Natives meeting. And then named it that. The Alaska Federation of Natives. And there were people from all areas of the state there.
And so, and this was getting towards ’69-'70. And the, uh, the need to expedite these claims and settle them was on the Native people and the Territory of Alaska. Get this stuff settled so we can get that oil to the United States so we can --
and so the Native people had to start quickly meeting and finding out, and so they -- that’s how they started AFN. And AFN started dealing with that, saying, "Well, we need to claim the land."
And so, it was something that was not -- was certainly not the way people worked in the villages. They were living off of the land. They were living hunting and trapping and fishing and on the land. The use and occupancy of the land from their history, and now they’re having to claim the land?
And a lot of elders were saying, "Oh, we don’t -- what do you mean we have to claim the land? We don’t claim the land, we use it. And we have -- "
So there’s lots of discussion about the use and how and why and what we should do as far as the land is concerned.
And so, for a lot of people -- a lot of older people said, "We -- we can’t -- you want us to say it’s ours. And we don’t think like that. We don’t say it’s our land. Our kids’ land. And our people come up town. We all trade, and we have barter systems. We work with people on the coast. We work with people in Southeast. And there are trails, and there are ways that we travel all over. And so, if we claim land, what do we have to do?"
And, of course, you know, all these things related to the, how do you -- well they -- how do they do it down -- how do the -- well, how do the Americans do it?
Well, they put up fences. Fences? They have to go out and survey it. Survey it? Holy cow, you know. How do you survey Alaska?
And so, you could see the problems that the Native people were talking about. And a lot of them -- some of the Native people, did not speak English. So you had to have translators.
So this thing had to be expedited. So if you think about ’68, '69, '70, and '71 was when the Claims Act passed. So you have ’60 -- There --
Now these guys -- the people are working. ’68, they’re already working on this, seeing what it is because of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, again find this. So now it’s a real push, a big push.
And there’s the -- a book called the Alaska Native Claims, and it talks about the history of this whole thing we’re talking about.
KAREN BREWSTER: That’s by Bob Arnold? SAM DEMIENTIEFF: That’s by Bob Arnold, yes.
And so, how did I become involved in this? Well, I became a -- as I worked for ARCO, I became more interested and reading the paper about the meetings that were taking place and all of the young people that I grew up with that were becoming leaders in the Alaska Federation of Natives.
And I started wondering, geez, well, this is going to be a big thing. And as I continued to work with Atlantic Richfield through ’68, '69, and '70, in um -- ’75 was when --
After the Claims Act passed, I was seeing how the Native people had, because of the act, they had to implement it. How do you implement this claims? And how do you -- and you have to establish some, um, some means to develop, uh --
And so, they -- there was a discussion about, well, we could do it through non-profit organizations. And people are thinking, non-profit organization. What do you mean? That’s like -- like the Fairbanks Native Association and the Tanana Chiefs Conference which already were being established.
So we take the land and built -- make something like that? And they said, yeah, that’s one way. Or you could establish profit corporations.
And so you -- they would use the Alaska Statutes, Title 68, and look up how corporations are formed. And they’re all there. All the different types, non-profits and profit corporations and how they -- how they work.
And so that dug out and spread around, and so they -- I remember the big discussion that took place at AFN and "How shall we establish these corporations?" And so, there was a big discussion on that, and they said, "Well, we’ll all have to go back and have regional meetings, in the regional corporation villages, centers, and talk about that.
And as the time passed, um, I remember the discussions, saying well, the non-profits could own the land. But how would we own the land through a non-profit?
And so, they said, well, the way that would work, we could all have one hundred shares of what would be termed "life-estate shares." So that means that if as long as the person’s alive, they have a hundred -- hundred shares.
And it would be a hundred shares just to start the thing out. Nominally, everybody has a hundred shares.
And uh, so life estate means when you’re born and you qualify and you’re -- you're enrolled to the -- the BIA and they’re setting these determinations up.
Your enrollment, your hundred shares are active, and you can vote a hundred shares for whatever reasons you’re going to run your business for.
And if you pass away, those life estate shares dissolve, so you don’t have to worry about a person having to will them to someone else.
So it eliminates the idea of, as new Native people, kids are born, they automatically would inherit, or would get one hundred shares of life estate. So that sounded very good.
I remember hearing that, and I said, "Man, that just resolves this whole thing about what happens if you die?" If you have a hundred shares in a profit corporation where you have stock, and that stock is owned by the corporation and each stock holder, and if you die as a profit corporation stockholder, those shares become inherited or transferred to your -- into your family.
Now you can transfer the whole hundred shares, but you wouldn’t do that because you have, one -- you could have, if someone just has a wife, a man and wife, then it’s them two, and that’s it. But usually, there’s family.
And so there’s -- and back then, there’s a lot of families, pretty good-sized families. I came from a family of ten. So if my dad died, you know, all his a hundred shares would be ten shares each.
So now, ok, all of a sudden, in the first generation, your ownership in your corporation is ten shares, whereas other people have a hundred shares. So there’s a big difference in what are called Class A shares versus Class C shares. So Class C’s are just children. BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm. BILL DEMIENTIEFF: C class. All the kids get ten shares.
So people said, "Well -- " You know, the big discussion, well, it’s "Well, if I inherit shares from my grandma and grandpa, then I get three hundred shares."
So anyway, the whole thing related to shares is still an issue today. And when I finish talking to you, I’m say stuff to the future for where we are fifty years.
Now, today, the big issue for me, I believe, is shareholders. Because the regional corporations have opened their rolls to include Class C shareholders, so your -- the value of your corporation where it was 100 shares per Class A shareholder is now -- it diminishes. It’s reduced because you’re expanding your shareholder group.
So now, instead of have ten thousand, you might have fifteen thousand. So your value a share at ten is up. When at fifteen, it’s down. And as you go in the future, the value per share is decreased more and more.
And so, you can see how this thing -- and I have met -- there are now what are called, um -- I can't think of what exactly they're called, but the shares for one sharer is cut -- is divided up into pieces.
So um, anyway, it’s just -- it's -- to me, it’s a big problem because now you have new kids even born today, and they -- how do they qual -- they don’t. They do not. They are not part of the Claims Act in the village or regional corporation.
So there’s the big deal right there, and I wanted to identify that. That to me is something that the corporations --
And you talk to the young shareholders now, the ones running the regional and village corporations, and they’d rather keep this thing the way it is, but how you include young and new people that are born into your family because they’re excluded. And the further you -- the more people you -- it just goes up. You could see the whole thing just diminishing out. So that was the big question.
But let me get back to where this implementation of the Claims Act. As -- as it passed and all the corporations -- and mainly they’re identified as 13 regional corporations.
Twelve regional corporations that own land in Alaska, the whole land mass of Alaska and their areas they use and occupy, and then there are thousands of Native people in the Lower 48 and in Seattle. What about them? They live there. What about them?
So there was established a thirteenth regional corporation for them. It doesn’t own land, but it qualifies for disbursement of funds. So you have thirteenth regional corporation that’s landless. And I don’t know how that -- that -- you know, anything about that ’cause I wasn’t involved in that.
But uh, so now you have each of the villages have the ability to claim lands for the village. So how many villages are there? There’s close to 200 villages, little bit over 200 villages, in the state of Alaska now. And back then, territory and state. In the state of Alaska, there’s --
So each of them qualify for land as it relates to how many shareholders there are in a village. So if you have a large village, you get more land. And so, there has to be a meeting between the regional corporation in an area. Let’s use Doyon, Limited.
All of Interior Alaska is Doyon, Ltd Regional Corporation. And there are almost 30-some villages in this region, and they have to sit down with Doyon and say, "Well, we’re choosing --"
There was an understanding that they would -- "they" meaning Doyon and the village, would checkerboard ownership around the village site. Checkerboard meaning Doyon would own a block, village corporation own a block.
And so, your idea is to own all of -- control all of this land mass around the village. See how you just kinda block out land around the village to help control this area. So that had to be worked out.
And so now, you can see the -- the magnitude of what the corporations have to do as far as identifying the boundaries of their lands. And so, they’re surveying.
I mean, just -- you'll have to go out and survey the land. And you certainly cannot fence it off ’cause it’s millions of -- you know, it's just -- they never thought about trying to do that but identifying them. And so, there was a -- that’s a big thing.
And so, after I worked for ARCO for five or sev -- five years, uh, I quit and hired on with the Alyeska Pipeline. Worked on the pipeline, because the pipeline was now under construction. And the whole state was being -- and building this pipeline right down to -- from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez.
And we all remember, I think, you know, the big thing the pipeline was, and it still is today. And to get the whole thing -- when we looked at this, and you have to step back and say, get the oil from Prudhoe Bay to America. Get that oil down here.
And so, now you have to settle all these land claims, which we were doing, and all of us -- if you look at a village, and if you look at a region, the region elected their board members coming from rural areas and urban areas.
So they -- most of their people they -- that were identified as having an education or ability to know what to do in business and development, were younger and were located in the urban areas. Some living in rural areas in the villages, but --
So in our -- we had to identify those eleven original Doyon board members coming from -- representative of the whole area, so they had to have people coming from the rural areas, and have to have people coming from the urban areas.
So there had to be an understanding. Well, you can’t -- we'll have urban and rural seats. And then once that happened, then the villages are -- they’re out there, and they’re saying, well, we have to do the same thing in each village.
I’m from Holy Cross, and I remember the Holy Cross people saying, "Well, we need to do something. We need to hire people." And in the meantime, some money --
And I have to stop for a minute and go back to the beginning when the Claims Act was there. How do -- how does AFN work with the Congress of the United States in implementation of this -- establishment of this act?
They had to go out and meet with the Congress, and so they had to have money to travel. AFN has no money. Where are they going to get money from?
People had to pay their own way. They had to borrow money to go down to Anchorage to go to these meetings.
Now as this identification of needing funds to implement this became obvious to the Alaska Federation of Natives, they were approached and talked to the Tyonek people who lived right across the inlet from Anchorage, and they had a land settlement, and they had money from their, um, reservation.
And they were willing to loan the Alaska Federation of Natives funds to work to get this land settlement established. And so, they loaned money to them. And so now, now AFN had funds to travel back and forth.
And uh, so that’s how that took place. There was a loan from another settlement. And thank -- thank God, Tyonek was in agreement to do it. They said, "Yeah, we want to help out."
And so now, who -- who do you send back to meet with the -- in Washington, DC, with the Congress of the United States? And we don’t even know who’s who. And how. And what. And what an act is. And how an act is established and who does it, who writes it up.
So there was a lot of fast activity, and that’s why you needed a lot of alert young people and older people that knew how to work this were the ones that were involved quickly to the regional corporations.
So now, what do the village corporations do? So they had to look around their village, and young people that were coming out of high school, and that were maybe in UAF in college, Sheldon Jackson, uh, Mount Edgecumbe. All these villages, or schools, trying to look for young people that could -- they could hire in the village, that lived in the village.
And so, they needed money, so they said, "Well, we -- "we," meaning a bunch of village corporation presidents, met together in Fairbanks.
And I think it was 1974 that there was a meeting of village corporation presidents here in Fairbanks at the new Doyon building with the Doyon Corporation president who was John Sackett then.
And they met with him and told him that they wanted to -- they are required to establish their corporations, but they don’t have -- we can -- "We can vote people in as board members, but we have no funds. We don’t have any money to get together. We have settlement money that’s a few hundred thousand dollars, but we need help."
And John Sackett, the president, said, um, "I think that you, village chiefs, should consider establishing a non-profit association with the primary goal of working to establish the villages, village corporations, into business entities that need to deal with land, business development, legal issues, stock issuance, and other things that are required for a village to operate a corporation."
And well, they said, "Well, gee, that sounds like a good idea. How would we do that?"
He said, "You hire a group of professional people. A land man, a lawyer, business development person, um, other specialties needed to run a corporation in a village.
And as you hire this core group together, each village will approach this Interior village group and uh -- and hire those guys by giving them, uh, money from their settlement funds. These core group of professionals would contract with each village and help them out."
And so, that was established. It was a good stroke. It was a good thing from Sackett, from President Sackett, to the villages to do that.
And so that established what is called the Interior Village Association. And I think it was, you know, the early 1970’s that that was established and was starting to work with village corporations in the Interior.
I don’t know how other regional corporations or regional areas did -- how they established theirs, but there was a time in the Act where, uh, regions could meet with the villages and merge. Merge all of the villages in with the regional corporation and just have one corporation.
And uh, by then, uh, larger villages realized that depending on their population, as a larger village, they get a larger settlement. So they said, well, the larger villages wanted to go on their own. They thought they could do -- they could do this.
And uh, so some -- I think, the NANA region, I think they merged. I think they have one regional corporation there, NANA, and one village corporation. One of the larger villages there is a corporation. So I don’t know how the rest of the regions did, but they worked some way.
So uh, as this was going on, I became more interested because I was working on the pipeline here. And the pipeline was built in ’6 -- '78 or around there. Uh, as I worked for the pipeline, it was now pumping -- getting ready to pump oil through the pipeline.
And I was working out at -- up on -- out at Pump Station 8, which is out here by Eielson, north of -- down the highway from Eielson. Up at Pump Station 8.
And the pump station was already in, and I was a pipeline technician operator, pipeline operator, and I was working there and we were getting ready. "We," meaning ARC -- Alyeska, getting ready to -- oil in the pipeline and getting it on down.
So there -- I was -- remember we were all alerted. We all, by the way, went to lots of training in order to run the pipeline, operate the pipeline.
I went to the university for a term, a -- a year to under -- what oil companies helping the University of Alaska establish a -- a certificate program. And I graduated from that, and that’s how I got hired on to ARCO, and then --
Anyway, the oil was introduced, pump coming down, and I don’t know if you guys remember or not, but there was an explosion at Pump Station 8. And I remember we were getting -- pump oil coming into Pump Station 7, which is up on the banks of the Yukon River. And then, it would come down and be in Pump Station 8, which would be right down here where our --
And I remember we had -- we got ready, and I got off shift, 12-hour shifts, got off, came into town, and I was over in the Doyon building and I was in there visiting someone, and there was -- they were listening to the radio, and they said, "Sam, aren’t you a -- aren’t you working for the Alyeska?" And I said, "Yeah."
They said, "You -- you work at Pump 8, don’t you?" And I said, "Yeah." And he says, "Oh, they're -- the radio’s announcing that you need to -- all the Pump 8 off-duty technicians need to report ’cause there’s a -- there’s a big trouble there. There’s a fire of oil."
And so I jumped in my car and headed on out there, and sure enough, they had a -- there was a leak and an explosion, and the pipe -- the station burnt down. BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: And so, god, it was just a weird -- Plus all of us in Pump 8 had -- were farmed out to other pump stations to work there while Pump 8 was being fixed.
But uh, right after that, I realized that I could get a job because I was visiting people that in the Doyon Building. So I went to work.
I applied for a job with the Interior Village Association. And that is working with the villages of the Interior of Alaska. And so, I got hired on, and our job was to go to each village, talk to the village board, talk to them about their business development, their stock records, their land claims, their, um, business development, and their different policies on how and what to do.
So it was just lots of basic implementation of ideas and how to run a business corporation.
And so, I had to travel -- we had to travel -- our core group had to travel to each village all over the Doyon region. So I can -- we were doing lots of traveling, back and forth, up and down the road system, to all the ones on the highway. To Eagle to -- down the Yukon River, down the Ta -- up the Yukon River, the Tanana River.
All the villages had corporations, and we were actively going out, 'cause for a number of years, I was just constantly working with village corporations. So it was a real eye-opening job.
In 1976, I decided, well, I’m going to try to see if I can run for this Doyon board, which I did. And -- and by the way, you know, I have to stop and just say, you know, if I go back to look at my -- where I grew up, I grew up on riverboats, freighting on the Interior rivers, so we got to know lots of people up and down the river. Some kids, same generation, we were all active.
The only people working in the land claims settlement and in the governments, so we all knew each other. So when I ran for the board, my name appeared on the -- the list, it was easy for me to get elected because everybody knew me.
So if you look at some of the others and say, well, hey, they don’t know anybody, people. But oh, "We know Sam, because -- Oh, he’s just at the right age." They’d say, "Oh yeah, his dad and their mom used to -- and said, "Yeah, let’s vote for Sam." So I made it. I had no problem.
And it was not -- that was mainly due to myself. It was mainly due to my -- I thank my mom and dad for the work we did that really got me elected on this, but certainly became interested in the corporation of Doyon.
And served on that for about 13 years. And I also served as an officer and a board member in the village corporation.
And so, I was elected to some of the top offices in the Doyon Regional Corporation. I was chairman of the board there, an acting president for a term, and 13 years as a board member.
I was also elected to the board for the village corporation at Holy Cross, and worked for them as the president for a year. And uh, so during those time -- that time period, I was really busy in a lot of different things.
And so, uh -- but this, uh, Claims Act, still today, 50 years later, there was still a lot of questions. I would say questions of why and what the Native people should do as it relates to the business. And how do we -- what do we talk about as far as the Claims Act is concerned.
And if -- when I look at the corporations today, their main interest is business. Because a lot of them have developed huge businesses and multi-million dollar enterprises. And some -- quite a number of regional corporations have billion -- are billion-dollar in -- dollars in revenue.
And so, the -- they have gone way into big business. And as we think about our world today and the wars that are taking place in the Middle East, Iran and Iraq and all of that, a lot of the government hires contractors to work in those areas for the military, providing information.
There was a clause in the Congress to what’s called 93-638, and all it is is contracting is available to minorities, and Alaska and Claims Act corporations qualified.
And so, we're -- there are, um, big businesses being hired by the federal military, and big contracts that are owned by regional and village corporations in Alaska. BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: So I remember we -- we meaning Doyon, was actively involved in. Oh, it was just an amazing experience to see how the ideas of the board members and people wanting to be involved with the regional corporations in Alaska because they had money to invest.
So if you look at business, and if you want to start a business, you need money, capital. And so, uh, it was really a -- a fun thing ’cause we -- we started a -- we made a film called, um, George Attla. And it was called Spirit of the Wind.
So we -- we said, "Well, we -- " We had people approaching us. We had one of our shareholders from Holy Cross was, uh, hired by -- Well, first of all, we said, "Well, let’s make a movie about George Attla’s life. Because it’s a unique situation." And it is a young Native kid, growing up, and he has, um, polio, I think it is.
Anyway, his leg is fused together and shortened by a few inches. And so his leg is stiff. But still, it doesn’t stop him from becoming a dog musher.
In the 1950’s and '40’s, dog mushing was king in Alaska when it comes to outdoor sports. The Anchorage Fur Rendezvous, and the Fur Rendezvous, and the Fairbanks North American Dog Racing Derby, and a lot of sweepstakes. There was the beginning of the Iditarod was and --
But anyways, "Let’s make a movie about George Attla’s life. We’ll call it Spirit of the Wind." And we had a, uh, company, a film company, come up and work with us, and we did. Doyon funded it. They made that thing -- that movie, and it was --
I remember we had -- we were invited to the premiere down in Hollywood or New York or wherever it was, but it was a big deal. And it ended up being really a good movie, because George ends up being a world championship dog musher and winning many championships in Anchorage and in Fairbanks.
So it was really a -- mention one little -- one business that -- so going into all kinds of -- all kinds of other businesses. It was just a -- for me, it was just a unique experience to be involved in.
"Shall we do this? We -- we have now something from the construction industry. Shall we start a -- yes. Let’s start Doyon Construction." Which we did. Big construction company 'cause Trans-Alaska pipeline’s going through, and you have all kinds of dirt-moving, all kinds of construction going on, money is pouring into Alaska, and so, there was a big need for construction, dirt work.
And then we had in this settlement, we had -- we meaning when you have the lands, the big discussion was, "Well, as -- when we develop the lands in the corporations, some corporations are going to do well because they have minerals, oil, gas, and timber. They’re rich."
Look at Southeast Alaska. Huge timber. Look at the North Slope. Prudhoe Bay. It’s right next -- it’s all the North Slope.
Look at Interior. Had prospects. And we had a prospect over in the 40-Mile country that was an asbestos load prospect. And when we drilled -- when Doyon drilled, and we sampled how big that load prospect for asbestos was, it was worth a billion dollars in place.
And we -- you know, we were having trouble thinking about how -- you know, we have thirty or forty million dollars in the corporation, but when you talk about a billion dollars, it’s like you keel over. You know, you can’t -- you can't think about owning, controlling a billion dollars.
But that’s what it was worth at -- in place, in the ground.
And then, a couple years after, it was declared a -- it was poisonous. It’s going to cause cancer of the lungs and, no, nobody wanted asbestos no more.
Just -- So our big discovery there and all that money, was gone. So here all this money we put into it was lost.
So there were called, what’s called net operating loss. And that was taking place all over. Village corporations, regional corporations, were losing a lot of money.
And as you have an act like this, this big, there’s always amendments to it. We gotta change this. We gotta do this, because as the Native people implemented these corporations, Congress could see, "Yes, we made -- we need to change it because it’s not working."
But anyway, that was one little thing that took place to help the corporations as they worked. Um.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Did that affect that particular asbestos issue that you could claim that as a net loss?
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Yes. BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: So yeah, we thought, "Well, we don’t -- we have some loss, but the lands management comes up and says, "Wait a minute. We have a -- (phone rings in the background) You guys have a big loss." Shall I get it? KAREN BREWSTER: Yep.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: You guys have a big loss, and that is the asbestos. "Oh, could we claim it?" We floated it by and they said, "Yeah, you can claim that."
So we have these losses just wipe out any taxes we have to pay. We don’t have to pay any corporate taxes. For we don’t know how long.
But you could sell net operating losses to other corporations that needed a tax break. And so, that, you know, that was taking place.
Oh, there’s -- oh, the thing goes on. You know, the -- in Alaska we have reservations, Metlakatla, Tetlin, Venetie, and they have a different settlement.
Where they have the reservation, they now have as a corporation, they have that land. The difference is they own the surface and the subsurface rights to that land. Whereas in Doyon, it owns surface and subsurface of Doyon lands, but as they claim lands around the village, they own the surface. The village owns the subsurface.
So do you see how they have to work together if there’s oil there? The village has the surface rights? Doyon has the oil rights? So they’d have to have a joint venture with whatever company they work with.
You talk about a complicated situation the Native people found themselves in and still do. It’s all of these different things.
With just, uh, this declaration of national security. No one heard about that, but that just took precedent over everything.
Uh, 7(i), I mentioned some regions having more. The part of the Claims Act that was introduced was 7(i) and 7(j). Section 7(i) and Section 7(j).
7(i) is any corporation that develops its oil or gas or timber reserves has to share their profits with the other regions. They have to take 70 percent of their -- that profit, 70 percent, and divide it according to the number of shareholders each region has, and send them a check. I that's -- So ev -- and then you get to keep 30.
A big disincentive and a big incentive, you know. So you get, what about the Aleutian Islands? Volcano islands. No timber, no oil, no gas, no nothing. Wind, and that’s it.
Well, they’re the ones that said, "Well, we need some help." And they did. That’s 7(i)sharing.
So now, as Doyon gets its 7(i) share from, let’s say, NANA, which NANA has developed a big mine, and it’s called Red Dog Mine, and they’ve been sending out millions of dollars of net profit to the regions.
Each region has to take their 7(i) sharing and divide that up to each village the same way. Just -- not the same way, but to each village. They get 7(i) sharing from Doyon.
So you can see that Doyon has to now have a big staff. You have not only the business development to land development to stockholder records and prospects, really, until oil and gas what --
How do you take care of your land surveys and all your businesses and, well, you have to have big stock -- stockholders records, you have to have that, but accounting firms and legal firms, legal advice.
So it's a -- it ends up being a huge thing to try to control. And it just -- you know, the thing just keeps going on. On and on.
And as I look at it, you know, if I listen to regional corporation or AF(N), Alaska Federation (of Natives), if I go down and listen, all they talk about is business. They’re talking about money. They’re talking about development, which is -- they were established to -- to do that. A profit corporation.
So now is it -- is it subsistence living? No. Corporation is profit.
So let -- let TCC (Tanana Chiefs Conference), let the villages, and let the IVA (Interior Village Association), and all those other non-profits work with the village as it relates to village life and subsistence.
Now in the beginning, I have to say that as early board members, we determined that we're -- our corporation, meaning Doyon, Limited, and the village corporations said in their mission statement, that they will continue to support the, uh, cultural and traditional ways of the people. So they supported that.
But now, if -- I think if you look at their mission statement, it pretty much says we’ll -- that portion kinda sink way over here off to the side, 'cause it’s mainly business development. Which is logical ’cause it’s a profit corporation.
So um, I -- I think that if you -- if I talk about -- I can talk about, you know, the older people in the region, all over the state. They could tell you about how the Native people live, but I come from a generation -- a second generation Alaskan family that lived in the '40’s, and they were being introduced.
And they were the ones that seen people going up the Yukon River, and they could see these guys were marrying into Native families, and they were staying in Alaska.
So they -- At that time, in the '40’s and '50’s, we lived on the Yukon River, and there -- we never counted the fish. We didn’t -- how the hell were they going to count fish on the Yukon River?
But we knew there was an immense number of fish that you never have to worry about fishing, over-fishing.
I remember going down to fish camp in the 1940’s, and we're at fish camp and we’d put our fishwheel out there, and it would be running. And you could see it catching three or four salmon per turn. They were just pumping, jumping, fuel during the run.
And our little 12 by -- 4 by 4 basket just filled right up overnight. And you’d have to stop the wheel, because it was overfilling. It just -- the fish are just falling off.
There are no fish in the salmon fish -- king salmon last year at all. Anywhere on the Yukon River. This year, there’s going to be no fishing again.
So now, so what are we -- How? What are we faced with? And I’m getting to the point, to this point in my life, and I think a lot of older people are is, uh, we have elders that say, "Well, there’s going to come a time in our lives when we will see big changes."
And uh, one of them is gonna be a time when there’s going to be a law or a regulation that something that says, uh, you will be owned, you can own land. And you’ll be tied to ownership rights. And it relates to your family. And it relates to your village.
And if you own it, and if something happens, it’s going to be transferred to your children.
And, of course, back then, you know, nobody knew what they're talking about. They just -- the elders just said, it’s going to take place, and it’s going to be a big issue, and it’s going to be a lot of trouble.
And you’ll fight villages against villages and people against people. And it’s -- it's no good. It’s not going to be a good thing.
And they all foretold also that there’s going to be changes in the weather. It’s gonna get warmer. Strange animals come in the country.
Anyway, they had a lot of old people talking about these things, and I think the older people in this -- in Alaska, you know, remember those things. They see how corporations are going and they’re multimillion-dollar corporations that are big business. And they work big business.
So there is a -- I wonder about how things are going to work out. Um.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Could I ask you to go back to that Interior Village Association? SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: What were some of your experiences when you did that? With some of the villages you visited, some of the issues that you dealt with?
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Yeah. Um, the main issue for the villages back then was selecting their land. And in finding -- making -- establishing a land record system where they could show to their shareholders and anyone else, here’s the village corporation land selection and its location on a map.
And here’s the survey description. Physical description of the land. BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: So that took surveying and identifying the different areas that is blocked off with Doyon in the village.
So the Interior Village Association had a lands -- land man, and they went out there and worked with each village to hire surveyors and to make sure that each village had a land record system they could have in the office that they could even share with their shareholders, saying, here’s the land that the village corporation owns.
So people would know, "Ok, this is our land. That area right next to my allotment is village corporation land. Oh, I didn’t know that." So they know, if they start -- So that’s one thing Interior villages had to do was to work with -- so land selections.
And the other one was business development. To have business development person there, um, that went out as the village corporation wanted to try to go into some kind of business. How do you do it? "What shall we -- here’s what we want to do? How do we do it?" And so you have to --
KAREN BREWSTER: So would the village have the idea for what they wanted to do? Like in Holy Cross, did they say, "Oh, we want to start a tourism business?"
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Yeah. They did that. They did that. They did.
One of the things that they set out first of all was, "Let’s set up a fish plant, and we could sell fish." Because they -- we always fish in the Yukon River, and thought millions of fish.
So now, that started right from the mouth of the Yukon River all the way up to, uh, Fort Yukon, I think. Almost to Fort Yukon, I think there were -- all of the villages, most of the villages along, had established a business that was tied to the village corporation.
And it worked for -- for a while, but after a while -- you know, when you have people that are used to living and working with the seasons of the year.
So you know, I remember going to a congressional -- US congressional subcommittee meeting here in Fairbanks at UAF. The meeting topic was -- what is the definition of subsistence as it relates to the, uh, corporations? And what is it?
And they were saying, "Well, it’s hunting and fishing, and it’s this." It’s going off -- it’s a number of different things.
And so, Congress -- and they had congressional senators and congresspeople up here, and they’re up there, and I remember going up there with someone, another person. We went and said, "Let’s go listen to this hearing and see if they -- what they come up with."
Because people were saying -- I remember that one of the, uh, governors stood in front of AFN, said, "Well, I know. I can tell you what subsistence is. It’s hunting and fishing. It’s fish and game. That’s what subsistence is."
And it’s the first day, you know, and there was dead silence in the whole AFN meeting. You have hundreds of people there, and there's -- Subsistence is not fish and game.
Anyway, this person that came into the subcommittee said that, "You want to know what subsistence is, I will tell you. My name is so-and-so and I’m from Koyukuk River. Subsistence is me when I -- summertime -- springtime comes, I’m ready to go out to spring camp.
I’m ready to get ready to go out to the summer camp. And I start getting ready and making sure all my nets are in order, and I get ready for the whole summer.
And I know that my wife’s going to be picking berries. We have to get the boat ready. So I prepare all spring for summer work. Summer, uh, activity.
And then, as summer goes along, we get towards the end of the summer, we start preparing for the fall. Cut wood. Store it. Go out. Get up your -- get your trapping gear ready. Get things ready. Go out picking berries. Get ready for the winter. As winter -- fall comes, you get ready for the winter."
So he described pretty much in detail how he lives his life through the whole season. And he said, "So my -- my life is just living year to year according to the seasons as it requires me to make my life so I can live. That’s subsistence."
And so, now when I think of subsistence living, subsistence is an English word meaning "do something for yourself so you keep alive." Subsist.
But in, uh, indigenous person in the world, wherever you come from in the world, you lived according to the seasons of the year. Fishing, going out whaling. Going out, whatever it is. You know, planting gardens. Everything.
So our -- our definition of subsistence is the way the Native people lived on the land for centuries, according to the seasons. So how do you write that up, you know? BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: And so, Congress did was they took that thing on subsistence, and they took it out of the Claims Act, which was written right into the Claims Act as the most -- one of the most vital, important things was to make sure we have the ability to keep on living that way.
It was taken out. And AFN fought to keep that back in. Hunting and fishing the traditional way we did for reservat -- for lots of years.
And so we fought, but could not get that reinstated. So it’s still that way today. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: And we still, now, are suffering under the fact that if you go over to Canada. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Canada and their land settlement, gave that hunting and fishing right to every Native person.
Well, they can go out and hunt and fish and live the way they used to and still can do it today. They have the right to, over anyone else, over any other Canadian, they have the right to do this. So that was gone.
So, uh, on the -- further on the IVA was the land claims -- land selection, and surveying, and setting up a records -- business development as it relates to whatever the village wants to get involved in.
We talked about the fish canneries. That happened. That worked for a while, until people got tired working in those. And then, fish started diminishing, so they just shut it down.
And there were lots of others. I remember there was one village that bought out a, uh, a lodge on the highway. And bought the lodge and said, "Well, we’re going to go in business. We’re going to buy this lodge and run it."
And uh, they did that, and realized well, you gotta be in this thing year round. You gotta be able to help people year round. You gotta be happy and smiling and you gotta be making the beds and cooking food, and -- and people weren’t used to doing that, so that was -- that didn’t last very long, you know.
So there were lots of things like that taking place. I remember we went up to a village corporation building, a little log cabin, and we walked in there, and it was just a, you know, table over here and a table over there, and some desks.
And we had their land records there, and we talked to ’em about business. And we went in there in their -- their little area -- the little -- where they had a couple of chairs was stacked with all these boxes.
Well, geez, we got some -- we had to kind of walk around the boxes. And we worked them on the village corporation and said, "Well, what do you got? Did you get an order in?" They said, "Oh yeah. One of the villages -- one of the people that’s running the -- in the office, uh, got a call from somebody selling stuff over the phone. Uh, cassettes. Blank cassettes." BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: "Cheap."
And back then, they had cassettes. Songs, rock and roll songs and cassette things you can record on. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: And so, the person at the village got this smooth-talking guy that said, "I’m going to sell you a whole box of them, reduced price. Cheap. Only so many. I mean, I could send you a whole lot of it. A lot."
"Gee, that’s a good idea. We can do that." So they agreed. And here comes this pallet on the airplane. And it comes in. And they, "What’s this?" "Boxes and boxes of blank tapes." "What the -- where’d this come from?"
Anyway, you see that -- how it was easy to -- so there had to be rules, quick rules and regulations relating to uh, no, no one can do this. No one can agree to some good deal. You gotta bring it to the board of directors.
And so, how do you -- how -- how does a village corporation board work? How does a board meeting work?
And so, the business -- IVA business people realized, we have to have basic rules of, how do Robert’s Rules of Order work in a meeting. Because each meeting had to have a record of the meeting and the actions that took place, and it has to be recorded for the business.
And now, money’s coming into the corporation, there has to be an accounting of the money and how it’s spent so you can report that to your owners, who are the shareholders.
So there has to be a big accounting service, which IVA had, helping set up books and how you -- And there was a requirement by the federal government in the Claims Act that each corporation had to account for money in a report to them. BILL SCHNEIDER: Mm.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: So right, um, auditing people and people in the business of running business audits, they had a whole gold mine of -- now we have to -- we can just, you know, there's -- every village had to hire an accounting firm to come up.
And then they had to -- we had to set up training for the village corporations on how to run a board meeting and how to record it and make sure you have it stored in a proper place. And so, uh, let’s see, other things in the village?
BILL SCHNEIDER: What -- on that point there, um, when you went out to the villages, what was your specific job?
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: My job -- I was hired as the president of the corp -- of the nonprofit. BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: And it was mainly because, once again, I -- because I was on the Doyon board, I was -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Known.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: -- well known and ok, I had a lot of training from the Doyon board. So this guy, you know, he could -- he knows this.
And when I met with the IVA board, they said, "You have a lot of experience in working with the people in all the villages?" I said, "Yeah, I do." And they said, "Well, good. You actually know a lot of people. You’ve been to all -- most all the villages." I said, "Yeah."
Uh, hm. So I got hired just like that. Said, "Yeah, you’re just the guy." So I got hired on and when I went over and got introduced to the people at IVA and there was like 14, 13 or 14 employees there, they said, "So you know all the people in all the villages?"
And I said, "Yeah. Pretty much." They said, "Good. Excellent. Now we don’t have to -- Oh my god. It's so -- Oh, thank you."
So we’re going to Fort Yukon. I said, "Ok, good." So we go on up there and, "What are you doing here, Sam?" Steve Ginnis.
And um, all the people at Fort Yukon that I knew, "Well, good. So what are you doing here?" "I work for the Village A -- IVA." "Oh, the village corporation. Yeah. Good, you know. Good."
So yeah, go down there and start working with them. And it was just a revisiting of people that I knew from school or met some way from Mount Edgecumbe, Sheldon Jackson, Copper Valley School, Fairbanks High School, any place that you went. Point Barrow from Nome, Kotzebue, all over, kids were there. We all played basketball together.
And so, I would go up there and, "Oh, gosh. What are you doing here?" "What are you doing here?" "Well, I married so-and-so and I’m from so-and-so village." And so anyway, it was a --
I have to tell you about one thing that was really an important thing that took place that took real effort. A real use of all of IVA’s employees was when some villages in the Doyon region wanted to merge together. Smaller villages wanted to join together and become one bigger village.
So we had to look at the Title 16 on mergers and things relating to corporations, and we had to follow that, those requirements. So I did that. And we had -- we met with, uh, like at McGrath, Telida. MTNT. McGrath, Telida, Nikolai, and Tokotna. Those four villages.
We had to go out there and meet with each village and agree -- have them agree, that yes, they want to merge. So we had to -- meaning IVA, had to set up -- and requirement under the statute was that each village board had to actively be in open meeting on record together at the same time in each village.
And so, our -- we said, "Well, we have to have persons on what -- what needs to be required to merge in each village." So we had to have two employees here, two employees there, two employees there, two employees there.
And we all had to have -- be -- get on the phone, 'cause we didn’t have computers then, at least we didn’t. And we got on the phone, and we had to have speaker phones, so we had to have the people in each one of those villages in an active meeting opening and making the motions to merge and voting on the merger.
And it had to be approved and recorded on the recorder and in each board member’s rooms on record. And now that take a lot of effort.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah, right. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: And, you know, we had to fly out there. We had to get the -- make sure we’re all there. Make sure all -- each village had a quorum of a board present, which was -- some cases difficult.
Have people come in -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: -- ’cause we paid them. They had to pay them to come in, put them up there. And they had to be in the meeting, in the board room.
And so, we did that three times. McGrath, Nikolai, Tokotna, and Telida. And then Gana-A’Yoo, which is Galena, Koyukuk, uh, Ru, not Ruby, but anyway, the four villages around Galena merged into what’s called Gana-A’Yoo.
And it’s a big village -- big village corporation now. And a big successful village corporation.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. And what was the third?
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Oh, the third one was K’oyitl’ots’ina. That was all the villages along the Koyukuk River. Uh, Hughes -- Huslia, Hughes, Allakaket, and Alatna. We had to have them all on the phone doing the same thing.
And so, we were able to get all of those merged. And K’oyitl’ots’ina has an office here in Fairbanks on College Road. BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Gana-A’Yoo has a big office in Galena. And MTNT has a big office in McGrath.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So Sam, you were at those meetings? SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Yeah. I was in one -- BILL SCHNEIDER: And were you --
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: I was at one location, a location that they said, "Well, you need to help. We need you here." And uh, other people -- they had two people in all the other places. BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: So we all had to farm out, travel there, get them all together, have them all together, call up, get ’em on the phone, and have them start doing this whole thing.
KAREN BREWSTER: Why did you decide to do it that way instead of bringing all the boards from those villages physically into one place?
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Well, we could have done that. But uh, they said -- they meaning the requir -- description under the statute said you just have all those boards meet.
And in our case, as well, it’s going to be too much of a trouble for them to get -- all them together to get wherever we -- to come all to come together.
KAREN BREWSTER: To Fairbanks or something?
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: In Fairbanks or wherever they might be. It’d be easier for us to just go out there. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Which they agreed on.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And how well have the mergers worked?
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Good. All of them are doing well. And um, there was attempts -- one attempt, I think. Holy Cross, Shageluk, Anvik, and Grayling were really contemplating seriously because I was a member of the village corporation board down there, and we wanted to merge.
And uh, but we couldn’t -- we couldn’t get the other ones to agree to sign. Couple of them would agree. The other two would not agree. Then we have three agree, one didn’t want to agree.
So it just went on and on like that, and it just stalled. And then, mergers closed. You couldn’t do ’em anymore.
KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, there was a time limit on them?
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: I think there was a time limit, because, uh, they -- they stopped doing it. Either that or the corporation got successful enough where they said, "We don’t want to do anything else anymore. We’re good." Uh.
BILL SCHNEIDER: When you were working with the BIA, were you involved in land claims issues there, too?
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: When I worked -- went to work for the BIA, pretty much the land claims were over -- issues were pretty much over. There were minor, uh, amendments made that didn’t have any big issues relating to the whole of the state.
So when I worked for -- at the BIA, what -- one of the major things that we did at the BIA was, I was superintendent of the Fairbanks agency, which is all of the Interior and the North Slope. There was a Southeast Alaska, Anchorage agency, and a Bethel agency.
So I -- and being in Fairbanks had to travel to all the North Slope villages to work with them with BIA matters. And the lady that was in, uh, the Assistant Secretary of the Interior, which was the Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs was -- try to say all that at once. Was Ada Deer. And what a -- what a -- what a great lady. What a person -- a perfect person for the time.
And uh, because the villages were having a tough time being recognized by the federal government to qualify. And what they had to qualify was under -- in the Native people of the United States in Alaska and the United States, they had what is called a special relationships. A special relationship with the United States of America. BILL SCHNEIDER: Right.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: And that was there because they, America, realized they came into the country, and they took over the lands with what is called Manifest Destiny. We have a right to -- a God-given right to do this.
And so, the Indian wars and all the things that relate to that. Cowboys and Indians, now you kill all the Indians, and all that took place.
And then after that, you realized or started to realize that, you know, these -- the Native people are citizens, and we need to provide for them social, housing, health, and other things relating to help the individual families and tribes. With money. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: So all of those federally recognized tribes in the Lower 48 got money from the Congress of the United States and divided it up to help their village. I mean, help their tribe.
How in the Lower 48, they had -- it was much easier, because they were now stuck on a reservation. You didn’t have, you know, people, you know -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: They weren’t wandering all over the world. So now, now you have tribes in Alaska. And they aren’t federally recognized. They have a reservation system here they’re providing for Metlakatla, Tetlin, five different places. So there’s federal recognition already.
So Ada Deer talks to Congress, and says, "You need -- We, the United States, need to recognize these village councils so they can qualify for what is already provided to Native tribes across America." Recognition.
So she established federal recognition, and we now have federally recognized tribes all over Alaska. They qualify for now money from the Congress, too. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: How did the tribes in the Lower 48 feel about this? I don’t think they liked it very much, because I remember being in the BIA, and I used to go to meetings, they said, "Where you from, Sam?" "Alaska." "Oh (muttering). Two hundred. We had two-hundred-and-some new tribes. We used to have all this money from the federal government. Now we have to divide that up to two hundred of you guys."
And I say, "Well, I didn’t have anything to do with that." "Ok, well." That was a --
No, working for the BIA was a whole different thing, because my mindset had to change. You know, I’m just a village kid, just playing in mud down in Holy Cross. You know?
I don’t have no idea about, uh, Nenana. I didn’t even know where Nenana was. But we in our travel up the Yukon River went up and, "Oh, gee. There’s -- that’s a -- that’s where Mom’s from." Mom is from Anvik. We knew were Anvik is. We know where, uh, the downriver village. But beyond that, we didn’t know nothing.
So I’m just a kid. How am I supposed to be able to get along with running a village corporation, a regional corporation, helping with establishing regional village corporations, working with the Trans-Alaska pipeline, working with the oil companies in the development of that, and then going to work for IVA, and then going to work for the BIA.
And so, when you’re working federal government, it’s a whole different thing. Now, they say, "What are you doing here?" "Oh, I’m the BIA superintendent." "No, you aren’t. Hell, didn’t you use to work for Doy -- Interior Village Association?" "Yeah, yeah." I said, "Yeah, I used to." "What the hell are you doing?"
So it was just a -- "Oh my gosh, so now we have to deal with you're a federal -- you’re a fed, huh?" I said, "Yeah. ’Fraid so."
So now I have to sit down with negotiations with the area office of Alaska meeting with each tribe, each tribal entity, to find out how much money they’re going to be getting from the Congress of the United States.
So each village has -- each so much money that they get for housing, health, welfare, etc. So now I’m not a good guy anymore, you’re just one of those damn Feds.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Even -- even though you were facilitating the money coming in for these things?
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Yeah. Well, anything else was -- Well, it was really an eye-opening thing for me. Just to being --
The reason why I said I’m a kid in the village? BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: We went to school, you know the Catholic school. And I remember, you know, talking when they was first established. They meaning the Catholic Church established Holy Cross Mission.
When they came up, along with the prospectors, they said they needed to find a site. And they said, "Well, how about these guys?" The Catholic bishop. Crimont, I think his name was, uh, was coming upriver, and they said -- met with the village people of Holy Cross.
They said, "What are you going to do?" He said, "We’re going to establish a church." "What kind of church?" "Oh, a Catholic Church." "You mean like those -- like from -- like the big one -- from --?" "No." They met, and they said, "No, we don’t need no church."
And so they met with the Bishop and told him, "We don’t need church. Just keep on going. You go on upriver. We’re good. We don’t need a church. We’re happy with the way we are."
And then the guy that was guiding them told them, he said, "Bishop, you know, I know these people. Did you tell them you’re going to establish a school, too?" He said, "No, we didn’t tell ’em that."
"They need a school and they need help, because the pandemic. The epidemics that took place and killed people all over the whole state, you have people, they need -- those kids need to go some place, and you can establish a mission and a school. Go back and tell them that."
So they went back, told ’em, "We’ll establish a school, too, and a mission. Help with the, uh, kids that are orphaned." "Ok. Come in."
So now, here I am going to a Catholic mission school. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: I’m a village boy. And all I do is play in mud and -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: But now I’m going to Catholic Church. Catholic school. End up in the Catholic school, Copper Valley. End up going to Fairbanks.
I went to school in Holy Cross, I mean in Nenana, for three years during the war years. Uh, ’45. '43, '44, '45. Three years in Nenana. Franklin K. Lane school in Nenana.
And I remember, they used to have planes coming in from Lend-Lease. Used to be flying over, buzzing, and they used to -- those planes would fly out. Some of them would fly under the railroad bridge. BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh, Jesus. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: And buzz the bridge.
And I remember there in Nenana, and we could hear this (he makes a buzzing noise). "Oh, it’s the -- it's the airp -- war airplanes." (buzzing noise climbs higher in pitch) "Hey, it’s the Russians. The Russians are coming."
We’d all run down to the bank on the -- banks of the Nenana River. I mean, Tanana River, and watch the Russian air -- those American planes fly underneath the bridge and keep going. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Wow.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Well, that stopped because once the, uh, the commander of the American forces in this trans lend-lease realized that, uh, everybody was diving underneath, they, "No."
Oh, they couldn’t tell the Russians. They had no command over the Russians. So the Russians flying the American planes, they could do whatever they want. They were --
That’s why we would say, "The Russians are coming!" BILL SCHNEIDER: That's great. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: While the rest of the Americans are going straight to land, you know? BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah, right. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: So that’s kind of a --
BILL SCHNEIDER: So in that period, that 1993-94, when Ada Deer made that change or established the -- the um, the tribal -- SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Federal recognition? BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Federal recognition. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Um, then you were working for BIA then? SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Yeah. BILL SCHNEIDER: And you actually then had to try to implement that? SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Yeah. Yeah, we did. BILL SCHNEIDER: And --
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: She did -- they did most of the work there, uh, her office, but I had a -- when she came up to Alaska, she went to the area office, the big office, first. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: And uh, all the agency work under the area.
And so, whenever she flew up to Fairbanks, I had to accompany her. I had to -- used to get right down there and you help her out.
So I had to go to -- with her out to the villages and set up the meetings with them with her.
BILL SCHNEIDER: I didn’t realize she actually traveled to the villages.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Oh, hell, yeah. She did.
I gotta tell you a little, a little side thing. Uh, she came up, and she said, "Well, how are things going down in --?" She says, "I’m from the Penobscot, or the -- " Some village, some tribe she’s from.
She says, "Yeah. I went out with my person that I knew in college in Anchorage, and we went out on a fishing charter." I said, "Oh yeah." She says, "Yeah." Said, "Went on fishing charter, and we did good. There were six people on the fishing charter. Six-passenger boat. It’s just me, and my buddy, the other lady. We were the only people that caught fish. The other guys were men. And they were madder than hell, Sam, because we caught -- we were the only ones catching big king salmon."
So I go home to my office, and I go home to my tribe. And I tell ’em about that. Next thing I know, I get from the tribal newspaper, and the headline says, uh, "Deer Catches Fish." Ada Deer. KAREN BREWSTER: Deer. D -- SAM DEMIENTIEFF: D-E-E-R catches fish. And they have her with a big king salmon.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh, that’s great. That’s great. Well, I have often wondered about how important that recognition is today.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Oh, it is. It’s money. Relates to the federal funds. So you know, they got funds. They were getting -- the villages weren’t getting -- I don’t think they were getting funds.
I don’t understand it quite exactly how that worked, but every village council that got federal recognition qualified for federal funds. Health, and welfare, and housing, and I don’t know what else. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: But that was given to every other federally recognized tribe. You know, you get -- think of TCC, you know. TCC is nothing except a nonprofit association.
It’s there because all of those federally recognized tribes have got together and formed a group, and they call it the Tanana Chiefs Conference. BILL SCHNEIDER: Huh.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: So everybody says, "Well, we go to TCC, and they’re going to tell us what to do." Well, TCC actually has to get their money from federal recognition from each of the villages.
BILL SCHNEIDER: I’ll be darned. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Yeah, they do.
BILL SCHNEIDER: What about in the areas of sovereignty and, um, ability to control village affairs? Did that tribal recognition have impact in those areas?
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: The -- you know, the sovereignty question was one that worked out for some tribes in the Lower 48, I think, and some other places. But it did not work out in Alaska because, let’s see, it was Venetie that sued the federal government for tribal -- for sovereignty. BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: And it’s a former reserve and settlement, and so the requirement by the federal government was that the Indian people there had to own, use and occupancy, use and occupy the land, which they did. They had no trouble there.
They had to have a common language, which they did. There’s one or two other things. And they were disqualified for having sovereignty. BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: And it was federal. It was a federal -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Over the land? SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: What about in the area of child welfare and -- SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Each village -- BILL SCHNEIDER: -- village affairs?
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Each village has, uh, funds, federal funds, to help each tribal member with their health, social, and uh, housing, and other things that relate to the tribal members. So yeah. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: How does the relationship with the tribes and the tribal organizations connect with the village corporation and the regional corporation and the requirements of ANCSA?
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: It’s a -- it depends on what you’re going to do. And in the beginning, you know, it’s hard because no one -- a lot of the people didn’t quite separate being a Doyon shareholder and being a village shareholder and being a village council member.
And having to explain to each of your persons in the village that they belong to the village council, and each council can qualify for housing for their village council members or health clinic, and other things.
But they also have to hire their own corporation employees to work the village corporation business and records and everything else. And the village corporation lands.
And then, you have Doyon lands wrapped all the way around your village. So if you’re going to try to keep hunters out of your area, you have to have an agreement with the village and the council and the regional corporation, saying, we’re going to disallow people from hunting in this area.
And they say, "Yes, well, you can, you can -- we don’t have any jurisdiction on Doyon lands, but Doyon said, well, if you do it that way, we’ll support you." So there’s agreement to work together.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, also challenges of each village doesn’t have so many different people who can play all these different roles.
So is one person a corporation employee and then on the tribal council, or do you have to have all different people?
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Well, you can have multiple people. I was -- I was village corporation president, and a village corporation board member, and still on the Doyon, Limited board member, and a member of the Holy Cross tribe. I didn’t have active participation in the tribe, but I was a tribal member. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: But uh, so yeah, there’s -- there's multiple people in villages that have different hats. And when you talk to them, they gotta identify themselves. Say, "I’m now talking with my village corporation hat. " BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: And, you know.
KAREN BREWSTER: It’s very complicated.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: It is. It’s -- you know, if we just -- (electronic clock chimes) What do we do?
You know, I remember in the early days of Doyon, that president then comes aboard and says, uh, "I’ve been asked --" The president said, tells the board members, "I’ve been asked for a contribution to a political party." A political party. They’re all saying, "Well, well. Oh, ok. How many Doy -- how many, uh, Democrats do we have?" Du-du-du. "How many Republicans?" Du-du-du. "How many Independents?" Du-du. "Ok. Well, what do we do?"
So they said, "Well, you’re the executive, what do you think we should do?" "I know. We’ll give a hundred dollars to him, and a hundred dollars to him. Both of them." "Good idea." So that lasted for a little while, you know, until, no, the thing -- And so it -- on the board, all said, "Yeah, oh, so you’re a --
KAREN BREWSTER: So it’s become political?
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Yeah. And so, we get people from the shareholder pool and they're saying, "How did you guys -- who do you guys support? Who does Doyon support in this governorship?" What do you say? BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm mm. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: You know?
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, is that the role of a corporation?
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Well, they still ask. They said, "Well -- " And so we -- you know, it’s a big discussion among -- "Well, we can’t really. We oughta just not be involved. Or we can just continue doing this."
In some instances, they just chose a high political thing, and everybody on the board agreed, we need to support this one person for these reasons, and they did. But they would stop. They would say, "No. After that, no more." You know. BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: So it’s -- you still had people calling up and saying, "Well, how do the village corporation deal with the political thing?" And so it was just a -- still happens. You know, it’s just difficult.
What do you do with this pandemic thing? And what do you do with the war in Iraq? And how do we continue to live?
These guys all want to -- these guys being Doyon, all they want to do is make profit. And so, moving forward.
Bush -- one of the Bush guys to get the economy going, he said, "Well, all you have to do is have a war going, and the economy will come back."
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, you did -- SAM DEMIENTIEFF: What?
KAREN BREWSTER: You -- you mentioned that about the getting the federal contracts with the military, for instance. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Or how the board is investing in businesses.
And I was wondering, do the board members come up with the ideas that, oh, there’s this business we should invest -- we should start doing military contracts?
Or do outside businesspeople come to the board and apply and say, "I’m looking for investors. Can you guys help me?"
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Every, every single way. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Anybody could come in. Individuals come in to talk to a board member. Or if they're and say, "Hey, I think you guys should be interested in this." So we’re getting things from all over.
So Doyon had what is called an investment committee, and the committee would set up to hear all those proposals of how -- what they should do. So Doyon, um, there was board members and some Doyon shareholders lived in Hawaii. And they come back, saying, "Hey, there was a prospect. One of the big, um, resorts, you know, on Maui, Hawaii, is for sale. It’s called Pioneer Inn. And we should consider it." "You mean, buy the Pioneer Inn?"
So ok. Give it to the investment committee. And the investment committee was doing all kinds of other stuff. Put it on there and said, "Call them up. Call up the owners of Pioneer Inn." You know where Pioneer is? Pioneer Inn is? You? KAREN BREWSTER: Hm-hm.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Oh, Pioneer Inn on Maui is a big, a big, established whaling resort hotel for when whaling was real hot and coming through the -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: That thing.
Also it relates to our land settlement is the first oil rush in the United States. KAREN BREWSTER: The whale oil? SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Was whale oil. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: And they fish out all the whales in the Atlantic. And came over to the Pacific. Fished all the whales out in the Pacific, and they’re stopping in Hawaii, and they’re stopping in the Pioneer Inn.
They’re going all the way to Alaska. And they’re going up on the North Slope to Barrow and all this thing. And um, they go up there, and three or four years, they’re there.
The one of the whale -- the first guy went up that came back and said, "I’ll be back to Boston. Holy cow, lots of whales up there in the North in Alaska." So the next year, there were more ships all the way down around the horn, all the way up, all the way up to Alaska and to --
And only trouble is, in Alaska there’s a window you can go into the Arctic Ocean where the whales are. And you have to be very careful, because when the wind changes and that ice pack moves in, you’re done for. You gotta be out of there.
So uh, one of the second trip -- on the first trip, they were coming back, and they stopped along the way. At St. Lawrence Island they stopped, and one of the whaling ships stopped and got some water and talked to the Native people on St. Lawrence Island. And made friends with them.
Said, "Gee, you know, we need water. We need this." They says, "Yeah, we’ll help you. Here, you eat this. Try this stuff out. Here’s some other."
The Native people on St. Lawrence Island helped these -- this one guy, or couple of ships, and made good friends. Back to the thing. Next year, they come up, they’re up and they’ve got more ships. They go on up past St. Lawrence Island, past Diomede, into -- the thing -- they -- the wind -- the thing changes, and the ice pack moves in early, and a lot of the ships are trapped. BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: In Barrow.
And there’s a book called The Last Voyage. It’s these trapped ships. Lots of them. With their wives and kids on those ships. BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: This guy comes down, and he makes it through, and he goes St. Lawrence Island. Go see my friend. They go in there, and it’s like it’s closed. Going around, they have a few people.
Go knock on their friend. His -- his -- bad shape. "What’s wrong? Is there a sickness?" "No." He said, "We can’t -- We have our main food was, um, walrus. We hunt that. That’s our main food here. And we hunted this winter, and they’re all gone."
The ship’s captain said when they were up there, and when they had that, there was hardly any whales, there was thousands of walruses, and they started whaling the walruses. And they ran them down. They just killed off thousands of walruses, and just got the oil from the walruses.
In other words, collapsed the walrus run. And those guys from St. Lawrence Island were starving to death. And that whaling captain realized it. He said, "What we did was, we killed off all these -- what they live on." BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: He said, "I’m never coming back here again. I’m never going to do this again." So he swore off and went -- Anyway.
BILL SCHNEIDER: But the Pioneer Inn. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Oh, the Pioneer Inn. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: We bought it. BILL SCHNEIDER: You did buy it?
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Yeah. We bought it. And uh, but with -- we could not ever own the land. And we figured, well, if we buy it, eventually, the guy -- the guy -- the owner’s -- well, the family will able -- will give it -- will then send it to us.
We bought it and kept it and worked it and for a number of years kept it. Finally, we just -- we couldn’t buy it, so we just -- we sold it back. Sold it. I don’t know if we sold it back to them.
But one of the things we did was, when we were working on the North Slope, we got some of the oil. We -- Doyon got a portion, percentage, of the oil going through the pipeline. Raw oil would come -- We would be able to take off and have for our own. BILL SCHNEIDER: Huh.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: So we got paid for it as it was being pumped down. Our plan was to start a refinery.
And we were going to start also a natural gas company called Chena Natural Gas. We set up Chena Natural Gas. It was a real company, set up for operations here in Fairbanks to sell dry gas to Fairbanks. And then up and down.
And we were going to do our own refinery. And we approached the refinery out here in North -- KAREN BREWSTER: Flint Hills? SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Flint, no Flint. It was -- I forget what the hell you call it. But anyway -- but then, yeah. We’ll sell it. Yes. It cost, like, fifty million dollars.
And we were at -- in Doyon, we were at the high point of our operations. We had -- we had a whole bunch of business. All kinds of business. We had international surveying company in places all over the world. Surveying company. We had this film. We had, oh, a whole bunch of things going on. Doyon Construction.
We were talking about this refinery, and we were talking about a drilling company, too, because the drilling business was going full blast up on the North Slope. And so, no, too much money. The board said, no, too much money.
Uh, why don’t we build our own refinery? Why -- why don’t we? So we sent inquiries down to Canada where uh -- place where they build their -- there’s a big city there. Anyway, where they build drill rigs.
And they said, "Yeah, we can build a rig and you can get --" There’s refineries in the Seattle area. There was one there, idled, all the components there. "Let’s buy that, and we’ll build our own damn rig." Which we did.
We bought it and started moving it up into Canada, and by then, uh, Flint Hills says, "Well, what about you guys? Are you guys still interested in this thing?"
And so, our executives come back and say, "Well, maybe we should stop this thing, and -- " ’Cause it’s a big deal. We’re going to have to get all these things up. And we’re gonna have to -- we're paying all the storage fees for it in Canada now.
"Uh, lets -- ask ’em again." So they did. Ask ’em out there. They said, "Well, ok, well, we’re -- we're still interested. What is it?" And the price went up. Way up. Way out of our --
Brought it back to the board, the board was -- You know, in other words, they don’t want to sell it. They don’t -- they -- it's -- they’re -- asking way too much money. And all, if they -- they just say, well, if they have so much money, they’ll buy it. We’ll make a hell of a profit. And let ’em have it and we’ll go on. So we said, "No." So we -- "Nope."
And then back to drill rigging. So now, we’re going -- ok, we're going to drill the -- No. We’re going to -- Well, by then, we had -- and that’s where we needed this oil supply. The portion of oil that was coming off the pipeline. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Was going to go onto this drill rig that we had over here.
And uh, so we said, "Ok. Stop." Then all of a sudden, Doyon Construction is starting to lose money. By the hundreds of thousands a month. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: And so, in other words, all of a sudden, we started seeing things just -- high-tech international technology surveying is going down, and things are starting to happen. And we’re sold the Pioneer Inn.
In other words, things are looking bleak. And we didn’t know what to do. So we ended up selling that refinery parts. Took a loss, sold it. Got rid of it.
And then, what we thought of was well -- we then heard of -- approached by George -- no, Zach and George Brinkerhoff. Brinkerhoff Drilling Company. Drill rigs all over the world.
And say, for -- well, we’d like to -- and we had talked to them. Said, "Gee, maybe we could start a joint venture." Drill rigs.
And there, Zach is the main guy, the man that started the Brinkerhoff. George, this is his son, and there’s a -- so, they’re the two primary in the Brinkerhoff Drilling. And they have drill rigs out there.
Said, well, if we go into a joint venture, we’ll have more access because ARCO and all those companies want to do business with the ANCSA corporations. It does them good, and besides that, one of them, the North Slope, has a number of -- has a segment of oil -- of the, uh, what ANS -- ANS -- ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge)? BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Segment. There’s a segment there that belongs to the whole -- all of the regional corporations. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: And if we -- that can be a -- drill rigs can be used there, because the owners will -- so there was a --
The short story is, yes, we started a drilling company, and it was a joint venture between George Brinkerhoff, the Brinkerhoffs, and Doyon, Limited. We would own 50 percent, and they would own 49.
And yeah. How do you do that? And we said, well, we’re going to be doing this, and they said, we’ll do it.
So now Doyon Drilling now entered a venture with Brinkerhoff family. It was called Doyon Drilling Joint Venture.
I remember we, uh, decided to build the drill rig ourselves. I remember I was chairman then, and they -- we went down there and commission to drill the -- what’s called Drill Rig 9. And it was a state-of-art drill rig.
And I remember when they finished, and uh -- still can’t think of that big, uh, Calgary, I think it is. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Yeah. There.
That’s where they drilled -- build the drill rigs. And they said, "Well, the drill rig is done, and we’re gonna commission it, and do you guys want to come down?" The constructors.
And George said, "Yeah, we’re coming down. Hey, you guys, who's a -- There, Sam, you -- you get some people, we’re going down. We’ll get on a plane, go down there, and you -- you guys gotta be there. You commission it."
So I went down there, and there’s a brand-new drill rig. Doyon Drill Rig No. 9.
And we had this -- You know, of course, you had to have a bottle of champagne to crack it over the thing, and oh my god. What a --
Did you ever meet a rich millionaire Texan-type foreign oil baron with zillions of dollars with a goal -- he has -- he doesn’t care about money? I remember one time,
brought the -- Ah, ok, yeah, we're all a joint venture. Oh, ok. Yeah. Hey, you guys mol -- You guys ever seen this? Hold up, it’s a bowl of wine. Champagne, I think it was.
Yeah, but we don’t drink here. We don’t drink in the board room. And he says, "Oh, no, I’m talking about drinking." And he said -- He said, "You ever see in movies where they take the bottle? Guy holds his sword, and just takes this and goes, whack." KAREN BREWSTER: Cuts the top off? SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Cuts the top off and drinks.
Believe it or not, we’re there and we said, "Yeah, I've heard about that." And he says, "I’m going to do that." Then he goes around and picks up, and pulls out the sword.
Now, we were here, me and some of the board members, and uh, I’m wondering, "What the hell. This guy’s nuts." Well, no, he’s not nuts. He’s just rich.
And uh, he goes, "Ok." Get a rag around it, and pr -- It's all busted up. And plunk. Bust it all up. Plunk. Bust it all up. He says, "There’s a knack to it, you know. I’m going to get it." So he’s doing -- he finally hits one, and it just chops that thing, flies right off, and there.
KAREN BREWSTER: He drank it up? SAM DEMIENTIEFF: That's what -- Anyway, that’s just the kind of personality we were dealing with, you know, you’re just -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Crazy stuff.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: We were -- we were in the -- we were going to buy Western Airlines. Western Airlines. Remember Alaska International Air? AIA? BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: It was -- what was the guy that ran it? That run all those -- BILL SCHNEIDER: I can’t -- SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Another -- The guy ran all those -- there was, during the --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Bergt, was it? SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Huh? BILL SCHNEIDER: Was it Bergt? KAREN BREWSTER: No, he was -- SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Yeah, it was Bergt. Neil Bergt. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, I thought he was Wien.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: No, Neil Bergt was the guy who was running AIH (meant AIA). And he had all those Hercules flying just every day up to the Slope. And he run that.
And he got us interested in -- hey, you guys should be interested in Western Airlines. And so, of course, investment committee got a look at that. And we had Western Airlines hats and jackets, and our -- you know, got all this crap about, and uh -- and uh -- but anyway, it was just a --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Sounds like a ride. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: -- oil refinery. Drill Rig No. 9, and owning all of the drill -- the world-wide drilling records are owned by Doyon Drilling now, which we -- and it’s set up with a venture.
They said if we ever separated ways, one will offer to buy the other, or the other will buy the other. So we’ll have first right to refusal.
So uh, it worked out, and we, uh, bought out Brinkerhoff and now it’s Doyon Drilling.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, those are good examples of the big difference between the earlier generation living off the land and then knowing all that boardroom stuff and those business decisions. And say, how to run a meeting. I mean, that was such a big difference.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Hell, yeah. That’s what I’m trying to say. It’s like -- I mean, and then working with the federal government, you know? And then working with the village corporations.
And then I was also appointed to the Alaska State Board of Fisheries by Governor Hammond when he was working there, so I was on a state board, going to state board meetings with Fisheries, so I was hired to establish a limited-entry commission on the Yukon River for during the time they were selling fish.
And everybody had to have fishing -- limited-entry license, and I was the guy hired by TCC after I was finished working there to establish limited-entry license, and I had to go to the state board meetings relating to fisheries.
And seeing minutes of the state board being shown films from the United States Coast Guard of the international fishing trawlers from Russia, Taiwan, all those places. These big, massive ships would have twenty-mile nets. KAREN BREWSTER: Twenty --
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: They’re twenty to thirty miles long. Now I -- I erased the thirty miles, but people said, no, they’re thirty miles. But we do have ones that were twenty miles long. And they just -- they’re big, huge, nets made out of monofilament.
And as soon as they see a Coast Guard plane coming, they cut the lines and just keep -- keep going. And so when the Coast Guard lands and says, "Here’s your net." They said, "No. We don’t have no net." And they had -- they fixed the net so there’s nothing on it. BILL SCHNEIDER: Wow.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Those nets are what are called -- term for the warden and by the Coast Guard, "veils of death." That’s what they’re called. And they’re out there fishing now.
If they cut ’em, they don’t plan on going picking that net up. ’Cause it’s full of every fish that would get caught in there. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. BILL SCHNEIDER: What a tragedy. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Dolphins, everything. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Fish, all the big, small, and all the, uh, things that you see in the ocean are stuck in there. They just die.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Well, Sam, there’s a lot more to talk about. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: I know, and I got to look at the time. Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: We’ve -- we've run you pretty ragged here for two hours. Two hours, almost two and a half hours. We probably should call it. But thank you. This has been very rich. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. BILL SCHNEIDER: It is a lot.
KAREN BREWSTER: Unless you want to summarize with something on the future of the -- what’s going to happen with the ANCSA legacy and the corporations?
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Yeah. This whole thing. Yeah. I do want to summarize by saying, at this point in my life, I’m 82 years old. And I have a lot of experience working with the federal government, the state government, the tribal governments, the tribal corporations. And uh, oil pipeline. The oil companies.
But I see the trouble that the corporations, the profit ANCSA corporations, are going to have is with, uh, the Native people that live now and that are going to be born in the future.
None of them will be owners of the land and will not be able to share in the profit that the corporations are set up to make. The profit is going to be so diminished by so many thousands of shareholders that it’s hardly going to be worth being a shareholder.
And now, being a Native person, and you talk to, about the Native politics, it’s regional corporations. Now in AFN, they talk about business. They never -- they don’t generally talk about --
So my view is that, uh, I think back to talking to the -- lots of Native elders and people in the villages, and they say, well, times are coming where there’s going to be big changes in the world. And in Alaska, we’ll see strange animals come in the country.
Now when we went on our trip, Karen. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. SAM DEMIENTIEFF: And we seen what’s happening to the boreal forest and what’s happening to fisheries and wood, especially on the Yukon Rivers, there’s changes. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: And we document it. We note. And it’s changing. And it continues to change.
So my concern is, are we, meaning the people of the Earth, going to have a place to live? Because I want to point out one thing. When the pandemic was declared a pandemic, in 2020, I think it was. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Uh, all the flights, national and international flights, stopped. And I think you might even remember that all -- they showed a map of active flights all over the United States, and you see all these dots? That’s active flights, people flying.
And after that declaration, about three days later, there’s none. There’s no jets. They stopped because this is a pandemic.
And what happens a few days after that, Los Angeles and all the north -- the east -- west coast. The smog was dissipating. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
SAM DEMIENTIEFF: Now that tells you, all you have to shut this down, and you can start breathing again. That tells me -- You know, you’re asking me, what about the future of ANCSA? ANCSA is business development. Business development equates to demise of our environment. The air, the seas, and people.
So I think that my concern is, I don’t see, uh, the ANCSA corporations -- I don’t know how it’s going to end up. But they’re so big now. They’re so entrenched in the world economy, and I’m talking about international economies. I don’t know how they’re going to ever be able to change.
But they don’t talk -- usually don’t talk too much about the subsistence way of life anymore. And we’re sitting here, and you and I know that’s changing. We all been down on the river.
So I see the only way that these ANCSA corporations are going to survive in any way is that they have to change their ownership laws that relate to sharers. And I don’t know how they’re going to do that because there are going to be people -- major shareholders are going to fight it.
But the only way I can see them to keep on going, to include the new, young, Native Amer -- Native people. By including them in this thing, is to get rid of all the sharers. That will equate to land ownership and business development.
KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. BILL SCHNEIDER: Thank you. KAREN BREWSTER: Thank you very much.