Irene Sparks Rowan was interviewed on April 18, 2022 by Bill Schneider and Karen Brewster over Zoom audio-conference with Irene in Anchorage, Alaska and Bill and Karen at each of their homes in Fairbanks, Alaska. In this interview, Irene talks about her involvement with the land claims movement and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCWA), assisting Alaska Natives visiting Washington, D.C. through the Alaskans on the Potomac group, running a campaign for enrollment in ANCSA corporations, and fighting to get Kluwkan, Inc. recognized as an ANCSA village corporation and be able to select lands outside of their immediate area. Irene also talks about key players she worked with, her challenges and accomplishments, and the legacy of ANCSA for Alaska Natives today.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act
Date of Interview: Apr 18, 2022
Narrator(s): Irene Rowan
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider, Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Ruth Sensenig
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Personal background, education, and work history
Involvement with land claims in Washington, D.C., and key people she worked with
Living in Washington, D.C., her husband working for Senator Mike Gravel, and hosting gatherings for visiting Alaskans
Anna McAlear and Alaskans on the Potomac group helping Alaskans in Washington, D.C. testifying for land claims
Challenges for Alaska Natives in Washington, D.C., and impact of their testimony
The impact of Senator Mike Gravel on ANCSA, his disagreements with Senator Ted Stevens, and his position on reservations in Alaska
Native self-determination, Byron Mallott, and RurAL CAP
Possible problems with ANCSA, Charlie Etok Edwardsen, Jr's. impact on ANCSA, and returning to Alaska
ANCSA corporation enrollment, and getting Klukwan, Inc. recognized as a village corporation
Being president of Klukwan, Inc., getting the corporation set up, and working on land selections
Land selection process, and fighting to gain access to other lands
Legislation for Klukwan, Inc. land selection, and inclusion of Cook Inlet Regional Corporation (CIRI) land selection
Land selection on Long Island, being fired as president, and Omnibus Bill of 1976
Kish Tu, Inc., becoming special assistant for Alaska programs to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, and working for Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) on Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA)
ANILCA, Alaska Task Force, lawsuits, and subsistence
Rural resident versus Alaska Native preference for subsistence
Staff work of the Alaska Task Force
Chairman of the board of Klukwan, Inc., timber sales, and financial management
ANCSA's legacy in terms of land ownership and support for education
Training and hiring shareholders, and economic disparity among Alaska Natives
Alaska's poor educational system for Alaska Natives
Alaska Native identity, tribal membership, and shareholder ownership
ANCSA corporation shareholder and descendent issues
Alaska Native identity, corporations, and importance of identification
Clan and tribal affiliation
ANCSA village corporation versus tribal organization for Klukwan, Inc.
Clarifying details of Alaskans on the Potomac, and help they provided to Alaskans in Washington, D.C.
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KAREN BREWSTER: All right. This is Karen Brewster, and today is April 18, 2022, and I’m here with Bill Schneider and we are doing an interview with Irene Rowan, um, via Zoom.
Bill and I are in Fairbanks, and Irene, I don’t know where you are. IRENE ROWAN: Anchorage.
KAREN BREWSTER: Anchorage, all right. And this is for the ANCSA Project Jukebox project. So thank you, Irene, for taking time to join us today. And Bill, take it away.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh, let’s start maybe, Irene, with give listeners some idea of your background and your, um, where you grew up and, um -- so that we know -- so that they have some sort of basis to place you.
IRENE ROWAN: Ok. Thank you for having me today. This is exciting, albeit frightening at the same time. Having to rely on my memory.
Um, I was born and raised in the community of Haines, Alaska. My mother was from the village of Klukwan, and my father was a, um, soldier at -- stationed at Port Chilkoot. So I was -- so we basically lived in Haines.
But my mother was a leader in the village of Klukwan, so I spent a lot of my childhood in the village, you know, while she did her work.
I grew up with the traditional lifestyle, having to what we call "put up food" for the winter. And so, in this, as soon as it started getting light, we were out there picking seaweed or, during that -- the -- that season.
Then we went into all the berries. We picked every type of berry there was to pick, and then we -- you know, my dad would catch the fish, and we would cut it up and put it in the smokehouse. And prepare it for winter.
And then in the fall time, my mom would go to various conventions or meetings of other major Alaska Native groups, and she would trade foods. So she would come home with, you know, dried -- dried herring eggs and black seaweed and other things that we didn’t have in our area.
So um, basically -- So we were very fortunate as a family because we never were without food. My mother made certain of that.
I attended the Haines High School, the Haines school system. Once I graduated from Haines High School, I believe the superintendent had gone to my parents and said that I was going to Minot State, uh, Minot State Teachers College with his daughter, Sharon, and I believe he filled out my application.
Anyway, the next thing I knew -- I wanted to join the Air Force, but -- to become a pilot, but my parents thought that the superintendent knew best, and so I ended up in Minot, North Dakota for a year and absolutely loved it.
My friend didn’t like it, so we transferred to Western Washington in Bellingham, and -- and that’s where I got my degree in business education.
After graduating, I went off to Bethel as a new teacher, and it was, wow. It was such a wow eye opener for me. I had never --
I had been to Anchorage, but I had never been out to the tundra area. I had studied tundra, about the tundra, in economic courses, but I had never walked on it, nor had I experienced that whole type of lifestyle. So it was very exciting to be out there.
And so, I was a teacher in Bethel for about three years. And while I was out there, I got married and I had my first child. And then moved in to Anchorage and worked in many different positions after that.
I ran a public opinion firm here in Anchorage for a number of years, and so I knew basically what was happening politically around the state because I had interviewers all over the state. And so I was very up to speed on what was happening politically.
And then later, of course, I got involved as a village corporation president with the land claims, and um, worked for AFN (Alaska Federation of Natives) and worked for the Department of Interior, and owned and operated my own company for a number of years. That’s it. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm.
BILL SCHNEIDER: In a nutshell. IRENE ROWAN: Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Um, so what -- what took you to Washington, D.C.?
IRENE ROWAN: Well, I at the time was married, and my husband had run the, uh, the primary campaign for Mike Gravel. And Mike Gravel, of course, won the general election and once -- and asked if we would go back to Washington, D.C., to work with him.
And so, my husband was assigned the task of the land claims as a staff person to Senator Gravel.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Wow. And you, obviously, were heavily involved in that.
IRENE ROWAN: Yes. Yes. I can’t give you the details because I can’t remember all the details, but -- but um, in the beginning, I was there for many of the social gatherings.
Because I had two little girls, and so my primary concern at the time was my daughters, so. BILL SCHNEIDER: Sure. Sure.
IRENE ROWAN: But I entertained, um, and visited and uh, you know, that type of thing, so.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. And who were some of the people that you thought were most important in terms of your work at that time in -- in D.C.? That you came into contact with that you considered important?
IRENE ROWAN: Well, um, we had -- it was, -- We had, um, like I said, we had a number of social gatherings when -- when people -- when Alaskans came into Washington, D.C., whether they were Native or non-Native.
So, it’s people I recall spending most of the time with were people like John Borbridge, who was then the president of the Tlingit and Haida Central Council.
And to me, he was absolutely magnificent. He was just an extraordinary man. His voice was, um -- he had such stature. He had this booming voice, and um, and so very articulate in the claims act and in the Native people.
And he was just an absolute awesome leader, Native representative, I believe. So he was, to me, a real hero.
Um, Bill Van Ness was chairman of the -- was the staff, chief of staff, to the Interior Committee, Senate Interior Committee, so I used to enjoy talking with him about what was going on.
And then, of course, there was a person over in the House. His name was Frank Ducheneaux, and he was the staff person for the Indian Affairs Committee in the House, and so he would be at a lot of the gatherings. And so, it was always fun to talk to him about what was happening.
And then people coming down from Alaska, um, of course, were Willie Hensley and Emil Notti, and um, Ray Christiansen from Bethel, uh, you know, who I knew very well because of my days in Bethel.
Um, Joe Upicksoun, Charlie Edwardsen, and then I met a young man by the name of Tommy Richards. And he was originally from Kotzebue, and I believe he worked for the Navy Intelligence Agency. I’m not really sure. But he was in the Navy and stationed there in Washington, D.C., and was -- became the reporter for the Tundra Times.
But he was young and vivacious, and just fun to be around, so uh -- And he could play pinochle. So we all had a number of pinochle teams together, you know, with other people that were from Alaska.
Of course, you know, Alaska in the rural areas, you’d play a lot of pinochle, so it was really fun. You know, gave a touch of home back in Washington.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. It -- it sounds like your home was a gathering place, of sorts, for folks coming from Alaska, and also in -- from D.C. folks that were working on the issues. Is that a correct assessment?
IRENE ROWAN: Not really, because when I first moved to Washington -- I moved about three times. The first time, we lived on Admiral Hill. I called it Admiral Hill, and it was up by the airport across the river.
And it was easy for people to come to. So I had -- you know, I had some guests there. We’d have dinner parties there with introducing Alaska Natives to people like Joe Rothstein, who worked, you know, as the chief of staff for Senator Gravel.
And so it was -- it was important for these people to get to know one another on a -- you know, the comfortable setting, so we -- I had, you know, a few dinner parties there.
Then we moved to southwest Washington, and it was -- just remember that this was the era of the civil unrest in our country. And um, when I first moved to Washington, D.C., I stayed with the Gravels.
And to get to the -- to get anywhere you had to go through the 14th Street area where they had had the major uprising and the burning of buildings and whatnot. So there was that whole reminder of the civil unrest in that -- in that area.
And so, well, when I lived in Virginia, it was -- it was fine. I was away from -- from that type of scene.
But we moved into southwest Washington, and it was known as the shopping center of the poor. And um, it was uh, also -- so we had the civil unrest. And we also had the Vietnam protests. So it was crazy.
I would look out my window. My window overlooked the road system. M Street, I think it was M Street.
And I’d look out, and I would see a Jeep of soldiers driving by. You know, four or five soldiers in the Jeep, going by.
And then I'd look out later, and I would see policemen, you know, walking down -- four or five of the policemen walking down the middle of the street.
And then look back and you’d see a big, you know, another big Jeep of soldiers going by. And then, other types of police cars.
So this happened daily, you know, all these military and police people going by my street. I felt like I was in a war zone because that’s what I saw every day.
And so, it was -- it was a very unsettling place. And so, I really didn’t have many Alaskans visit in that era. Or in that area, because it was -- it was crazy.
And um, then I moved out to the suburbs, and once I moved out there, it was like, I only had a couple times where I had gatherings for Alaskans.
But I did have people come over, like Tommy, and there was another woman named Anna McAlear. And um, she was very involved, and from Unalakleet, and was a real, true advocate and a real helper for people who came down from the north.
So we would have our pinochle games there.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. What sort of needs did those people have that she was helping them with?
IRENE ROWAN: Um, she would, like, um, people would come down, and this gets into the Alaskans for the Potomac, ok.
So we started -- we started meeting at her apartment to talk about what kind of -- what could we do to help the people that were coming down.
And so, we arranged to have an office put at -- at -- in the NCAI building so that people could be there to, you know, to do whatever work they had to do.
And we had people who volunteered for typing of any materials they may have. And we -- we had people who would guide them around the city.
Um, helped ’em find hotel rooms, restaurants, things of this nature. And uh, you know, sometimes walk with them or visit senators or congressmen when -- when it was needed. That type of thing.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Wow. That’s -- that’s neat that you provided that type of service.
IRENE ROWAN: Yes, and then we tried to -- and then we -- Tommy Richards was a major player with the Alaskans on the Potomac.
And, of course, like I said, he wrote many of the stories for the Tundra Times about the legislation and what was happening in Washington.
And so, he always had interesting reports for our meetings, and, you know, gave us ideas about what we could do to help and maybe who they should talk -- the Alaska groups coming down should talk to or what they should do. That type of thing, as well.
And one time, AFN decid -- or not -- no, the Tundra Times, during that era, would have the Tundra Times banquet. And they would invite various guest speakers.
For a number of years, Buffy Sainte-Marie was always invited to sing. So she was absolutely incredible and was a real Indian hero at the time.
But one year, they decided to have Jean Dixon be, um, the psychic. Come up for the -- to speak at the Tundra Times convention, or at the Tundra Times banquet after the AFN convention.
And so, Tommy asked me to go interview her with him when they went over to -- And so, we go over to her office, and we sit down, and she looks at me and she says, "You and your husband are traveling in different circles. And you are going to be divorced. You are getting a divorce."
Tommy just about fell out of his chair. He didn’t know what to do, because that’s not why we were there, but she was decided to give me a reading at the time.
So I don’t know if she was confused that she should do a reading for me or, um. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
IRENE ROWAN: But anyway, luckily Tommy took over, took control, and started asking her questions about her feelings about the claims act, whether or not it would pass. And she said yes.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So she was right about that.
IRENE ROWAN: Yeah. Yeah. Well then, she was right about my divorce, too, so -- Anyway, that happened, so.
It was totally unexpected, you know. Well, I hadn’t thought about that. I mean, it was -- I mean, you know, you never think about that, and then, wow. So.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, that’s -- that's all great information about the activities back there and -- and the types of services you were able to provide.
Because I’ve always wondered what it was like for people to leave Alaska who had never really spent much time in an urban setting and step off the airplane in D.C.
IRENE ROWAN: Oh, yeah. It, uh, it was -- you know, you had many people come down that had never been out of the state before, so -- and were not that familiar with the English language, so to speak.
Um, so it was very, uh -- so Anna was really good. She and her husband were very good about guiding those individuals through the city. You know, helping them find their hotel and learn to operate the elevator or the escalator or whatever, um, you know.
And where to have meals, and uh, which, you know, types of clothes to wear, and whatnot.
And she would -- she would laugh, and she'd say, "Well, you know, last night so-and-so from so-and -- you know, Barrow, called and said, um, 'You know, can you come and pick me up? I’m lost.'"
And so, they would get in the car, and they would go and find the person. And you know, so she’d say things like, oh, so-and-so called last night and they wanted to be picked up, and we asked, well, where are you? And the person said, I’m on the corner of no, Don’t Walk and Don’t Walk." (chuckling)
So, you know, we -- some of them had their problems, but basically, I think they -- it was ok, too. It was ok. They managed to survive. No one got terribly lost. They were always found, so.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah, and certainly, the folks that did go back to Washington had a big impact, in terms of the senators and the other congressmen.
IRENE ROWAN: Yes, they really did. You know, Alaskans were totally -- no one had, you know, knew anything about Alaska, let alone Alaska Natives, so it was a real eye opener for -- for many of the senators and congressmen and staff people.
You really met mostly with staff people. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. IRENE ROWAN: You know, staff of the senators.
And so, it was a real learning experience. Um, you know, because when you -- you know, they -- Washington basically speaks a very different language than you do here in Alaska.
They have their own, um -- everybody has their own type of language. You know, they talk about public law. They talk about Public Law 95-638, this type of thing, you know? So their whole -- it was a real language barrier in many cases.
BILL SCHNEIDER: I can see that. Yeah.
IRENE ROWAN: But you always had someone in the group that was very -- very articulate and so was able and effective in getting the message across.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Um, how would you -- Looking back at Mike Gravel and his impact on ANCSA, how would you evaluate that?
IRENE ROWAN: Um, he was a true advocate. You know, Mike Gravel realized he would not be a senator without the support of the rural areas. And basically, he really did seek the rural area out because when he went and met many of the people in the rural areas, he knew that the land was very important to the people. And education.
So he wanted to assist them in that area. So his heart was really with -- with, you know, with rural Alaska. And with Alaska in making it a better place ’cause there was a lot of work that had to be done.
And I would say that he was really, really very instrumental in getting a lot of the provisions in place.
I remember we had discussions about -- about whether or not -- about the role of the federal government. If the land claims passed, what role should the government play?
Should they have the land -- should we have reservations like they do in the Lower 48, you know? Or should it be a different system? So we had, you know, discussions like that.
Um, and some major, you know, major policy discussions, just around the dinner table. So he would take those, and he would, you know -- if he agreed, then that was his position in many of the topics.
Um, he was very loyal to the Alaska Natives. There was a period there that the governor and I think other members had made an agreement and uh, but with the Alaska Natives, and so everyone felt comfortable about the agreement that had been made.
And so, they get in the plane, or they’re getting ready to take off. And one of the key senators, Senator Jackson, was on his way to Chicago after -- after this one particular meeting.
And during the meeting, Gravel discovered or learned that they were basically -- that they basically did not tell the truth. That they were not going to abide by the agreement that was made with the Alaska Natives.
And so, he called for leadership of AFN that was still there in Washington, and told them what, you know, what was going on. And they immediately called Senator Jackson.
And Senator Jackson flew back from Chicago to meet with that group again and set the record straight that this was the direction they had agreed upon, and that’s the way they were going. So he, you know, saved the Alaska Native position in that particular meeting.
And so, there were times that he and Senator Stevens didn’t get -- didn’t always agree on, uh, certain positions, and so, um, he -- luckily, he -- it was a Democratic Congress, so he was able to get things through.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Do you remember some of the issues that they disagreed on? IRENE ROWAN: Um, not really. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
IRENE ROWAN: I mean, I know from my own standpoint, you know, it was Indian, you know, um. It was, um, the role of what you call tribes today. You know, what was their -- you know, the land in trust. BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh.
IRENE ROWAN: The federal government oversight. The role of the federal government, basically, was, you know, was one of the key areas.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And what was Gravel’s position on that?
IRENE ROWAN: Gravel sided with the Alaska Natives, and that was -- and he had Byron Mallott, who I remember worked for Mike Gravel, and Byron, you know, ’s pos -- and Mike’s position, too, in his book, I believe. His book about -- the chapter on the claims act.
Believed that, you know, there should be no reservation. It should not have the oversight of the BIA, because looking at what had happened in the Lower 48 with the Lower 48 Indians, um, would certainly may not be beneficial for Alaska Natives.
And so, he felt that the Alaska Natives should -- should be in a position to articulate what it is that they want and what they feel they need. BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm.
IRENE ROWAN: He didn’t believe in the federal government oversight. He didn’t believe in reservations, let’s say, so. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
IRENE ROWAN: So in that respect, that was one of the major issues that we talked about. And was written in his book.
And Byron would always say, if you know, let us be our own -- let us make our own decisions. If we make a mistake, it’s our mistake, type -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm. IRENE ROWAN: -- attitude, which I thought was great.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. So --
IRENE ROWAN: We would control our destiny.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So Byron was actually on Gravel’s staff at that time?
IRENE ROWAN: Oh, yes. Um-hm. Yeah. He came down and was a legislative -- Yes, he worked on the legislation in the Washington office.
But then he -- then when the -- uh, in Alaska, you know, we -- under um, the -- the war on poverty was going on, right? Remember that? War on poverty? BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh.
IRENE ROWAN: And so, a lot of programs were coming into being in Alaska. And RurAL CAP was, um, was really starting to grow.
And then Willie -- I believe it was Willie Hensley who had convinced Governor Hickel to use that group, um, as the sounding board for -- as the task force in developing some of the language that’s in the claims act.
So the RurAL CAP was made up of representatives throughout Alaska. And basically, it was -- it became the leaders of the various regions that sat on that board.
And so, Governor Hickel used that board, um, to help put the state position together. And Byron went to work for that group.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Who did? IRENE ROWAN: Byron. He left -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh.
IRENE ROWAN: He left Senator Gravel’s office to run that agency.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. And so, um, you stayed in Washington throughout the land claims period, or did you return to Alaska before it was culminated?
IRENE ROWAN: Well, I returned to Alaska with the -- the -- it was, I think, either October or November. I think it was November. The claims act passed.
And there were a lot of Alaska Natives there in Washington, and there was a large gathering. And it was -- there was this huge gathering at one of the Capitol rooms.
And so, I went into the city to attend the gathering, and it wasn’t -- well, it was a happy affair that it was over and done with.
People -- I remember the leadership, you know, a lot of the people were beginning -- particularly Charlie Edwardsen, saying that, you know, um, we’re going to get some of our land back, but it’s going to cause us problems.
And that -- that, um, in many respects, the claims act was going to be pitting against -- pitting us against each other. It had had -- it had that direction. That could be the direction that the -- that it could go.
And if you look at the claims act, there are, you know, provisions in there that do pit, you know, villages against regions and maybe regions against regions, and, you know, the division of land in portions of the settlement act.
And so, um, there was, you know, the whole question of, wow, will we keep it together? Will we still maintain our relationship as Alaska Native, as a unified Alaska Native group? Or will we begin fighting?
BILL SCHNEIDER: So after that gathering, then, you headed --
IRENE ROWAN: Oh, after -- after -- Well, at that gathering, you know, there were people from, of course, from home were there, you know. Um, Byron said, "Irene, it’s time for you to come home."
Willie said, come on, now. There’s no reason for me to be down here, you know. And John Borbridge and Mike Bradner and all these other people saying that I should return to Alaska.
And uh, so I had no money. I had two little girls. A lot of responsibility, no money. I borrowed money from my friend, and my brother and his wife were going on a trip and they needed a housesitter, so I came back to Alaska to housesit. And uh, left Washington.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh, before we get you out of Washington, let me ask one more question about that period of time. Um, how would you assess Etok Edwardsen’s impact on the Washington scene?
IRENE ROWAN: Um, he was, you know, he was a real driving force. And while he did not agree with everything, he pushed. I believe, he pushed the latest -- the leadership into -- into uh, more thought. Becoming more thoughtful, you know.
And so, he was always challenging whether or not that was a good decision or a bad decision. Or a good direction or a bad direction.
So he was a very challenging force with the leadership that was back, you know, that would come back.
And so, he also was very, uh, he was also very astute in -- in knowing the political process in Washington. You know, who you should talk to and how to approach them. He was -- so I would say he was pretty effective.
Willie likes to say, you know, because he was so outspoken that, you know, oftentimes people preferred to work with, you know, another Alaska Native other than Charlie. Because Charlie was so outspoken and bold and demanding and -- BILL SCHNEIDER: All right.
IRENE ROWAN: So, but I would say he was very effective. BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. IRENE ROWAN: In different ways. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Yeah.
IRENE ROWAN: He stopped -- I believe he stopped Vice President Agnew at the airport. And walked up to him, and, you know, asked for his support, you know. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
IRENE ROWAN: I can’t remember exactly what the story is, but I remember that.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, that’s pretty bold.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Ok, so you packed up the girls and headed back to? Was it Anchorage, or was it --?
IRENE ROWAN: Yes, I came back to Alaska. I came back to Anchorage. BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm.
IRENE ROWAN: And um, I couldn’t get a job. BILL SCHNEIDER: Why?
IRENE ROWAN: I don’t know. Um, they offered me a job at AFN (Alaska Federation of Natives) as a part-time secretary. BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh my.
IRENE ROWAN: And um, so I said no thanks to that.
And I was still married, basically, at the time, and so my, um -- Michael had set up this public opinion company. And so, he set me up. He got a contract in Alaska, and so he hired me to -- to manage the contract, and uh, and so then, I ran his business up here for a number of years.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. But didn’t you -- IRENE ROWAN: So that’s when I was -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Uh, and -- IRENE ROWAN: That’s when I was -- Pardon?
BILL SCHNEIDER: I keep interrupting you. That’s what you were up to then. Um, where does the work in Klukwan in setting up their corporation come in?
IRENE ROWAN: Ok, once the claims act passed, we were all to enroll. I enrolled to Sealaska and identified Klukwan as my village, and so I became enrolled to Klukwan. BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm.
IRENE ROWAN: And so, after the enrollment, you know, then I discovered that, you know, that Klukwan was not really a village corporation, but it had been a former -- it had been a reservation, or a reserve.
And so, there was this -- so um, the leadership of the Klukwan, Inc. that was identified to -- was identified under ANCSA, the original ANCSA, of Klukwan Village, um, was basically a tribal government. And they were not -- and the shareholders in 1973 voted to retain reserve lands and not participate under ANCSA. BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh.
IRENE ROWAN: So they were basically -- so they were, um, a tribal government, basically, under the -- and remained so.
And uh, they had a membership of about 80 people, whereas 253 people had enrolled to Klukwan, Inc. Or were enrolled to Klukwan, Inc. and made shareholders by the government, of course.
So um, I was one of the 253 that -- that -- that -- You know, I didn’t live in the village, so I was not a tribal member of the village.
So a number of us were disenfranchised, and were not benefitting from the claims act. And I kept asking the solicitor, the Department of Interior solicitor, every chance I -- I went to all the gatherings that -- the meetings that were held here in Anchorage.
And I would meet with the solicitor, and I would ask him how I could become -- how I could get out of the village of Klukwan.
And every time he said, "You can’t. You’re stuck." So I was stuck there.
And then, in ’75 I went to Haines, and a number of people asked to get together. And um, this gets into my village corporation days now. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
IRENE ROWAN: Is that what you’re moving into? BILL SCHNEIDER: Sure.
IRENE ROWAN: Ok, so 19 -- ok. So 1975, we got Haines, and we -- I meet with a number of different shareholders, and we decide that we will ask the, um, Klukwan board for a shareholder meeting so that we could, you know, elect officers.
And we would ask the, um, board -- we would -- we would ask the shareholders to, uh, to become a village corporation with ANCSA benefits, as opposed to the former reserve.
So in June of 1975, I was -- nine of us were elected to the board. And after the board, they asked that I -- or they nominated me as the president of Klukwan, Inc.
And my task was to get us recognized as a village corporation under ANCSA, and to protect the Chilkat Indian Village IRA. Their rights and land. BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm.
IRENE ROWAN: So should I get into my story of being the village corporation president? BILL SCHNEIDER: Yes, please.
IRENE ROWAN: Ok. Um, all right. So I’m elected, and off -- and I’m living in Anchorage, and I’m, uh -- after the shareholders meeting in June, I go down to -- and Donna Willard, my sister-in-law become -- had helped me talk with the people and the council and getting set up for the shareholders meeting.
So she -- after the meeting of the, um -- and after the election, and we nominate the board. I mean, we nominate the officers of the corporation, we hire her as a corporate attorney.
She was living in -- she had just moved to Anchorage, so we were both living in Anchorage. And we stopped in Juneau on our way back and met with John Borbridge, the president of Sealaska, to let him know that we were the new leadership and that this was the direction we were going to go.
And he said that he would be happy -- Sealaska was very happy to help us and let him know what they can do. And he offered his Washington lead counsel as something that we could use and recommended that we head to Washington to be included in the Omnibus Bill of 1976 that was being drafted.
And then we went over to the BIA and met with the area director, Clarence Antioquia, and Tommy Richards was then working there, as well.
And so, we met with them, and the BIA said they could give us some funds to travel to Washington to meet with the BIA to see whether or not there was a governmental solution to our mission of becoming a village corporation under ANCSA. And, um, so basically, they came forward with the traveling funds.
So we went back to Washington, and the BIA said no, there was no governmental authority to do that. And recommended that we, then, visit our legislative -- our legislators at the time.
So, of course, it was Senator Gravel, and he assigns a guy by the name of Don Argetsinger to help me with our legislation. And so, then Don then directs us to meet with -- and helps get us into Senator Stevens’ office, and Congressman Young’s office, and then the staff for the Interior Committee, and staff -- in the House and in the Senate.
So we then start our -- you know, and then the Sealaska attorney helps draft our legislation. So that’s in the fall of 1975.
And then, we are -- we do make the -- we become Section 9 of the Omnibus Bill of 1976, which allows us to, you know, it just allows us to become a village corporation.
So, in January of ’76, we officially become a congressio - you know, we become a village corporation under ANCSA. And um, the act required that we, um, to become -- before we could become a village corporation with the ANCSA benefits, we had to quitclaim to the IRA the lands that had been given to -- given under ANCSA. It was 800 acres of land.
So we had to quitclaim that land back to the IRA. And um, and any moneys we had received from any of those lands. Because they had a lease agreement with U.S. Steel, ok.
And that’s how we were able to get in under ANCSA. Because under Section G of ANCSA, all lease -- all existing agreements had to be -- land agreements, had to be acknowledged. And so, the Chilkat Indian Village had a lease agreement with U.S. Steel for exploring, um, iron ore under the surface of the village area.
Which was signed by my mother. Can you believe that?
Anyway, that lease -- so that lease agreement had to be acknowledged. And that meant that Klukwan, Inc. did not have any land, because it really belonged to the Chilkat Indian Village. So, but it had been conveyed to the Klukwan, Inc. and so that was why we had to quitclaim the land back to the village. Back to the IRA.
So we did all of that. Or no -- So that was part of the legislation. And then we had one year to select our land. So I come back to Alaska from that wonderful event, and that was in January of 1976.
So then I -- President Borbridge called me and said, "Listen, I’m sending staff up to help you get prepared as the village corporation." So he sends three staff members.
And one was the attorney, and another one was a shareholder relations person, and the third was the lands man, manager.
And they spent a whole day telling me what I had to do. One day training.
So it was like, set up an accounting system, you know, um, begin the land claims process, the land selection process, issue stock certificates. Things of that nature. Everything that a corporation has to do. So I had to do all of that. So I had to get all of that done.
And then, um, talking about the -- how to relate to shareholders, and how important it is that they be involved and understand their role. And um, then letting them know their rights and responsibilities, and then to issue stock and to have a shareholders meeting, and all those other responsibilities to shareholders.
And then the third, of course, was the land selection. And uh, given the map of our withdrawal area, and how to read the maps and all that. It was just incredible.
It was like eight hours, and it was just horrendous. So I had to -- so they gave me all that information, and then I had to turn it around because I had to explain it all to the board.
So the beginning of the Klukwan, Inc. as an ANCSA corporation is mostly in resolution form because I had to do everything. But I did everything. I worked with the attorney in developing resolutions for the board to act on.
So that was really hard. Because we had to write the bylaws and oh, you name it, we had to do it, so. So that we did.
And then, we’re moving right along and discover in May that there’s no land for us to select. I had hired a consulting firm to research the land status or land conveyance, our withdrawal area, rather, in the Haines area where we were to select our lands.
And then I had also hired my vice president of the corporation to work on the land selection. And his job was to go over to BLM and learn how to read the maps and, you know, what one has to do to be able to select the land.
So I hired him, and he -- very bright, and I knew that BLM would be very -- would be the best learning area for him, because they would take the time to explain everything. Which was very helpful. The best thing I ever did, I think, for the corporation.
Because he comes back and reports to me that there’s no land to select, that the State of Alaska had been TA’d all the -- our area, uh, land in our area, because it was outside the national forest, and it was the only land, really, available, in Southeastern for them to select for their statehood entitlement.
So we had no land. And the consultants come back, and they say, "No, it’s wrong. He is wrong."
And I -- they were furious with me because I said, "I’d like you to go back, um, one more time and make -- and then give me another report." And so they went back and hat in -- you know, head down, they said, "We’re wrong. There is no land to select."
So I was then on a plane in June, I think it was, to get legislation to allow us to select land elsewhere in Southeastern.
So I called up Senator Gravel’s office, and then I made appointments to -- with Gravel’s office, Stevens’ office, and Young’s office, and the Interior Committee chief of staff. And I get to the committee chief, and he says, "Nope, sorry, Irene. We are not doing any more ANCSA legislation this year. We had the big bill in January, and we’re not doing anything anymore. That was the end."
So I go back to Gravel’s office, and at this time, there was this story that was breaking about this -- broke about this secretary that couldn’t type, you know, it was a big scandalous affair in Washington, D.C.
And so, anyway, uh, Gravel -- I report to Gravel what the committee had said. Well, he said, "Ok, stay the weekend." And he said, "And plan to come out to my house on Sunday, and we’ll talk some more."
So we go out to the Gravel house on Sunday, and Sam Kito and Willie Hensley, as well as my vice president Bill Thomas and my attorney Don Willard, the five of us head out to the senator’s home.
And um, we’re walking in the place, and, of course, there are TV cameras all over the place, you know, and filming as we walk in. It was quite funny.
So we go in, and who should be there but Senator Haskell, Senator Bennett Johnston that were part of the -- they were chair and co-chair of the Interior Committee. And Lloyd Meeds, he was chair of the House Indian Affairs Committee.
Um, so, we sit down, and we have this wonderful meal prepared by my friend -- by Rita Gravel. We sit down, and so Bennett Johnston looks over and says, "Ok. Why are you here in Washington? Why are you down from Alaska?"
So I get to tell him my story, and I -- you know, my woefulness of the no response from the committee chair, or committee chief of staff.
And he said, "Well, ok." So he said, "Just call the office on Mond --" Call him on Monday. So I said, "Ok." So I called him on Monday, and he's -- and calls the chief on Monday. And he said, "I don’t know what you said, I don’t know what you did, and I don’t want to know. But, ok. You can have your legislation."
And so, we gave him a copy of the legislation we wanted, and uh, met with Senator Stevens and again, Congressman Young, and let ’em know that we were going forward with the legislation to allow us to withdraw lands without -- to allow us to outside of our withdrawal area.
So, that -- and then, um, so when we leave, and that legislation was being worked on and going forward, and then I get a call from Roy Huhndorf. He was with the -- he was president of CIRI (Cook Inlet Regional Corporation). And we had had lunch before.
And CIRI, of course, as you know, could not -- the state had selected the majority of land in the Anchorage area, so he had no land to select here.
But, when I had gone -- at some point along the way, the commissioner of DNR, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, called and said that he would be happy to make land available in the Haines area if I wanted to select it.
And so I went -- over lunch, I told Roy that’s what was offered by the commissioner. And so, we have lunch, and we go our merry way. And then I get a call from the commissioner a couple of days later, saying that, "Oh dear, Irene, I misspoke, there is no land for you to take in -- I can’t give you land in the Haines area."
So, turns out, if they had allowed us to select their TA’d lands in Haines, then they also had to let Cook Inlet select in the Anchorage area. So it wasn’t in their best interest to have that happen.
So anyway, so Roy said that they had some legislation that they were trying to get through, allowing them to have a land exchange. And their legislative bill had been attached to a Park Service -- some Park Service language, and that language was not going to pass the Senate.
And so, could they attach their language to our bill? And I said, "Well, there -- if it wasn’t a problem to the Interior Committee, I had no problems with it either."
So, of course, I had to get permission from the board for that. So anyway, they became -- they became part of our legislation. BILL SCHNEIDER: Wow.
IRENE ROWAN: And then, finally, it’s September, and boy, our legislation -- Senator -- I mean, Congressman Don Young had asked for unanimous consent of our legislations. Very exciting. And so, the bill was coming up, and could we come back and do some work back there.
And so I go back with my attorney, we go back there, and fourth -- and Congressman Young says, the legislation is going to be on the floor at noon tomorrow.
And he was only waiting -- he was waiting to hear from the Department of Agriculture. Well, the Forest Service. Um, he wanted to hear -- he needed their position.
If they objected, and then our legislation was dead. So he was hopeful that they would not object, but the language would be on the floor at twelve o’clock the next day.
So then, we go back to the hotel. I get a phone call from the commissioner of -- from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources saying that they could no longer support the Klukwan legislation. Sorry. They were pulling our support.
So then a few minutes later, I get a call from the Department of Interior, and they sent their three people over from there to talk to me about what I was going to do.
And I just said, "I’m going forward." You know? "We’re this far. I’m not giving up."
I get a call from Roy Huhndorf asking if I would withdraw our language from the bill, and I said no and that we were going to go forward.
And so, by then, I’m an absolute wreck because this is, you know, 5:00, 5:30, and we -- and the work day is over in Washington, and so -- but it’s still a time change difference for Alaska.
So I call up the regional forester in Juneau and beg for his support in getting the Forest Service or the Department of Agriculture not to object.
So anyway, we wait the night, and the next day we go up to the Hill. And we’re standing there with Congressman Young, waiting for action in half an hour.
But meanwhile, the -- so at 11:30, the Forest Service comes up with the letter of no objection. So at noon time, our legislation passes. KAREN BREWSTER: Phew. IRENE ROWAN: Yeah. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
IRENE ROWAN: And then -- and then in October, it -- the law passes the Senate. So again, and so it passes the Senate.
And so, meantime, we have to scurry because we only have -- we don’t have much time left to complete our land selection.
And Champion Timber had a lease on a little island called Long Island, and they -- they um, gave their lease back to the Forest Service. And I got a call from the regional forester saying, "Hey, there’s this land that is now available, if you’re interested."
So my nephew worked with the Sealaska forester, and they put together the land selection for that area. And so, in January, we, um, finish our land selection for that, for the Long Island lands, and the board passes it.
And so, I’m absolutely thrilled. I was exhausted. I was tired. An absolute wreck by that time, um, for going through all of these battles, and -- but meanwhile, you know, I’ve had a shareholders meeting, too, and I’ve just got to tell you about the shareholders meeting because it was a contentious meeting.
And um, it was very difficult because the majority -- my vice president and I were the only two members of the nine -- of the board of nine that did not speak fluent Tlingit.
And we had a lot of -- the majority of our shareholders were still Tlingit speakers. So um, all that had to be interpreted at the shareholders meeting because it was held in two languages. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.
IRENE ROWAN: And it was a very contentious meeting, and my uncle and my mom got into a major fight, and so -- Ah. So politically, family, everything, you know.
So there was just a lot of pressure. Any question, should we do this or should we not, blah, blah, blah, you know.
So anyway, um, in January they adopt the land selection, and then they turn around and say, we no longer want you as our president, so. BILL SCHNEIDER: Wow. Um.
IRENE ROWAN: But they didn’t have the authority to do what I did. BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh, huh. Huh.
IRENE ROWAN: So, but it was just political.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Right. So how did -- what was going on with CIRI? Was CIRI still involved with you on that land selection?
IRENE ROWAN: Well, CIRI, you know, they wrote their own legislation. They had an attorney that was -- and they just put it as, you know, a rider to our legislation.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh, oh, ok. So they were -- they had other land that they would get?
IRENE ROWAN: Well, they -- it allowed them to do, you know, to trade lands. It allowed them to do other things. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
IRENE ROWAN: It was a beginning process for them in their whole land situation.
BILL SCHNEIDER: This is, um, this is really interesting for us, because it’s one of the challenges that, of ANCSA was, those places where there wasn’t land that could be selected.
And um, just because of state selections and federal withdrawals and that sort of thing. So, it’s an interesting example.
IRENE ROWAN: So yeah, let’s see, that legislation was? Oh boy. It was, hm. ’94, something or other. But, it’s in the land claims book. Bob Arnold. BILL SCHNEIDER: Ok.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, so that -- IRENE ROWAN: It was --
KAREN BREWSTER: That was not part of the Omnibus Bill? That was its own separate bill? IRENE ROWAN: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.
IRENE ROWAN: It was Public Law 94-456. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. BILL SCHNEIDER: Ok.
IRENE ROWAN: And it’s October of ’96. Ah, 1976. KAREN BREWSTER: ’76. Ok.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So what did you do then? Besides take a deep breath.
IRENE ROWAN: Well, uh, ok. I, um, made some major changes in my life. Before -- let’s see, and I -- so in ’75, um, I started a -- I started a new company called Kish Tu, Inc. with Susan Ruddy.
And we, um, we formed this company to do public information dissemination. And we basic -- and then we bid on the, uh, contract to re -- the public opinion -- public affairs contract to reopen the enrollment for ANCSA, so.
So we did the enrollment campaign. Worldwide enrollment campaign.
And that’s the first time that women, two women, had ever been given a contract of that size, money-wise. You know, women really weren’t in business then, so. BILL SCHNEIDER: Wow.
IRENE ROWAN: So I did that. I was doing that. And then we did -- we had other contracts, so.
And then after -- then after I, you know, healed from my whole drama of Klukwan, my friend that I had met while lobbying in Washington for the legislation, he had been working for the Indian Affairs Committee in the Senate, and was going to be starting his own company and did so, um, became the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs under the Carter administration.
And he called me up and asked me to go to work for him on Alaska issues in Washington. And I said no.
But then he came up to Alaska for an AFN convention and talked me into going back, so I became a special assistant for Alaska programs to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in Washington.
And became a member of the Alaska Task Force, which was, oh, which was preparing new regulations for the implementation of ANCSA and the beginning process of ANILCA, the Alaska National Indian Lands Conservation Act (Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act). So I was -- I was a part of that task force. KAREN BREWSTER: Huh. BILL SCHNEIDER: Wow.
IRENE ROWAN: And then, came back to Alaska because my daughters did not like Washington. And so, to keep the family together, I moved back to Anchorage.
And walked into AFN to say hello to Janie (Leask), and she said, "What are you doing?" And I said, "I’m looking for a job." And she said, "Ok, start on Monday." So I went to work for AFN. BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm.
IRENE ROWAN: As their lands person in the implementation of ANILCA, so.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Wow. Uh, can we talk a little bit more about the Alaska Task Force back in D.C. and your role in that?
IRENE ROWAN: The Alaska Task Force was basically made up -- we were the staff people to the various assistant secretaries. Well, actually -- well -- And so we, as staff people, it was made up of a representative from Energy, Fish, Wildlife & Parks, BLM, or Land and Water, um, and Indian Affairs. And I think there were three representatives from the secretary’s office. BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm-mm.
IRENE ROWAN: And so, uh, we were to, um -- I worked -- my interest was mostly on ANCSA, and to tell you the truth.
I was at a cocktail party, and the solicitor comes up to me, the solicitor of the department (Interior Department). Says, "You know, Irene, I have all of these lawsuits against me in Alaska. Can you help me get rid of them?" And I said, "Well, ok, I can certainly try, but I gotta ask my boss."
And so I went over -- 'cause Forrest (Gerard) and our solicitor, Indian Affairs solicitor, was also there. So I went over, and I told Forest what the solicitor had asked for, and he said, "Ok, sure."
And the solicitor, the Indian Affairs solicitor, laughed and he said, "He would never ask you to do that." And I said, "Yes, well he just did, come on. So, come with me."
And we went over, and I told -- I asked the solicitor to repeat his request. And he did. And so the Indian Affairs solicitor had two attorneys working with me. And um, solving a lot of the lawsuits that were before the department in various issues.
And, uh, then we made agree -- you know, so we developed legislation that was part -- that became part of ANILCA, land claims, like the whole Koniag legislation which was there. Some other pieces of legislation.
So anyway, with the task force, I was able to, you know, take those pieces of those agreements to the task force and get them included as legislation. Uh, pieces of legislation to be part of ANILCA.
And subsistence was one of the major portions of ANILCA. Um, and --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah, would you talk about that? And Title 8 and your involvement in that?
IRENE ROWAN: I had really no involvement. BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm.
IRENE ROWAN: My position -- and I was accused by my boss of being paternalistic, because, um, I thought we had a chance for subsistence, you know, because it was -- it was -- You know, I thought we had a really good chance of getting the support. And we had the support of the department.
And I thought we could’ve stayed strong, because, um, one day Guy (Martin) at one of our assistant secretary meetings, my boss could not -- my boss -- my boss, Forrest Gerard, the assistant secretary, was not always able to make the assistant secretary meetings, so he sent me in his stead.
So I would sit at the table with the assistant secretaries, with the undersecretary. Um, discuss, you know, various issues.
And so, um, that was absolutely incredible, you know, sitting there being an assistant secretary, basically. And so, anyway, um, we discussed a lot of issues there.
I forgot where I was going with this. KAREN BREWSTER: Subsistence.
BILL SCHNEIDER: We were talking about the subsistence and uh.
IRENE ROWAN: Sitting at that table, first, Guy Martin comes in and says, "Calista won the easement lawsuit." And the solicitor then announces that ANCSA is Indian law, and wherever possible, the department should support the position of the Indians.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Wow.
IRENE ROWAN: So I thought -- So anyway, but the position of AFN was to -- was the rural residents language.
BILL SCHNEIDER: You mean, in terms of rural residents having priority for subsistence?
IRENE ROWAN: Yes, rather than the Alaska Natives.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. Well, including Alaska Natives, yeah. IRENE ROWAN: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: But language.
IRENE ROWAN: The language. The language saying Alaska Natives versus rural residents. BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh.
IRENE ROWAN: So anyway, I felt that, um, there was not much I could do, you know. They had -- they -- they had taken the state position, so I had to follow their lead, and so there was nothing I could do at the department. BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh.
KAREN BREWSTER: So your position was that you preferred the Alaska Native language versus the rural resident language? Is that what you’re saying? IRENE ROWAN: Yes.
KAREN BREWSTER: And can you explain why?
IRENE ROWAN: Because under the statehood legislation of the Statehood Act, it said that the hunting and fishing rights would be decided at a later date, but it did recognize hunting and fishing rights of Alaska Natives. BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.
IRENE ROWAN: You know, because, you know, those rights would be discussed at a later date, and so, here, you know, um --
And it wasn’t until ANILCA, or when it went before ANCSA, you know, that was one of the areas that they weren’t able to -- to agree on. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
IRENE ROWAN: When they were talking about the ANCSA legislation. So it came up under ANILCA.
So, and I really didn’t like the word subsistence. I don’t know. We could’ve said traditional lifestyle. I don’t know.
But anyway, so I think the -- so the feds really didn’t have much to say with it. I think it was more, we, you know, made little changes.
Like I thought that bartering was very important, because we, you know, we traded foods. You know, in our area, my mom would trade red seaweed for black seaweed.
But instead of saying trading, they said barter. You know. So there were word changes that I probably worked on, but nothing -- the policy decision had been made.
But I thought we could have -- I thought we should’ve argued it more in the department, because of the Calista lawsuit and it becoming Indian law.
But could we have overcome the state? I don’t know. I don’t know if we could’ve overruled the state position.
BILL SCHNEIDER: I mean I -- That certainly has become contentious with the dual management system, and the federal government providing a rural subsistence preference, but the state not giving any segment of the population the priority under -- under the act.
IRENE ROWAN: Um-hm. So my -- my langu -- my special legislation under ANILCA is allotments.
I got to, um, help write the language, and walk it through the department and getting all the assistant secretaries to approve it and write the transmittal letter to the Hill. That was really fun.
BILL SCHNEIDER: A big job, too.
IRENE ROWAN: Um-hm. But with the Alaska Task Force, we did -- you know, those were some of the things that we did. We -- we worked on, um, certain issues that became part of ANILCA.
But the Alaska Task Force also, you know, we were the department -- I mean, the agencies had put together EIS reports. And they would be, like, two inches thick. I mean, give me a break.
So they would be delivered to my office at ten o'clock in the morning. And I would have until the end of the business day to write my comments on that report.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh, gee.
IRENE ROWAN: And it was -- it was, you know. And most of the time, it was just scanning, you know.
Um, I just remember that they wrote that there was nothing along the Yukon River, you know. It was this pristine river.
I said, hey, wait a minute, that’s where, you know, you have boats running up and down that river. And then you even have that steamship there. Not the -- whatever that tour company is that goes up and down that river.
And so -- but it was -- it was, reviewing those reports and making comments. And then the comments, of course, had to go through the assistant secretary’s office, and then they had to push them forward.
But as a part of the "Alaska staff," quote (of the) Alaska Task Force. Smaller task force. We worked on, you know, the specific language, and we worked with the different --
I worked, you know, as well as land and water, um, on like the NANA people had a language. I remember Bering Straits coming in to visit, the Chugach people, different Alaska groups would come in. And they would be asking for certain -- certain things.
And I always had to have them to leave paper, because I really didn’t understand a lot of what they were asking for, you know? And then I’d have to take those and argue their approval at the task force meetings.
But it was exciting. It was a very exciting time. Let me tell you. I loved it. Loved the challenges.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. And so, how long did that last? What was the next thing that you got into?
IRENE ROWAN: Um, well, then I came back to Alaska again, you know, and my daughters were very happy. And they were then getting much older and into -- into those very difficult years of high school, you know. And so, they needed a lot more time and attention.
So I, you know, after I left -- I left Washington, came back, went to AFN, and then went to work for the state, and then, um, decided to go back to Klukwan, Inc.
And I went back and became the chairman of the board. And uh, that was fun. We were really -- It was great, because I got to be, you know, the land, remember the land? The Champion timber lease sale? BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm-mm.
IRENE ROWAN: They had left behind these incredible trees, so I submit that I was one of those guilty ones in having our corporation cut down those trees. But um, we were going great guns. We had a, um, tree cutting -- well, where we were harvesting and road building.
And then we did our own sorting. And we did our own stevedoring. And we did our sales of the logs.
And so, we had companies set up to do all of that. And then we also had our own mill in Washington.
So we were -- we had -- we were doing really, really well, because we controlled our trees from the ground up, and then we replanted.
And so, those trees are coming -- are growing in beautifully. Where we cut, they’re now filled with wonderful trees. BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm.
IRENE ROWAN: I left the board in 2000, and in about 2002, 2003, they went down.
One of our companies, they -- our construction company, you know, and basically bankrupt a company.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm. So hard for businesses to maintain themselves, particularly in rural areas.
IRENE ROWAN: You know, but there were things that you, you know, and you look back of it, what -- what more could you have done? I mean, being a teacher, right, a business teacher, I always felt that it was important for the board members to know how to read financial reports.
So I would have our financial manager, um, have, you know, sessions before board meetings on financial reports, on reading financial reports, reading and understanding financial reports. ’Cause I thought that was very important.
You know, things that -- that were very difficult, you know, I had as chairman of the board, I was able to, you know, bring in the -- whether or not it was an attorney or the financial people, or the land person, you know, bring them in to spend more time so that each board member understood exactly what it was that we were discussing and why and, you know, form their own opinions as to how to resolve or how to go forward.
I don’t think many of the boards did that. I think it’s easier -- you know, it certainly would’ve been easier for just management to come in, give us a report, and the board say yes or no. But I felt that it was important for our board members to know what they were voting on.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, over the years, you’ve certainly been a very strong supporter of ANCSA and the benefits of ANCSA.
Could you comment some about the positive and negative aspects of the corporate solution that ANCSA provided?
IRENE ROWAN: Well, I can. Again, it’s 50 years later, right? And I was very young and idealistic. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. IRENE ROWAN: When I started.
And I believed that we as Alaska Natives should have our land. And that that was who we were.
And, you know, you go back and, you know, you look at Willie Hensley, you look at Emil Notti, you look at any of the leaders at the time. We were all the same. We grew up living off the land. That’s what we had in common.
You know, that -- that was our -- you know, my mom made us our clothes. Our shoes were moccasins. You know, our -- our -- we had moose hide jackets. We had rabbit skin hats and mittens.
So we had, basically, you know, in the beginning, we all had that in common, that we were, we lived off the land. That is no longer the case. So um, it’s different in that respect.
So my whole idealistic was -- and I wanted -- and another dream of mine was, because of, um, the old people. We call them the old people. Believed in education.
They believed that the younger generation should go on to school and learn as much as they could. And so, education became very important.
And you see, then, each of the corporations, the 12 corporations, have foundations. And those foundations have set up the scholarship funds.
So we all had that in common. So that education was very important to our elders. And therefore, each of the corporations set up a foundation to encourage shareholders to continue their education. So we now have a number of attorneys and doctors and professors. A lot of them with PhDs.
And then, so I thought, you know, but we haven’t really concentrated so much on the technical areas or in the skilled fields. You know, uh, where, which I think is where we really need to be.
And this is what I found when I was the chairman of Klukwan, Inc. Man, it was so incredible! What they did with their shareholders is, they wanted their shareholders to be the truck drivers and, you know, and to be the people working in the field.
And uh, so they hired the unions to come in and teach their shareholders those skills, which was great. They didn’t have -- they didn’t go union, but they used the union to teach the people the skills.
And so, when I get into Klukwan, Inc., you know, and we have all these truck driving positions, and we have graders, and you name it, we’ve got all these positions. And they’re not filled by any of our shareholders.
So I tried to get management to get a union, uh, person to come in and -- into Haines to teach our shareholders that wanted to learn to drive a truck. You know, to give driving lessons, that type of thing.
But I don’t know. You know, there’s so many of those types of positions available, but I don’t think we put enough emphasis on those for training purposes.
Because I know that in the past, they had to go to Oregon or someplace else, in order to get training to be a truck driver. But I think it’s changed today, so. But I don’t know.
Um, some idealism of, yes, Alaska Natives should own the land, and luckily we own -- own some of the land. Can we continue the ownership when we have shareholders that have never experienced living off the land and so don’t have the same appreciation or value? That’s rather frightening to me, you know.
We have a number of Alaska Natives who are top business leaders in the state, and we have, um, people that are, you know, standing on the street, you know, that are homeless. And I look at that situation, and I think, what could we do?
And one thing that really bothers me is that, you know, a lot of those people, um, never had a full-time job, so they don’t get social security.
So what do they live on, when they’ve never been able to have access to a full-time job? Or even a seasonal job that pays into social security?
So they get to the age of retirement, and there’s, you know -- and they don’t, like I said, you know, many of them may have been laborer 'cause that’s what they got in their community. But they -- but they become the truck driver. Could they become those supervisory position holders? I don’t think so, because I don’t think they have the training.
So, um, so we have a real disparity between our shareholders. We have those that are well educated and those that don’t have the same opportunities for work. And then I don’t know what happened to the state --
BILL SCHNEIDER: And the disparity. Hm-mm.
IRENE ROWAN: Yeah. I don’t know what happened to the educational system. When I was out in the Bethel area, you know, when I was a teacher out there, we complained about the -- getting students from the BIA schools that could not really read and write, you know.
And then in 2000, umpteen years after I had left the Bethel region, I’m teaching a course, “Native Perspectives,” at the University of Alaska Anchorage. And my course, my students, which are made up -- the majority of my students are Alaska Natives.
And I was absolutely shocked and appalled to hear their stories. And I keep thinking, where -- why has Alaska not held its educators accountable?
These kids were -- would go to school. They told me that they went to school, and their teachers, um, you know, would come in, put their feet -- you know, a teacher would come in, put his feet on the desk and, you know, start reading the paper.
And they would sit there, patiently waiting. And finally, they asked him one day, "Well, aren’t you going to teach us anything?" And he said, "Why? Why bother? You’re not going anywhere."
And this was in 2000. And I had been a teacher in the Bethel regions in the '60’s. What happened? How can it still be happening today?
Why are these children still being neglected? And why aren’t the teachers being held accountable? You know? It just burns me, so. I -- I --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah, it’s terrible.
IRENE ROWAN: Isn’t it? You know. But the attitude. The attitude. Like, I had one student say, now she was a freshman in college, and she had come from the Bristol Bay region.
And she was light skinned, and she was standing there, and the principal of the school was talking to a teacher. And the teacher was complaining about the students and their, uh, ignorance or stupidity.
And then the principal says, "Oh, you know, don’t get too excited. You know, they’re not going to go anywhere. They’re just Native people." And, you know, I think, how can you put up with that? You know?
Luckily, I see one way, but, you know, a couple of my students as leaders today. And you can bet your bottom dollar that they don’t put up with that kind of attitude anymore.
And they’re in very powerful positions. And I'm at this and that. BILL SCHNEIDER: Right.
IRENE ROWAN: But we need more people who will stand up and say, "Hey, State of Alaska, you are putting millions of dollars into rural education and you don’t hold your people accountable? Give me a break."
BILL SCHNEIDER: Hm. Right. Right. Um, Irene, let me ask you another question in the little time we have left.
Um, you know, Megan Sullivan has talked a lot about the corporations and the issues involved with identification and how important corporations are or aren’t in terms of Alaska Native identity. And I wondered what your thoughts were on that.
IRENE ROWAN: Well, I found that as time has been passing us by here, it was very easy in the beginning. You remember that as chairman of Klukwan, Inc. I gave an identification card to the shareholders saying that they were Klukwan, Inc. shareholders. So that was very helpful so that they could use it for whatever purpose.
But, um, now, um, now you don’t have the majority of young people being shareholders. So what kind of identity do they have? What do they use?
Because they’re not recognized as shareholders, and they’re not recognized as tribal members, because before you had to be one quarter or more to be a tribal member.
So I don’t know, um, how -- and then you have the urban/rural issue. You know, is a person who lives in Anchorage or a person who lives in the village more traditional than a person who lives in an urban area?
Um, so it is an issue, and I don’t know how -- how -- how -- I used -- in-- in the old days, when I was into the public information process, we used to identify, uh, traditional, transitional, and modern Natives, you know.
But I would say we don’t really have traditional Natives today. We have more transitional and modern Natives.
And so, they’re going to have to come together for common areas of relating. And what that will be, I don’t know. We had --
BILL SCHNEIDER: You talked before about, yeah --
IRENE ROWAN: So it is a problem.
BILL SCHNEIDER: You’ve talked before about your grandkids. Hm-mm.
IRENE ROWAN: My grandkids. Yes. My grandkids don’t -- you know, would not, could not get descendent shares from Sealaska, because they weren’t -- they’re not a quarter or more. So they weren’t -- they weren’t accepted.
So I gave ’em shares. And my, you know, some of the shares that I had. So -- And they’re original shares. So they are now shareholders of Sealaska because of the original shares I’d given them.
But they wouldn’t, couldn’t get them under, you know, because of the blood quantum, under the descendency shares, so. That’s been a problem for them.
But they, um, they -- my grandson was a youth advisor to the Sealaska board, so that was pretty exciting for him. And my granddaughter got her degree, and now works for a tribal government on St. Paul.
So it’s amazing, you know, but, uh, how they go back to our, you know. But they were raised as Tlingits, rather than Irish, I guess. BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm.
KAREN BREWSTER: So Irene, do you think the ANCSA corporations are going to address this shareholder and descendent issue? How they might address that in the future?
IRENE ROWAN: Uh, some of them already have. You know, Calista, you don’t have to -- they do not require a blood quantum. I think the only two that require a blood quantum are, uh, oh, Doyon and Sealaska.
KAREN BREWSTER: So the 1991 amendments, where people born since 1971, um, solved some of that?
IRENE ROWAN: Yes. Now, but the -- we had a panel discussion on that, and Calista took the position from the 1991 amendments, that they would enroll members. And they did not have a blood quantum requirement.
They have a descendency. You have to prove your ancestors.
So Sealaska, on the other hand, being very bureaucratic, took the blood quantum language, one quarter or more, for their descendency, for their descendents.
So they only allow those Alaska Natives, or those Tlingits or Haidas, that have a quarter or more as descendants. So my grandchildren did not qualify.
But now, Sealaska is coming up with a vote to the shareholders, or a question to the shareholders, should they change that to become -- should they change -- get rid of the blood quantum requirement?
Because to be an Alaska Native, we didn’t -- we didn’t have any way of measuring your blood quantum, right, so it’s a Western requirement. So I would say that the --
BILL SCHNEIDER: And I think it’s been -- IRENE ROWAN: Uh --
BILL SCHNEIDER: I’m sorry, I interrupted you.
IRENE ROWAN: Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t end -- I -- I -- I didn’t fin -- I didn’t hear the end of your comment.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh, um, well I know that it’s been pointed out that in terms of Sealaska that so many of the Alaska Natives who are Tlingit living in Southeast Alaska now are less than one quarter, uh, Native by blood quantum.
So the population of Native people is changing very rapidly in terms of physical makeup, if you want to say. But then the question is, are they any less Native? Of course not.
IRENE ROWAN: That’s right. I mean, that’s always been my feeling. You know, that’s basically what I was raised to believe.
And um, you know, I came from a society that -- that discriminated. The Tlingits discriminated against my white blood, and then the whites, you know, discriminated against the Native blood. So you know, what are you?
You know, you’ve got no identity whatsoever. You’re not accepted in either society.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Um, well, you certainly -- you certainly have paved the way in multiple societies to greater understanding of people and their goals and their rights. And your career is exemplary.
IRENE ROWAN: Oh, thank you. Thank you. But basically --
BILL SCHNEIDER: I had one other question. Karen, do you have another question?
KAREN BREWSTER: I have a couple questions for clarification, but go ahead. Bill, you might want to turn off your video, because your internet connection is spotty, and I think that’s causing a delay, why you and Irene are overlapping a bit.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh, ok.
KAREN BREWSTER: See if that helps.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Ok. Is this better?
KAREN BREWSTER: We’ll find out. Go ahead.
IRENE ROWAN: Did I answer all of your questions properly? I mean, do you feel I answered your questions? I -- I -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh, yeah -- IRENE ROWAN: I think I -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Yes, yes, you did.
IRENE ROWAN: I think with the identity question, my feeling is that it’s -- the identity is based on how you were raised and what you believe. Doesn’t have anything to do with blood.
So I think we should do away with the blood quantum ’cause it doesn’t mean anything.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Right. Ok. And identification with a corporation being important for some people?
IRENE ROWAN: Yes. Yes, because, you know, I think that we have gone so far from the traditional way of life, that as human beings we like to have some type of identification, right? We want to be identified in some way or another, whether it’s as an educator, as an Irishman, or whatever.
But identification seems to be very important to people. And in the past, when I was growing up, you know, you identified by your clan.
And um, you always -- whenever you get -- when you danced out, you know, you danced out with your back to the people so that they would see on your regalia, your button blanket, the clan or the tribe that you belonged to.
So, you know, you always let people know in the beginning in the traditional way where you’re from. Like, then they would identify, ah, that’s a clan person from that village or whatever.
So um, so I think that the corporate identification is, um, is important, because a lot of the young people today, don’t -- you know, they -- they may be experiencing prejudices in various areas, and it’s a -- it’s a tool for them to have some type of -- to some sense of belonging.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Ok.
IRENE ROWAN: You know what I mean? KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. But in the --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yes, I do.
KAREN BREWSTER: Is the clan and tribal affiliation still equally important? IRENE ROWAN: Unfortunately, no. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.
IRENE ROWAN: I mean, we’re going to go through Celebration, but, you know, it’s no longer -- it doesn’t have the same importance that it had when I was growing up. It’s different.
And we, you know -- you ask about the claims act. And then I think that what the claims act did was it brought -- it brought such pride back to -- pride back in -- back to the people, the Native people.
It gave them identity, a sense of identity, a sense of belonging. They belonged to an organization.
It did the renaissance of language and regalia and our art and music and dance, and instilled, you know, a lot of the traditional values of sharing and caring and taking care of the elders and things of that nature.
So I think that’s very, um, very good about, you know, the -- what many of the corporations have done. As well as encouraged their shareholders to get education -- educated, so. Um, from that standpoint. Now we gotta get the people into the jobs that they offer, so. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
IRENE ROWAN: And that they take over, they become the managers, or they become whatever. Or they be able to get a -- you know.
We had a shareholder hire law, or provision, now policy. And um, that could always be very contentious.
And I know that there’s a lot of lip service paid to shareholder hire, but it -- it hasn’t been implemented to the fullest extent possible. BILL SCHNEIDER: Right. IRENE ROWAN: In Sealaska, anyway. BILL SCHNEIDER: Um-hm.
IRENE ROWAN: You had one more question?
BILL SCHNEIDER: Karen, you had some clarification?
KAREN BREWSTER: Um, yeah. So you had mentioned with Klukwan the desire to become an ANCSA corporation when there was the Chilkat Native Tribal Village organization.
And I’m wondering why you felt the ANCSA village corporation was something you wanted to pursue versus staying with the tribal system.
IRENE ROWAN: With -- to become an ANCSA corporation, you were entitled for Southeastern, entitled to 23,040 acres of land. Under the former reserve's status, Klukwan was entitled to 800 acres. That was the size of their reserve.
Whereas with some of the other former reserve areas, they could have as much as a million acres of land. And so, it was to their benefit to have fee simple title to a million acres of land, as to Klukwan’s having the fee simple title to 800 acres.
And that -- so the land was really, was really an important area to me, for us. We wanted 23,040 acres of land. And so, we did -- we did get that.
We did get -- we returned the 800 acres plus to -- because what we did is, we picked -- in going through the conveyance process, the original conveyance process, before we became an ANCSA corporation, BLM had given us some other lands so that it became something like 842 acres as opposed to the 800 acres.
So they added some additional acres to the former reserve lands. And so, um, that’s why I say, you know, 800 and 800 plus, because after the claims act their land holdings did grow.
And then they also picked up additional lands from the Nature Conservancy, for example. So I’m not really sure what their -- what their land is today.
The other thing is that the Chilkat Indian Village is -- has more governmental rather than economic direction. And ANCSA village corporations had an economic direction.
And um, the village, Chilkat Indian Village, was local, more local. Had more local -- had local -- had benefits for local residents.
Whereas with the village corporation, it didn’t matter where you lived, you benefitted through the dividend system. So there were more benefits to being an ANCSA village member.
So in the end, those that lived in the village, you know, they got a double whammy. They have the 800 acres plus the 23 -- 20,000, 2030 or 40 acres.
KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. And then does the village and the corporation, do they work together, collaborate on things, or how is that separated?
IRENE ROWAN: Um, we tried to work together, and I think that where we could, we did. But uh, because we -- you know, our membership is the same. But we never had any agreements or anything of that nature. But we certainly relied on the village for, you know, residents, for worker bees.
And when I was -- when I was chairman, I would travel to the village school, and I would talk to students there about, you know, about the future, and, you know, the importance of education and going to work for the corporation. And the types of jobs that were needed and skills and this type of thing.
Does that answer it?
KAREN BREWSTER: Yes, that does. Thank you. My other point of clarification is, the woman who sort of started the Alaskans for the Potomac, Anna, what was her last name?
IRENE ROWAN: Anna McAlear. M-C-A-L -- capital A-L-E-A-R. She just died last year.
KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. And you said she was from Unalakleet originally. IRENE ROWAN: Yes.
KAREN BREWSTER: So, and you said you had an office at the NCAI building?
IRENE ROWAN: We had, uh -- they were setting aside an office for Alaskans to use.
KAREN BREWSTER: And that’s the National Council on American Indians? Is that -- National Congress? IRENE ROWAN: Of American Indians. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. IRENE ROWAN: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: So my question was, where did the funding come for that organization and all the work that they did to help people? I mean, some of it, obviously, was volunteer, but did they have some funding?
IRENE ROWAN: Alaskans on the Potomac or NCAI?
KAREN BREWSTER: No, Alaskans on the Potomac. IRENE ROWAN: Oh, no funding. No. We were all volunteers. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.
IRENE ROWAN: You know, I've just a little story about Anna McAlear. She was married to Dr. James McAlear. And Dr. McAlear was an absolute genius.
He and his -- he was working with a partner on DNA and the discovery of DNA, and his partner beat him. Very -- just a, you know, by just a minute or so in the discovery, you know, of DNA.
And um, his partner then committed suicide. He felt he had no more to do. That there’s not much -- not anything more he could do in life, so he killed himself. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.
IRENE ROWAN: So this really did start -- you know, put a shock into Jim, and so he was so helpful, just incredibly helpful, in -- with the claims act, he and Anna, in taking people here and there.
They put -- they gave so much of themselves. He was -- it was incredible. He died, unfortunately, at an early age.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, certainly having all that support for people coming into DC must’ve been just so helpful and incredible.
IRENE ROWAN: Well, I think there were a lot of things that we didn’t know, you know, and maybe we could’ve helped in different areas. And, you know, and I hear from people today that, how they all had to share a hotel room, you know.
We had extra bedrooms at our house that we could’ve used or we could’ve made available for people if they could, you know, find their way back to the Capitol.
But um, so our communication was always -- wasn’t always that great, I guess. I understand. Or maybe they -- I don’t know. Maybe they just didn’t want to tell us they didn’t have money, I don’t know.
But I think we could’ve housed people. Helped housing. We could’ve done more.
BILL SCHNEIDER: It sounds like you did a lot.
Well, I think -- I think we should close out the interview at this point. Usually, we run no more than two hours, but Irene, this has been really helpful, and I know there’s lots more that -- that you have to share.
But I really appreciate your spending the time and giving us this interview. Thank you.
IRENE ROWAN: You’re welcome. I don’t usually like to talk about it, because I can’t -- like I said, you know, what did I experience and because it was so long ago, and my --
And -- and one thing that has come very clear to me recently is that the younger generation that have taken over, they really want to hear from us older people. I think we did a lot of good things. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
IRENE ROWAN: But they don’t call on us for anything. And I don’t know why. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. IRENE ROWAN: But anyway. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
IRENE ROWAN: That’s what I find. That’s what I’m finding today. And so, they’re trying to reinvent history.
And um, I went back and I wrote -- and I went back today, and -- and thank you, because I went back and I reread a chapter on rebuilding of Klukwan -- on the building of Klukwan, Inc. And boy, I find that I left so much out.
And I didn’t tell you all that happened, but pretty much.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, as you say, it can be hard to remember all those details, and each time you remember, you remember something different, I’m sure. IRENE ROWAN: Yes. Yes.
BILL SCHNEIDER: What was -- what was that that you wrote? Is that something that we could access? IRENE ROWAN: It’s not finished. BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh, ok.
IRENE ROWAN: Um-hm. I’m -- I've been -- My daughter and I have been writing a book for years called "Along the Chilkat." And we basically talk about, you know, our Tlingit values and how we were raised and whatever. And I don’t know --
This is not part of the interview, right?
KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, let me turn off the recording, then. Hold on a second. IRENE ROWAN: Ok.