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Joseph "Joe" Upicksoun
Joe Upicksoun in 1971

Joseph "Joe" Upicksoun gives a speech on December 18, 1971 to the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention in Anchorage, Alaska. In this speech, Joe talks about the Arctic Slope Native Association's concerns about the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), their withdrawal from the Alaska Federation of Natives, their rights to the land, and the impacts from western settlement and the incoming oil industry. Joe also talks about the impact of the land loss versus the population based formula for distributing the wealth from ANCSA on the Iñupiat people, and the importance of protecting their land and culture as their birthright. This recording is part of the "Face North" radio series that was produced by Roger McPherson as part of the experimental ATS-1 Educational Satellite Project that broadcast educational programs over the radio.

Watch a 3-minute video clip of this speech, including the announcement by President Nixon that he signed ANCSA.

For more about Joe's role in Native land claims and his opposition to passage of ANCSA, see an interview with him conducted by Ronald Spatz in 2001 as part of the ANCSA at 30 project.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 02-00-133-06_PT.2

Project: Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act
Date of Interview: Dec 18, 1971
Narrator(s): Joseph "Joe" Upicksoun
Transcriber: Karen Brewster
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.

After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.


Announcer introduces Face North radio program, and sets the scene of the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention in December 1971 and a statement from Joe Upicksoun of the Arctic Slope Native Association about Native land claims

Joe Upicksoun talks about loss of animal and natural resources, and invasion by Western society and oil companies

Native legal rights to land, and mistake to sell off birthright for money and jobs

Role of Tlingit in land claims settlement

Arctic Slope Native Association's position on the land lost formula versus population based settlement, and the concept of share and share alike when cost of living is higher in Barrow

Importance of education, and State of Alaska land selections versus Native land selections

Petition to create a borough in order to tax oil companies to support building local schools and to protect subsistence lifestyle

Protection from spills from the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline, and paying Alaska Natives for use of our lands

Hurt, sadness and bitterness from dishonorable treatment, and how to react and survive

Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.

After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.



UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Face North. A program of Northern Studies.

Dogs barking.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: On December 16th, 17th and 18th, 1971, the 6th annual Alaska Federation of Natives Convention was re-convened in Anchorage to deliberate on the land claims bill passed by Congress.

Before a vote was taken by the delegations on whether or not to recommend that the president sign the bill into law, which ultimately passed by a vote of 511 for and 56 against the signing, Joseph Upicksoun, president of the Arctic Slope Native Association, made a statement concerning the position of the Iñupiat residents of the North Slope.

Under the provisions of the bill, no sub-surface rights are granted to those residents of the oil-rich Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4.

And due to the manner of land distribution on a population basis rather than a land-loss formula, the Iñupiat Eskimos receive fewer benefits from the bill than other Native groups with a larger population base.

Here is Joe Upicksoun. Spokesman for the Iñupiat Eskimos of the North Slope.

JOE UPICKSOUN: My name is Joe Upicksoun. I'm the president of the Arctic Slope Native Association. I have a statement.

As we pause for a few days and one chapter ends in all our fight for self-identity and self-respect, and another begins. It is right and proper to take a look at the world.

We from the north have led a happy life through the centuries.

Yes, Western civilization sent its whaling fleets up there. 150 or so a year. Yes, our whales are gone.

Once we had plenty of foxes, and just like the departed whalers, the fur traders disappeared, too.

And now, we have the oil. One of our advisors has told us the average life of a pool is 20 years. And so, we suppose the oil companies will go probably during my lifetime. And certainly, within the lifetime of my three children.

But the real invasion of our land was within the last ten years. And we hear there will be perhaps 1,000 oil rigs in the north, and perhaps 10,000 miles of road and feeder lines on my land.

All of this means that our culture will be destroyed. That in the immediate future, we will be on cash economy.

You, the organized Natives, almost made a fatal mistake. You almost demanded money. Just money. For the extinguishment of your land rights.

We Iñupiat Eskimos have never wanted money as such. We wanted land.

Because out of the land, we would make our money. We would protect our subsistence living and we would still have our heritage.

Make no mistakes of it, we, the Alaska Natives, are being paid this so-called settlement for just one reason. Because we have legal rights.

During the last 60 years, for example, the only decent thing the Congress has done, so far as land is concerned, is to return the 48,000 acres of holy Blue Lake to the Pueblos.

The Congress is making this settlement for just one reason. Because the oil of the North Slope is owned by the Iñupiat Eskimos of the Arctic Slope. And so, I must look at the other ethnic groups in Alaska.

A couple of years ago, the companies wanted to get a permit for a pipeline, but the Iñupiat Eskimos, the Athabascans, and the Chugach Eskimos had claims to the land.

What did the Tanana Chiefs and the Chugach Eskimos do when approached by Atlantic Richfield? They sold their lands to the oil companies for a promise. Just a promise of jobs.

The Alaska Federation of Natives refused to provide leadership and the Athabascans and Chugach Eskimos sold their birthright for a mess of pottage. As it turns out, the pressure of the pipeline simply has required the Congress to move.

You are getting paid faster, perhaps 100 years faster, because the Arctic Slope Native Association said, "No. No. No!"

When the September 11, 1969 sale by the state was about to take place, we Iñupiat Eskimos resented it, because again people were invading our lands.

We geared up for a lawsuit, but, by choice, we did not sue. We wanted to know how much our land, not yours, was worth to the western society.

All thinking people must agree that the $900 million dollars figure has captured the imagination of the world. The Congress could not afford to expose itself to the world by raping us.

We were proud to have helped you, also. That much cash invested by the oil companies has, of course, enormously increased the pressure on the Congress to get a settlement for us. For all of us.

And now, I must look at the Tlingits. They didn’t help form the Alaska Federation of Natives even though they have more than 200 college graduates among them.

We, the rest of the Natives, didn’t really believe they should be included at all, because they had had their tragedy back in 1902, and they were about to be paid for their loss.

However, we felt sorry for them. They were getting so little, some $7 million dollars. They also still held Indian title to a little remnant of their land, some 2.6 million acres.

Let us look, however, at what they're getting out of the settlement. You see, the Tlingits teamed up with the southern Eskimos and demanded a division of the settlement based on population.

And so the Tlingits, having started with nothing, end up with 25% of the settlement. I say to the Tlingits, "Your share of the settlement is tainted." It is tainted.

Just one year ago, the Arctic Slope Native Association met with your board of directors. We had withdrawn from your organization, and you wanted us back.

And so, just one year ago, we, the Arctic Slope Native Association, and, you, the Alaska Federation of Natives, struck a bargain. For most of the settlement we would divide it on the land lost formula, and we rejoined you.

It took you one month to break your promise. You got us back because the North Slope oil has the glamour and you needed us.

And then, you broke your promise. The southern Eskimos and Tlingits forgot that they would be getting paid because the Arctic Slope Native Association said “No. No. No!”

No to the proposition, we would sue for money. No to the pipeline. No to HR3100. No to the proposition that we would sell our birthright for jobs.

There is still another injury you have hit us with, and that is the cost of living difference. Using Seattle as a base of one hundred, construction cost at Ketchikan is one hundred twenty-five, at Anchorage around one hundred sixty, at Bethel two hundred and forty-five, and at Barrow three hundred and sixty-five.

So, a house costing $15,000 dollars at Ketchikan - that's Tlingit country - would cost three times that at Barrow. We get back to this population proportion scheme that so many of you work for.

How can you divide up the settlement on a share and share-alike basis when I have to pay $45,000 dollars for a home and the other guy can get it for $15,000 dollars?

Another major factor offends my sense of justice on this population business, this share and share-alike business. For decades and decades now, society has made an earnest effort to help you. You have always had schools. You have salmon canneries and freezer ships, and seine boats, and education loans and grants. Millions and millions of dollars have gone to your areas.

Only a deaf person would not know that the amount organized -- organized society has sent us by was a comparison with you, can only be called total neglect.

During World War I, for example, there was a period of ten years where some of our villages - our established villages - had no schools at all.

This is a white man’s world. We are supposed to compete in that world. We are not against that. But how greedy can you be that you start the race to Western culture with so many tools. Education, for example. And then you want to gobble us up.

A part of the world I'm looking at is the State of Alaska. Aside from Section 4 of the Statehood Act, the entire 103 million acres was just a gift. Just a donation.

There is a difference between our rights and our land and what the state started with. Ours was our birthright, hers was a donation.

I wonder at the integrity of those who support the state. Section 4 was a promise, not only by the formal state government, but also by her people that they and each of them will forever disclaim any rights in Indian, Eskimo, and Aleut lands.

Let us look at what the state is getting out of the North. All tentatively approved lands and all selected lands.

Now, as to the selected lands, these were selected after the freeze and thus their selection was a direct effort to grab our lands with full knowledge of what she was doing.

Not only has the Congress put its approval on this grabbing, but I did not see a single regional association step up and help the Arctic Slope Native Association. You were so busy fighting for your population proportion.

How did the state got theses superior rights? I will tell you. Senators Stevens, Senator Gravel, Congressman Begich teamed up with Aspinall (Rep. Wayne Aspinall, D-Colorado) and Haley (Rep. James Haley, D–Fla).

Let me give you an example. One of our historic villages where we still have people, in Nuiqsut. A month or so ago, we were routinely checking up on the Senate side. We found that Senator Stevens had secretly had Nuiqsut eliminated. Why? I will tell you.

Nuiqsut is three miles from the new oil strike. We reason that Senator Stevens was, and is, determined to make the land we get worthless.

And Governor Egan was, and is, a part of this team. He advocated that the Natives should get fee simple rights in the Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4. That was his pitch.

But, let's really take a look at what the Iñupiaq Eskimos are getting as a result of the Egan/Stevens/Gravel/Begich/Aspinall and Haley team. We get no state selected or TA'd lands. We get no Petroleum No. 4 lands, and no Wildlife Refuge lands. Thus, the only eligible villages we have are Anaktuvuk Pass and Point Hope.

These men have made sure that the lands we get have no economic value. Yes, we will get some in lieu selections, but the restrictions on where we can select are so huge, we will have to do some real scrounging to make them meaningful.

As I look at the world, I see some oil companies. I am referring in particular to Humble Oil and Refining, Mobil, Atlantic Richfield, and British Petroleum. Do you know that these companies do not pay one penny in property taxes on the North Slope?

What are taxes for? I will tell you. At Anaktuvuk Pass, Point Hope, Kaktovik, and Wainwright, there are no junior schools -- junior high schools. At Barrow, there is no senior high school.

We probably have 1,500 school childrens on the North Slope. As they reach junior and senior high school age, we must send them from home to a different culture. Taxes pay for schools.

In 1969, the state got $900 million dollars from my land. Her budget for that year was $154 million dollars. The next year, with the sale, her budget doubled to $306 million dollars. And this year, it is $296 million dollars.

Not one additional penny was returned to us for our children, or for anything. And so, we have filed a petition for a borough so that we can tax the oil companies for schools.

And do you know that Humble, ARCO, British Petroleum, and Mobil have done? They have formally announced their determination to oppose our petition.

Humble deserves further mention. For some months now, Humble tells it -- tells in its TV advertisement that it paid the Tyoneks $12 million dollars for a dry hole.

I certainly am in favor of the Tyoneks getting that money, But the ad goes farther. Humble implies that it is a great friend of the Indians. That it rejoices in helping Indians.

Now we know, we know for sure, that Humble couldn't care less about us. Even to the point it opposes our children. It is a dishonest advertisement.

Oil thinks that we have to live with them. They are wrong. Oil has to live with us.

Oil has not yet learned the lesson of the OPEC countries. Just a few days ago, Libya confiscated British Petroleum’s property there. When will people learn?

We need a borough for another reason. For the protection of our subsistence living, because the borough would have the power of zoning. Not that we would zone out the oil companies. It is possible to be compatible.

But I say to you, with the huge invasion coming in the North, there must be order. For without a sense of order up there, subsistence living will be destroyed and the discontent of our peoples the worse.

I'm not through yet. I simply have to talk about the pipeline. Both the 48 incher and the feeder lines possibly 10,000 miles. If a feeder line breaks, you won't be hurt. We will be. And the risk of break magnifies by the more miles of line. As I said, we figured 10,000 miles of risk.

We have therefore proposed that the oil companies pay us in case of a spill and we will provide substitute foods for our loss.

If indeed there is no risk of spillage, then the oil company -- then the oil companies could promise to pay us a million dollars per gallon of spillage.

Since no spillage would occur, they would not have to pay a penny. Of course, the idea that there will be no spillage is silly. Of course, there will be spills.

Our proposals was submitted to Secretary Hickel (Walter Hickel, Secretary of the Interior in the Nixon Administration) and Morton (Rogers Morton, who followed Hickel as Secretary of the Interior under Nixon) and these guardians of ours dignified our request by silence. And not one person in this room helped either.

All these thoughts are not new. I have said them before. It is now twenty months at the same Juneau meeting since I said to the board of directors of the Alaska Federation of Natives, and their general counsel, the Honorable Ramsey Clark, these words. Our conclusion is that the State of Alaska wants to steal our lands. The Senate committee want to buy our lands and to pay the other Natives of Alaska.

The other Natives of Alaska are willing and happy to be paid out of our lands. The state is now rich out of our lands.

The oil companies want to build a pipeline by experiment over our lands. The United States wants to provide for its own security against foreign enemies out of our land.

You can obviously see that I am hurt, and frightened, and perhaps bitter. This hurt and fright and bitterness have been caused by the other Natives demanding more than their just share. By the state's being dishonorable in grabbing whatever she could.

By the Congress incompetence in not really understanding the problems and not trying to -- by the oil companies stepping on us as if we were not people. By the Western society moving in on us and brushing us aside, etcetera, etcetera.

What are we going to do about it? The human body is a wonderful thing. We, the Iñupiat Eskimos, have been resourceful enough to live in the north. We will survive. Our real emotion now is one of sadness. It need not have been this way.

But like people around the world, when there are social discontent, we must react. We must find some other way of achieving our self-identity and self-respect.

The really important question, however, is: "What are you going to do?" You have tainted money. Many of you. What is the state government going to do? The governor and the legislature with their neglect of us? What is industry going to do?

These social injustices cannot continue. Somebody must do something about them. I now bid you goodbye. (Applause)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: You've been listening to Joe Upicksoun, president of the Arctic Slope Native Association in a statement delivered December 18th, 1971 to Alaska Federation of Natives delegates regarding the passage of the land claims bill.

Face North was produced by Roger and Karen McPherson, using the facilities of KUAC FM.