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Mary Nordale
Mary Nordale

Mary Nordale was interviewed on March 8, 2022 by Karen Brewster and Bill Schneider at Mary's home in Fairbanks, Alaska. In this interview, Mary talks about working in the Washington, D.C. office of Alaska's Senator E.L. "Bob" Bartlett and being involved in early discussions about Alaska Native land claims. Specifically, she discusses her role in development of the corporate structure for managing the lands and money from the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), and mentoring she received from Bob Bennett, Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Mary also talks about other people involved with drafting the legislation, the subsistence and revenue sharing aspects of ANCSA, and her views on the success and legacy of the corporations.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2022-01-06

Project: Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act
Date of Interview: Mar 8, 2022
Narrator(s): Mary Nordale
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster, Bill Schneider
Transcriber: Ruth Sensenig
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Alaska State Library, Institute of Museum and Library Services
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

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Involvement with early land claims in Senator Bob Bartlett's office

Role of Bob Bennett of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in having something other than reservations in Alaska

Metlakatla reservation in Alaska trying to gain access to timber

Alaska delegation and their staff working together to come up with land claims settlement legislation

Suggesting corporate ownership instead of reservations

Expansion of her original corporation idea

Development of ANCSA legislation and legislative language

Frustration with the Metlatka situation and dealing with the US Department of the Interior

Being law partners with Barry Jackson, and Alaska Natives' desire for access to their lands

Aboriginal hunting and fishing rights and fish and wildlife management

Leaving Senator Bartlett's office in Washington, DC and returning to Alaska

Jobs she had in Fairbanks

Role of people in Washington, DC in the land claims movement, and her distaste for discrimination

Senator Bartlett's support for Native land claims

Learning about corporations in law school

Effect of Bartlett's death on land claims legislation

Revenue sharing provisions of ANCSA

Role of legislative staff, lobbyists, lawyers, and Alaska Native leaders in the development of the legislation

Success of the corporate structure and its legacy

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KAREN BREWSTER: This is Karen Brewster, and today is March 8, 2022, and I’m here in Fairbanks, Alaska, with Mary Nordale at her home for the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act Project Jukebox.

And Bill Schneider is here with me, as well. So thank you, Mary, for letting us come visit you today.

MARY NORDALE: Oh, it’s my pleasure.

KAREN BREWSTER: And um, I did an interview with you back in, like, 2000, where we talked about your life and growing up here in Fairbanks and your career and all those kinds of things. I had to -- I had to --

MARY NORDALE: I sort of remember.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I had to look it up, ’cause I wasn’t sure. I knew I had talked to you before, but anyway. I’m not going to repeat all that. MARY NORDALE: Fine.

KAREN BREWSTER: Or you don’t have to repeat all that.

MARY NORDALE: Good. Good. I’d rather just talk about, uh -- KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. MARY NORDALE: Land claims.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So let’s -- exactly. Let’s talk about land claims. So where does that part of the story start for you?

MARY NORDALE: Well, it starts at the very early stage of the development of the land claims, uh, legislation back in Washington.

I was work -- at the time, I was working for Senator Bob Bartlett, Alaska’s senior senator. And um, I had been in conversation with, um, Bob, um --

KAREN BREWSTER: Bennett? MARY NORDALE: Bennett, yes. He was at that time, um, head of the, um -- KAREN BREWSTER: The BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs)? MARY NORDALE: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah?

MARY NORDALE: I -- I don’t know why I’m having such a time here. And -- KAREN BREWSTER: We’ll get you -- we'll get you greased up. MARY NORDALE: Ok. KAREN BREWSTER: And going. MARY NORDALE: Ok. All right.

And he was -- he really bent my ear on the subject. He said one of the things you have to do is to figure out a way to deal with heirship.

Now heirship is a very delicate subject in terms of land claims and reservations, that kind of thing, because the standard mechanism that the Department of the Interior used to deal with land claims was simply to create a reservation and vest interest in the reservation in all of the people who lived on that reservation who were part of the tribe, and make no way in which you could divide up those interests. They have to stay all one.

So it’s basically not an economic unit. It’s very hard to make a business on a reservation and develop ideas on a reservation, because it takes the whole group of interested people to assent to whatever it is. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm.

MARY NORDALE: In order for it to move forward. And just like every other community, the people on the reservations are very different ideas, and they are -- you know, they pursue their own ideas. They don’t pursue your ideas.

So it makes it very difficult for people to create viable businesses or whatever it is they want to create on the reservation, because of the lack of ability to get consents. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

MARY NORDALE: So the -- I was at the time going to night school at George Washington Law School, and um, thought I knew everything there was to know.

And I was -- had been thinking about this because Bob Bennett had been so insistent and I just was crazy about Bob. He was a wonderful man.

And he did so much for, uh, the people of Alaska, and the BIA up here. He established a totally different way of communicating. I mean, it's just -- he was really wonderful. And, of course, he understood because he was a Rosebud Sioux.

And so, he -- he knew what the dangers were in terms of being able to create separate interests in the land resources of the reservations -- people of the reservations.

So it made a -- he really -- he really talked very sternly with me. And um, because I admired him so much, I believed every word he said, and, of course, I knew in advance what difficulty the reservations had.

’Cause we have one reservation in Alaska, and that’s at Metlakatla. Excuse me (clears throat). And I had been dealing with a problem that the people in Metlakatla were trying to deal with.

They were trying to get, um, a wharf or a dock built so that they could get direct water shipments to Metlakatla. Shipments by water.

And the Japanese were willing to do it if they could get access to the timber resources on the island. Harvest the timber, and take it out by -- by water. In order to do that, they needed a dock, so I mean, it was a fair thing.

Well, it never succeeded because the Interior Department wouldn’t allow the harvesting of the timber.

KAREN BREWSTER: And so, that timber was not on reservation land? MARY NORDALE: It was on reservation land.

KAREN BREWSTER: And the Department of Interior still had control over it? MARY NORDALE: Oh, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So was Bennett head of BIA for the -- the whole United States, or he was the head of the BIA in Alaska? MARY NORDALE: Both. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

MARY NORDALE: He started out -- I first got to know him when he was area director here in Alaska, and we were working on a -- trying to work on a housing project.

And then, he got transferred, and he was named as commissioner of the BIA.

BILL SCHNEIDER: You mentioned that you were going to law school. MARY NORDALE: Yes.

BILL SCHNEIDER: How did that fit into this? MARY NORDALE: Well, I was going to get there. BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh, ok.

MARY NORDALE: I will get there. So anyway, the Interior Department was pushing the Alaska delegation in Congress. That’s Senator Bartlett, Senator Gruening, and Congressman Rivers. To do something. You know, introduce legislation to create a mechanism for settlement of land claims.

And the reason for that was, that the oil industry was looking very hard at Alaska and wanting access to the oil and gas resources. And uh, so it was necessary that the land that would belong to the Alaska Native people be designated and defined and, you know, the selections move ahead.

The state was able to move ahead with its selections, um, because of the Statehood Act, but the Natives were not because they didn’t have that kind of authorization. So we had to get a bill to -- (clears throat) Excuse me.

KAREN BREWSTER: Do you want to take a break?


Um, we needed a bill that would authorize Native land selections, but once the lands were selected, it was the intent of the Interior Department and Bureau of Indian Affairs, that those lands would become reservations.

And Bennett had been very, very definite that he didn’t think the idea of -- of reservations, the way they were administered by BIA, would be of all -- of great benefit to the Alaska people.

And he wanted some way of influencing the development of selection that would yield a form of ownership and administration and utilization that would be of benefit to the Alaska Native people. And, of course, that’s what we wanted.

So in response to the urging of the Interior Department, the representative staff of the three members of the Alaska delegation met in Senator Gruening’s office to talk about what we’d do.

And present at the meeting -- I can’t remember everybody, but from our office, Bartlett office, was Mary Lee Council and me.

From the Gruening office, there was Herb Beaser and Laura Olson. And from Ralph Rivers’ office, it was Don Greeley. And I think there may have been one or two more.

Anyway, we were -- we gathered in -- in Senator Gruening’s office, and we were talking about this, and I -- Because I was in law school, I thought I just knew about everything, and I proposed that instead of going for reservations, because I’d had this awful experience with the Metlakatla situation, that instead of using the reservation form of owner -- common ownership, that we establish corporate ownership.

And the people on the reservation would -- or not reservation, but the people holding the title to the land that they had selected would hold it in the form of the corporation, which would enable them to issue shares of stock in the corporation.

Which gives them -- or would give them, an economic interest in the entire, um, land mass selected, but would not make it impossible for the land mass to be used, because the direction and the management of the land would be in the hands of a corporation, the share -- of whom the shareholders would elect the president and a board of directors.

And so, there would be a means of, one, forming a common idea and figuring it out. Two, putting it to shareholders through the directors and a shareholders meeting.

You had a mechanism for making decisions, which would further the benefits to the people through use of the corporation’s assets.

And everybody in the meeting bought into it. And I explained to them about my conversations with Bob Bennett. And so they -- and they understood, and they knew Bob, and so we decided to go with that model.

Well, I then went on to other things, and I didn’t have much to do with it. And it was the further development of the idea of corporations instead of reservations holding the land.

And it was an idea, apparently, whose time had come, because while the Interior Department was just blowing its stack all over the place, the people who were actually working on the legislation, trying to bring it to shape for introduction and shepherding it through Congress, knew.

Most of them had worked with -- on reservation troubles or matters for other states, so they knew what kind of difficulty the people on the reservations have in getting anything economic going on the reservation unless the Interior Department thinks it’s a swell idea.

So they don’t have, really, much choice. It’s either, you know, take what the Interior Department is willing to agree to, or take nothing. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

MARY NORDALE: So I had no further business, but I did have the pleasure and self-satisfaction of seeing the idea of corporations take life and move forward.

And we now have in Alaska, what, twelve corporations, something like that. And prosperity among many of the corporations that we never expected, or the people had never expected. And had had no way of figuring out how to obtain that kind of prosperity.

And the corporations have been model citizens of Alaska, I think, and the -- And it’s a form, interestingly enough, I think, that the Native people found easy to understand and easy to move forward with.

So I’ve always felt that the meeting that we had way back when bore more fruit than I had ever anticipated.

Now I know a lot of people claim that they had, uh, that corporations were their ideas, and to some measure, they’re probably all right, because all I had was a very bare-bones legalistic, um, idea. And it needed to be fleshed out and made into something that would really be workable.

And the people who did the fleshing out and making workable worked very hard to make the corporations, bring them to existence, get them -- get the bill passed through Congress.

And the people educated enough in the utilization of the form of corporations so that they could make a success out of them.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, I can see how Bennett had an influence on you, but how did you come upon the idea of this corporate structure? Was there --

MARY NORDALE: Well, he was pushing me. BILL SCHNEIDER: He was?

MARY NORDALE: Yeah. He -- he pushed me, and he said, you’ve got to come up with an idea that will make it possible for the people in Alaska to use the corp -- use their lands and have businesses and do whatever is necessary to be done in order to have a prosperous life.

And he didn’t -- he didn’t mention corporations, but I started thinking about it, and the only form I could think of was a corporate form, because corporations are basically democratic in their form, and if they’re used in a democratic fashion, they are very strong and, uh, and they carry out the will of the people.

It’s a majority rule, of course. Not everybody is totally satisfied, but when -- when you have a corporation working as it should, it, uh, it really works.

And you know, the annual meetings that now are held are models, I think, of what you can do through using a legal structure that had never been tried before.

But it was Bob Bennett pushing on me that I started thinking hard, came up with the concept of corporations instead of reservations, and those at the meeting -- this little meeting that we had at the very beginning in response to the Interior Department’s pressure, um, that it came out.

Then it’s -- it -- everybody at the meeting bought into the concept because it made sense. And so, it was a fundamental concept that then was fleshed out by others who came in to represent various groups of Natives and --

KAREN BREWSTER: And so, did you -- after that meeting, did you take this idea back to the Senator and you started working? MARY NORDALE: Oh, sure. KAREN BREWSTER: And what was his response?

MARY NORDALE: Oh, he was fine. He was fine with it. You know, he -- he didn’t have a problem with it. None of the -- none of our members of the delegation had a problem with the idea.

KAREN BREWSTER: So who started working on the language for the legislation? MARY NORDALE: Uh.

KAREN BREWSTER: Did you work on that?

MARY NORDALE: No. I’m trying to think of who was in the office. I’m not sure. I can’t --

KAREN BREWSTER: Was it somebody in Bartlett’s office, or -- who initiated it or some -- one of the other members?

MARY NORDALE: I think it was -- well, um, it would’ve been somebody in -- in -- it would’ve been a three-person group working on it.

Um, the one from each of the delegates’ office.

And it was Don Greeley from Ralph Rivers’ office, uh, and I’m not sure who it was from Gruening’s office. I kind of think it might have been Laura Olson. And from our office, strangely enough, I never really participated in it any further, um. BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm.

MARY NORDALE: And I wish I could remember what year it was. It was --

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, that was my other question is, do you remember what year it was? MARY NORDALE: Yeah. And I’m not --

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, Bartlett died in ’68. MARY NORDALE: Right. KAREN BREWSTER: Right? So it would’ve had to have been before then. MARY NORDALE: Yes.

And ’64 was the earthquake. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. MARY NORDALE: And I was working along on the earthquake.

KAREN BREWSTER: And you were in law school? MARY NORDALE: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: You said you were at night school. MARY NORDALE: Yeah. Right. And I graduated from law school in 1966.

KAREN BREWSTER: So that tells us ’65, '66, somewhere in there, maybe? MARY NORDALE: Yeah, somewhere in there.

BILL SCHNEIDER: I think it’s interesting, your experiences with Metlakatla people and the reservation there.

MARY NORDALE: Oh, I -- I still get angry when I think about it. It was -- it was so -- apparently so typical of the BIA and the Interior Department, the solicitor’s office in the Interior Department, to um, reject economic opportunities that would require the people living on the reservation, the -- the Indians or Natives, entitled to the economic benefits of whatever was going on. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

MARY NORDALE: Um, that they either had to do it Interior’s way, or they didn’t get to do it at all.

Because the reservations had no way of generating their own money, and that was one way that the Interior Department managed to maintain control. They had money, and they could give the reservations money to invest in whatever it was as long as Interior wanted them to do it.

But if the Interior Department felt that it was not a good idea, it was a dead idea. Just never got --

BILL SCHNEIDER: Interesting.

MARY NORDALE: Yeah. And I -- and then the people of Metlakatla were justifiably irritated with the Alaska delegation, because we were hamstrung.

We had no way of dealing with the Interior Department at that level. Um, so it was -- it was so frustrating. BILL SCHNEIDER: I bet.

MARY NORDALE: It -- that it -- it just -- It still gets to me. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

MARY NORDALE: And I think that you will find that if you look around to the various reservations, I don’t know, however many there are in the United States, that the real businesses that the -- if the people have businesses, they’re established off reservation. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm.

MARY NORDALE: So that they -- the people who establish ’em, own ’em. They’re not just servants to the Interior Department.

I just -- I think -- I think it would be wonderful if every reservation established a corporate structure. And it wouldn’t have to -- you wouldn’t have to destroy the reservation, because it could be part of the structure of the reservation.

But at least it would give a way for the people living on the reservation to have businesses, to engage in economic activity that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do. BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm. MARY NORDALE: Anyway.

KAREN BREWSTER: We were talking earlier -- I just read something that had refreshed my memory about the BIA and its control over Natives in Alaska had to approve the legal counsel that the tribal organizations wanted to use as late as the 1960’s.

They were still in control that way. MARY NORDALE: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And I was very surprised. And your reservation story is the same, that BIA had so much power.

MARY NORDALE: Yes. And uh, as I recall, I think it was with this Metlakatla thing, I talked to the counsel for Metlakatla, and I got so mad at him, I was about ready to kill him, um, but he refused to do anything.

And he made a slip in talking to me. He said, "Well, I’ve got another client who needs something from the Interior Department, and they won’t get it if I push too hard on Metlakatla." BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm.

MARY NORDALE: Which, you know, is just terribly improper by an attorney. But, in a way, you can understand why. He knew that the Interior Department wasn’t going to bend and let the people of -- on Metlakatla harvest those trees.

So that was a dead issue, and he knew it. And I didn’t. I was still just fuming.

But uh, he basically did nothing for the people. Their own attorney.

And -- and he even told, you know, if you fight us on this, you’re not going to get anywhere, and you will -- you’ll lose on other -- everything else you’re dealing with.

’Cause he’d made a career out of being an attorney for Indians and Alaska Natives. So I don’t know, but it was just maddening. KAREN BREWSTER: Interesting. MARY NORDALE: Yeah.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Do you recall Barry Jackson and any role he might’ve played in land claims?

MARY NORDALE: Oh, yeah. I remember. But I had left Bartlett’s office. I -- by the time Barry and a whole lot of people were working on the legislation, so I never had any direct con -- direct contact with Barry at that time. BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm.

MARY NORDALE: Later, we became partners.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I was thinking you were law partners, weren’t you?

MARY NORDALE: Yeah, for a while. Um-hm. And he was very, uh, very assertive about his role in getting corporations, and I don’t think I ever told him about my role. But, you know, I just, unh. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

MARY NORDALE: I didn’t want to get into a fight about it. BILL SCHNEIDER: Sure.

MARY NORDALE: So, I mean, I knew what had happened, so I didn’t care. Um.

But everybody else was very proud of what they had done, and I think justifiably because once -- once you took on the corporate model as your structure for handling the land and the other assets, and the Alaska Natives were getting money, as well, from the federal government, you needed -- you needed to pursue it to -- through fruition.

And there really was no other way in which, um, the Alaska Natives could be convinced to take on -- They wanted the land. They didn’t -- but they didn’t want to take it with the Interior Department control. BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm.

MARY NORDALE: And I was talking with Eben Hopson one time. He was, you may remember, Barrow, whatever it is now. I still haven’t learned how to pronounce its new name correctly. (Utqiaġvik)

Um, and his eyes just flashed, and he said, "Nobody’s going to put me on a reservation!"

And there was no -- absolutely no reason why he should be treated as someone who was incompetent, because that’s basically the fundamental idea of reservations is that the, um, American Indians aren’t competent. Well. BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm.

MARY NORDALE: Years had passed, and the Alaska Natives had benefitted dramatically from education and experience, and other opportunities, and so they -- they understood a lot more about the -- what reservation life might be like, and they certainly -- Like Eben was so determined he wasn’t going to be on a reservation.

But they wanted to live on their lands. Lands they knew, from which they harvested their food. You know, it was home.

BILL SCHNEIDER: One of the key provisions of the Act itself abolished aboriginal title and aboriginal hunting and fishing rights.

And I think that’s been pretty contentious in terms of Native people. MARY NORDALE: Yes. BILL SCHNEIDER: And rural people in general.

MARY NORDALE: Well, what it did was -- and I’m not sure it was a wise thing at the time, but, at the time, there was a lot of pressure that if the Native people --

As I recall, if the Native people were going to get all this land, and the white people were not, then state law had to govern the way in which fish and wildlife were managed and controlled for everyone.


MARY NORDALE: Well, the Natives had lived for thousands of years managing their hunting and fishing seasonally, and with great capacity for hunting in a way that preserved the species, whatever they were hunting.

And same with fishing. And, of course, the pressure of fishing, particularly, put on the resource by canneries, by -- you know --

BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah, a lot of competition.

MARY NORDALE: White people coming up and doing a lot of the fishing and the hunting. I mean, it threw everything into a -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. MARY NORDALE: Uh, a bad situation.

And, of course, now, with climate change we’re having a terrible situation. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

MARY NORDALE: I’m hoping -- I’m hoping that we’ll see our way out of it.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So those years when you worked for Bartlett? MARY NORDALE: Um-hm.

KAREN BREWSTER: Were Native land issues coming up frequently besides the Metlakatla one? Were there other issues that came across your desk?

MARY NORDALE: Well, I didn’t -- they didn’t come across my desk very much, and I’m kind of surprised that, uh, still am surprised. I’m not exactly sure how Metlakatla managed to hit my desk, because there were, uh, three or four guys who were working the -- a lot of the issues that were faced, and some of them were the Native issues.

And I don’t know why it was that I wound up dealing with Metlakatla and with the Native land claims. BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm.

MARY NORDALE: And so, I -- Let’s see. I’m trying to remember when I left the office. I knew, I had to get away from the office.

I had gone to work every day, all day, high pressure. Gone to law school every week night. Um, and by the time I got through that regime, which lasted four years --

I worked for Bartlett for eight years, but I went to law school for four. And so, it was working for Bob in the daytime and going to school at night.

I was really tired. And I was getting to the point where it was very easy for me to lose my temper. Uh, I was -- really was not functioning as well as I should have in that office, and I had to get away.

So I quit, and I came back to Alaska. So, I’m trying to think of what I did when I got back here.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I have a note that by ’68, you became the assistant and then the US attorney in Fairbanks. MARY NORDALE: Oh. KAREN BREWSTER: But I don’t know what -- MARY NORDALE: Yeah, that was it. That was it, yeah. That was -- I --

Yeah, I talked Bob into letting me apply for -- oh, get appointed to the assistant US attorney in Fairbanks. Yeah, for some reason or other, that one just escaped me.

KAREN BREWSTER: But that was -- so you left the --

MARY NORDALE: So I didn’t leave in ’66. I left in ’68.

KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. Yeah, so you -- but you left while Bob was still alive and a Senator. MARY NORDALE: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: You left before that? MARY NORDALE: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

MARY NORDALE: And he -- Yes. And it was in the fall of that year. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. MARY NORDALE: That he died. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm.

MARY NORDALE: A dreadful loss. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. MARY NORDALE: For Alaska. KAREN BREWSTER: It sounds like it.

Um, but so when you were in practice with Barry Jackson. MARY NORDALE: Um-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: What was that like? What was --

MARY NORDALE: Oh, it was pretty miserable. It was not a good situation. You know, Barry was nice enough, but he -- he wasn’t earning the amount of money that he wanted to earn, and so, he was -- he’d just make a race to the checkbook all the time.

And so, he was taking a lot of money out of the firm without consideration of anybody else. So it was always kind of tough.

KAREN BREWSTER: And this was in the -- after land claims. This was in the '70’s, or --?

MARY NORDALE: Yeah. It would’ve been. Yes. ’Cause I resigned from the Justice Department when Nixon was elected, because I knew I’d get fired anyway.

And so, I decided I’d just as well preempt the firing and go out and look for a job. And what I did was go into partnership with Barry. BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm.

MARY NORDALE: Which was a big mistake, but, you know. It was and it wasn’t. It was a mistake, and it wasn’t a mistake, so.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Life’s like that though, right? MARY NORDALE: Yeah, right. BILL SCHNEIDER: You never know. MARY NORDALE: Yeah. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Did you know Mary Alice Miller? MARY NORDALE: Sure.

KAREN BREWSTER: ’Cause she was involved in the early days with Nenana and land claims, wasn’t she?

MARY NORDALE: She was on the bench. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. MARY NORDALE: Uh-huh.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I’ve heard her name associated with Kay Hitchcock and, um, Charlie Purvis and going down to Nenana for the first -- some of the first Tanana Chiefs meetings in the early '60’s.

MARY NORDALE: Well, I think -- Let’s see, she -- I think she worked --

Now the other -- those two names that you mentioned are people I didn’t know. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. MARY NORDALE: And still don’t know who they are.

KAREN BREWSTER: Charlie Purvis was from Nenana, and um, became -- was non-Native and became quite, um, supportive as an ally for the early land claims efforts in Nenana and Tanana with Al Ketzler. MARY NORDALE: Oh, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And Kay Hitchcock was somebody in Fairbanks who, um, got involved, as well. She taught at the university for a while. MARY NORDALE: Oh.

KAREN BREWSTER: Taught English or something. And this is all, like 1961, '62, '63, somewhere in there.

MARY NORDALE: Well, I don’t know when -- I don’t know when, what’s her name became judge. KAREN BREWSTER: Mary Ann Miller? MARY NORDALE: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, it was a name I’d never heard before. So she was an early judge for a woman. Was she one of the first ones?

MARY NORDALE: Yeah, she was one of the first women appointed to the bench. Um, I’m trying to think, I think she was on the bench when I came back to Fairbanks in ’68. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

MARY NORDALE: But she had been with the firm, I think it was, uh, Merdes and that crowd. (Per internet research, Miller was with the firm Collins Clasby.) KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I don't -- them. MARY NORDALE: Yeah, that group. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. MARY NORDALE: And uh, and it was after --

BILL SCHNEIDER: It’s hard for us to get a handle on the role of people in DC who made land claims work.

And so, maybe there’s some of those people that we haven’t thought about that were working back in DC that you’d want to mention their roles.

MARY NORDALE: Well, I didn’t feel -- As I said, I left working on that. BILL SCHNEIDER: Before. MARY NORDALE: And I went almost exclusively to working on earthquake stuff. BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm.

MARY NORDALE: And, um, so I didn’t know anybody, and I still don’t know who was working on it, other than Barry. And I think there were a few other Alaska attorneys. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

MARY NORDALE: But most of the people who were working on the land claims were coming out of Washington, DC law offices, I think. BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm.

KAREN BREWSTER: But by ’66, '67, '68, were some of the Native leaders from Alaska coming to DC and coming to speak to the delegation and do some lobbying?

MARY NORDALE: Oh, yeah. That’s how I got to know Emil Notti, um, Hensley. KAREN BREWSTER: Willie. MARY NORDALE: Yeah. Bill Hensley. Um, I don’t know. A whole bunch of guys.

KAREN BREWSTER: You mentioned Eben.

MARY NORDALE: Yeah, Eben was one. And I think there was somebody else from Barrow, but I can’t remember now who.

Um, not so much Southeastern. But yeah, they were in and out quite frequently.

But they were not the negotiators that were doing the dirty work back in Washington, trying to wrestle with the Interior Department, because it was a real difficult chore. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah, I bet. MARY NORDALE: To wrestle with those people. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah, I bet.

MARY NORDALE: They were so determined. Well, their jobs depended on the maintenance of the reservation, uh, style. And, you know, they were fighting for their own livelihood as well as for the Native or Indians. So, you know.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm. That’s a shame. MARY NORDALE: It’s a terrible situation. It really is, you know.

I -- I think when there was the assault on the Capitol, um, what, two years ago. Um, one of the cries of the assaulters was that this was a white man’s country, and that they were going to have -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. MARY NORDALE: You know.

And I thought, you know, if there is a white-skinned person who is a citizen of the United States, that person is an immigrant or a descendant of immigrants.

Why are you saying that those people that you horsed around and fought and killed and shoved off into reservations are not Americans? They were here thousands of years before your family arrived. And, you know, just, oh. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

MARY NORDALE: I just find it so distasteful when people say things like that. And, you know, and people who -- of African heritage um, I mean, they were dragged over here. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. MARY NORDALE: In the most despicable conditions.

And forced to work under horrible conditions, and treated terribly.

Just every time I read something like that, I just -- drives -- I don't -- I just don’t understand how people can live with themselves and treat others the way they were treated.

KAREN BREWSTER: But I was thinking, so Bartlett supported land claims? Because initially, Governor Hickel did not.

MARY NORDALE: Well, yeah. Bob did. Um, I -- I think that -- Well, Wally Hickel, he can be, you know, a pretty delightful guy, but uh, he was very much a Republican, and the Republican Party members were very ardently supportive of the oil industry, oil and gas.

Bob Bartlett was the type of a person who got to know everybody and he loved knowing people. So his concern about getting the land claims was to get people -- the people in Alaska, the Natives, the legal ability to deal with the lands that they had lived on and utilized for centuries without interference -- more interference than was absolutely necessary.

And so, you know, it would be much more efficient if the oil industry would be managed by white people than if they had to go through tribal stuff.

And, of course, you know, at the time, if the Natives had had only tribal operations to deal with, they would’ve had nothing. They would’ve had no economic use of the resources of their own lands. BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm.

MARY NORDALE: ’Cause that’s the way it worked. So.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Were there people at the -- when you were going to law school, that influenced your thinking on corporate structure?

MARY NORDALE: Well, no. Other than the fact that we took -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Taught -- MARY NORDALE: -- a course on corporations. We -- we dealt with the legal structures of -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

MARY NORDALE: You know, we had partnerships and corporations. You know, business type. BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm.

MARY NORDALE: Um, mechanisms. It -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Ok.

MARY NORDALE: Most business structures, if you look at them, are means of accumulating capital in order to do something. And how do you manage that capital? And how do you treat the people who contributed the capital fairly? BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm.

MARY NORDALE: Um, and that motivation occurs in partnerships and corporations and whatever.

Um, so no, I -- I enjoyed the courses that I took on those issues, because I hadn’t had much acquaintance with them. I’d been a college student and high school student. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

MARY NORDALE: I didn’t have any training on corporations or anything. I had never paid any attention to it. So it was kind of a brave new world for me.

But it was really the pressure that Bob Bennett put on me. And I don’t know whether I was the only one that he was pressuring or not, but uh, we all --

And I never cleared the idea of corporations with Bob until after I made the proposal to this group. BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh. MARY NORDALE: You know? Because, you know. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

MARY NORDALE: Why put him on the hot skillet?

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, that’s what I was wondering, ok, you go back to your senator and say, "Well, this is what I proposed." Then what happens? MARY NORDALE: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Sure.

KAREN BREWSTER: And he was ok with it? MARY NORDALE: Oh, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So I wonder -- or if you have wondered about this? What would’ve happened if Senator Bartlett had lived out his term instead of Stevens getting appointed when he died?

MARY NORDALE: Well, the, uh, the people of Alaska would’ve been well served as they had been throughout his career. Um, the staff that he had put together would’ve stayed together pretty much.

And uh, I’m not sure that he would’ve been any different. The problem, of course, was that he was in ill health, and it’s very hard to figure out how somebody who was as ill as he was could carry on a vigorous life of -- KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. MARY NORDALE: -- being a senator or congressman, so.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I just wonder if land claims would’ve been different if it had been Bartlett as the senator instead of Stevens. You know, once it went into passage.

MARY NORDALE: I don’t think so. I don’t think so. Um, Bob’s staff was largely made up of law students, and I don’t think that Bob would have -- he wouldn’t have succumbed, shall we say, to the representations of the Interior Department. BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm.

MARY NORDALE: So I don’t think so.


KAREN BREWSTER: I know, it’s sort of Monday morning quarterbacking. It’s kind of a hard thing to answer.

MARY NORDALE: Well, it is. Yeah, it really is impossible. You don’t get a good answer. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. MARY NORDALE: Because you have no assurance that -- no way to test. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. MARY NORDALE: How it --

BILL SCHNEIDER: One of the big provisions of the land claims bill is the revenue sharing. MARY NORDALE: Is what? BILL SCHNEIDER: Is the revenue sharing. MARY NORDALE: Oh, yes. Yes.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Do you have any idea where that came from?

MARY NORDALE: No, I don’t. Um, I’m not sure if -- it came up after I left Bob’s office. BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm.

MARY NORDALE: And uh, I think it was after Bob’s death. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

MARY NORDALE: But, you know, there was a -- a real problem. There was a stall in the move toward, uh, designating which lands would be, you know, Barrow lands. Which lands would be Kotzebue lands. BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm.

MARY NORDALE: Which would be Fairbanks lands. You know, all of -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

MARY NORDALE: Trying to sort out where the people had lived and where their -- their traditional lands were. BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm.

MARY NORDALE: And in that process, it became very apparent that the resources of various parts of Alaska were different. Different in kind and different in value. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

MARY NORDALE: And so, um, the struggle for the people, say, out at Bethel, would have been terrible, because the resources that are there were never fully developed. And all they had was fish. BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm.

MARY NORDALE: And so, the -- I think the potential wealth that the oil industry promised, which was apparent at the time that land claims were going through, suggested that the lands that were gifted with oil or timber or whatever should be shared to some -- in some way. But where that idea really, actually, was generated, I don’t know.

And unfortunately, an awful lot of the people who worked on the bill after I left have died. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

MARY NORDALE: Age has caught up with them.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and often in a legislative situation in a congressional or senatorial office, as you say, there’s lots of staff who do different things, and nobody gets the credit for who wrote the language for A, B, or C. MARY NORDALE: Right.

KAREN BREWSTER: It’s the senator or congressman’s name on the bill.

MARY NORDALE: Yeah. And, of course, you wouldn’t want your own name on the bill because what power do you have? BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. MARY NORDALE: Zero. So.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, nobody gets credit for the language they drafted. MARY NORDALE: No, that’s true.

KAREN BREWSTER: So, it’s more of, well, who was -- as you say, who was working on the Native issues in the different offices at the time. MARY NORDALE: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Um.

MARY NORDALE: And there was, uh, a change in the offices in personnel. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. MARY NORDALE: From time to time, so.

Um, well, I think that most of the claims for having come up with drafts and various parts of the bill were generated by people who were not on staff. They were lobbyists or various groups, and the --

There were some Native organizations, I think, that predated the land claims. And so, they were -- they hired lobbyists to work for them. So I don’t know who they were.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah, it’s hard for us to transport ourselves back to that period of history and what was going on in DC. MARY NORDALE: Yeah.

BILL SCHNEIDER: But it’s a part of the story that is part of land claims.

MARY NORDALE: Oh, yeah. Um, and as much as the wealthy corporations are kind of resentful of having to give up some of their wealth to -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm. MARY NORDALE: The poorer ones, it’s a system that has worked extremely well.

And um, has made possible, I think, the statewide Native organizations that we have and that function so well.

Uh, if you have -- have you had a chance to talk with Emil Notti and Bill Hensley and those guys? KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. Yeah.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah, we’ve had a couple presentations by them that we’ve recorded. MARY NORDALE: Ah, good. BILL SCHNEIDER: Karen’s recorded.

MARY NORDALE: ’Cause they were very deeply involved, and they were smart young men.

KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. But as you say, a lot of the dirty work was being done by lawyers in DC. MARY NORDALE: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And the wording on the different bills, which there were a lot of versions of the bills, I don’t know that the Native leaders in Alaska were writing out those.

MARY NORDALE: Oh, no. No. They were not. No. Hm-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

MARY NORDALE: And basically what they did, as I recall, and I may be misreading the situation, is that they would agree or disagree with proposals that were coming out of the lobbyists who were actually working on language for the bill.

The Native leaders did not come up with much.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. But they did go and lobby and --?

MARY NORDALE: Well, they hired lobbyists, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: But they also went to DC themselves. MARY NORDALE: Oh, sure. KAREN BREWSTER: And, as you said, they came through the office. MARY NORDALE: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: And expressed their views.

MARY NORDALE: Yes. And most of that was done after I left. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Ok.

BILL SCHNEIDER: When things got rolling. MARY NORDALE: Pardon? BILL SCHNEIDER: When things really got rolling. MARY NORDALE: Yeah, right. Exactly. Left the work to the other guys. I sailed off.

BILL SCHNEIDER: But it is interesting, you know. Once you decide on a corporate structure, then you have to decide on what the corporations will be in terms of area and population. MARY NORDALE: Uh-huh.

BILL SCHNEIDER: And it raises all of those questions.

MARY NORDALE: Yeah, it does. But in some ways, it makes it much easier. Because you have a structure that is historically well understood. BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm.

MARY NORDALE: And uh, the -- because they bought into a structure that had ancient history behind it, nothing too ancient, but, you know, two or three hundred years of development, um, it was easier to slot the concepts into that structure than it would’ve been otherwise.

If we had had the traditional reservations, the whole -- I think the Native community would have collapsed. BILL SCHNEIDER: Maybe.

MARY NORDALE: In Alaska. It would’ve been extremely difficult to keep it going. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, land claims is certainly known as sort of a turning point for political power for Native communities in Alaska. MARY NORDALE: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: That, you know, they weren’t -- they didn’t have that power before land claims. MARY NORDALE: That’s right. KAREN BREWSTER: They do now.

MARY NORDALE: Yeah. And I’m convinced in my own mind, 'cause, of course, it’s very flattering to me, that had they gone for a reservation concept as was laid on the American Indians throughout the other states, it would’ve all collapsed anyway. And they would not have succeeded in making the success out of their corporations that they have made.

And, you know, you meet some of the young Native kids that, you know, they’ve been to college and they are going to college, and they are studying business and, you know, all kinds of things.

They’re much better prepared than anybody thought they would be able to be. But they’re smart people, and, you know, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t. And they’re doing a good job managing their resources. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

MARY NORDALE: And they -- they’re not hesitant in buying expertise, either. So you know, it’s -- I think it’s worked out very well.

KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. Anything else? MARY NORDALE: Of course, I have to.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, we’ll pat you on the back. KAREN BREWSTER: We’ll pat you on the back. Right. BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, thank you.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, now you’ll get some credit for it. MARY NORDALE: Oh, well.

KAREN BREWSTER: Thank you very much, unless there’s anything else that you wanted to talk about.

MARY NORDALE: Uh, no, I can’t, uh, I can’t think of anything.

I just think that the fact that the Interior Department, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, can’t control the corporations has meant that the people who formed the corporations have to draw on their own resources in both self-protection and in progress. And they are finding that their resources are huge. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

MARY NORDALE: They’re a remarkable people. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

MARY NORDALE: And they had never had the experience of just being beaten around the head as so many of the American Indians. Year in, year out, we hear tales about the Trail of Tears. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

MARY NORDALE: And the transfer -- the forced transfer of people from their homelands to strange and incompatible lands.

Fortunately, the United States didn’t know anything about oil and gas when they plunked all these people, the richest, some of the richest oil and gas lands in the western states. I think --

I think it’s a great irony, but -- I think, oh, gee. But it’s made it very difficult for the people who got plunked down in Oklahoma. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. MARY NORDALE: And wherever, uh, to get a handle on what they were given or forced to take.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and you’re right. For Alaska Natives, they were not displaced that way. MARY NORDALE: That’s right.

BILL SCHNEIDER: It is interesting, the Tyonek situation. That the village of Tyonek was successful in suing in order to get leasing rights. Um, in order to get rights to lease their oil reserve. MARY NORDALE: Uh-huh.

BILL SCHNEIDER: And that was one of the early developments in the early '60’s.

MARY NORDALE: I don’t know whether I followed that one or not. BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm. MARY NORDALE: Yeah. BILL SCHNEIDER: Might’ve been earlier. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, well by -- BILL SCHNEIDER: ’66.

KAREN BREWSTER: By ’66, it had been settled ’cause they gave the money -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Right. KAREN BREWSTER: -- for AFN. So Tyonek, it was -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Earlier. KAREN BREWSTER: -- ’62, 63, I don’t remember when that -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- lawsuit was.

MARY NORDALE: Well, I was back in Washington, and so I didn’t follow it as well as I should’ve, I guess.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, Stan McCutcheon was their -- MARY NORDALE: Oh, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- legal counsel.

MARY NORDALE: Well, Stan was good. And he really cared about the people. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

MARY NORDALE: He didn’t -- You know, he obviously he wanted to make a living, but he didn’t want to exploit them, he wanted to serve them. BILL SCHNEIDER: Right. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Thanks. KAREN BREWSTER: Well, then. Are we done?


MARY NORDALE: Unless you have more questions. KAREN BREWSTER: No, I think we’re good.