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Emil Notti and Roger Lang
Emil Notti in 1971, Roger Lang, 1969

Emil Notti and Roger Lang speak at what is believed to be the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention in December 1971 in Anchorage, Alaska. Emil Notti talks about the efforts to create a statewide Native land claims movement and form the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN), and their efforts to get the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act passed in 1971. Roger Lang (starting with section 6 at minute 14:22) talks about the role of the Tlingit and Haida Indians in land claims and AFN, their lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., and the importance of ANCSA for self-determination. 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.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 02-00-133-06_PT.1

Project: Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act
Date of Interview: Dec 16, 1971
Narrator(s): Emil Notti, Roger Lang
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.


Early days of starting statewide land claims movement and organization

First land claims bill, testifying before Congress, and development of Alaska Federation of Natives' reputation

Governor Walter Hickel's position on Native land claims, the land freeze, and Hickel's confirmation as U.S. Secretary of the Interior

Receiving threats and being strong-armed

Alaska Natives working together, and planning for their children's future and changes in Alaska

Role of Tlingit and Haida Indians in land claims, and spending money on travel and per diem

Lobbying effort, cooperation among Native organizations, and versions of land claims bills

Prejudice against Native Americans, fighting with each other, and land loss versus population formula in the land claims bill

Land claims was worth fighting for, creation of regional, village, and development corporations, and legacy of self-determination for Alaska Natives

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


EMIL NOTTI: In early 1967, when the ideas of a statewide movement first got started, in -- When Bennett who was Area Director of Alaska was confirmed in the Senate as the Commissioner of Bureau of Indian Affairs, he was required to give a 90-day report.

In that 90-day report, he gave an overview of the Indian situation in America. He devoted about that much (probably showing with his hands) space to Alaska. And it said, based on the Treaty of Cessions and the Organic Act and the Statehood Act, the Bureau of Indian Affairs was setting down to draw up a final solution for the land-claims problem.

And when I read that, there was a lot of stirring about the maternalism of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and we got thinking that why should they draw up the solution in -- in Washington, D.C. that we in Alaska should have something to say about it.

So we wrote some letters in July. And the Tundra Times picked it up and gave it headlines. And we finally got a meeting in October.

Some of the early efforts prior to this time was -- there was some national money put into Alaska. Laverne Madigan (executive director for the Association on American Indian Affairs) had come up here earlier. Nick Gray was one of the early movers. Roy Peratrovich and John Hope who were in meetings in Fairbanks, I know in '62.

But, there was nothing to unify the people on. Now the issue that unified around was the land claims. That precipitated, I think the statewide movement.

So in October of 1966, when we met -- Mr. Lekanof here served as the first chairman from October to April and drew up the bylaws that we operated under.

In that first meeting in October, I remember when we opened the meeting, it was an election year. And there was a great fear that the Native vote was going to unify.

And so we opened the meeting at 9 o'clock in the morning and they go to press at ten o'clock. And at noon, when the newspapers hit the story, in great big headlines it said, “Natives Split.”

And immediately they quoted a bunch of us who hadn't gone out of the room yet. And -- and they trying to drive a wedge. Which didn’t work obviously.

But out of that 19 -- October meeting in '67 came our first land claims bill, which was eventually S2020. Since that time, we've had a number of bills over the years. At least a half a dozen. I lost track of them about -- when they hit six.

There were a lot of ideas kicked around in those early bills. And I remember when Udall (U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall) came up here. He said that -- coming up on the airplane, he thought about a 10% royalty off -- from the offshore oils.

And, you know, 10% scared everybody. So, when we got to talking about percentages, we said 2%. And 2% was really more than the 10% he was talking about, because he was talking about 10% of the federal share, which is twelve and a half percent. So he was talking 1.2%.

And that's -- in the public eye you talk 10% and they go "Wow." So 2%, although it was more, did not have the effect of -- of saying 10% then the -- And it turned out to be more.

Now, I think that the AFN really got moving in October of 1968. And that was in Fairbanks.

Prior to this meeting, every time we went to Congress they'd say, "What's AFN? And who do you represent and how are you elected?"

And before we got started testifying, we always had to go through how the delegates were sent in and we had the elections.

But, when Udall walked into the meeting in Fairbanks, and there were about 600 people in the meeting, he was impressed. And from that point on, we were in good negotiating position.

And it was after that meeting in '68, in October, that we worked practically daily on Udall. And our thinking was he should set aside 40 million acres of land. And uh, I guess he thought if he could justify setting aside 40 million acres, he could set aside the -- the whole state. Which he did. Which was even better.

Hitting some of the highlights that stick out in my mind, one of the things was a speech in October -- November -- February 7th of 1967 when our governor, whose name appears all through the land claims issue.

Governor Hickel made a speech where he tied up every radio station in Alaska. I remember in Anchorage I couldn't -- of the four stations, I couldn't tune in any station without listening to Hickel.

And he said why should -- just because someone’s grandparents chased a moose across the country, what rights and land does that give 'em? And that was his first position on land.

And I think that was on the advice of one of his attorneys. Attorney General at the time was Donald Burr.

But Flore (Lekanof) remembers very well from a meeting we had in January of 1967. That was an exciting meeting. It was just like an old movie scene. These two lawyers standing up and arguing back and forth in a very emotional, heated, high-tension meeting.

Also, the state’s position at that time was the land freeze was going to drive the state into bankruptcy. That we're throttling the economy of the state. That it was irresponsible for far-away Washington people to stop Alaska’s development. That it was a retribution to Alaska or reprisal against Alaska for going Republican and electing Nixon. And the punishment, Udall, was he was out going -- going to punish us.

But, there again, another attorney, Ed Boyko, that was his favorite theme, and Governor Hickel followed his advice that the state would be bankrupt in two years. But that prediction didn’t come true either.

Following, the state's position of driving the state into bankruptcy, and filing a lawsuit, the State v. Udall to lift the land freeze, came the confirmation fight (confirmation of Hickel as Secretary of the Interior), which was a interesting fight all by itself.

Governor Hickel got off a plane in Seattle one morning, and said, while he was walking down the hall with a microphone stuck in his face, he said, "What Udall can undo (Emil misspeaks, he means to say "What Udall can do"), I can undo with a stroke of a pen." Meaning the land freeze.

So the board of AFN sent four of us back to Washington, D.C. to hold the freeze. And we spent two weeks back there. And there were some very trying times. Being accused of all kinds of things, opposing the nomination, which, of course, we weren't doing. Our responsibility was to hold the land freeze. Which we did.

And we endorsed Hickel on the third day of his hearings after he agreed to -- to keep the land freeze intact. And that he would not give any airport sites, right of ways, dam sites, homesteads, anything, without going before the Interior Committee. So that was a significant accomplishment.

During that time, John (Borbridge) remembers some of the things that happened. I -- there's one meeting I could hardly believe. John and I was in the room. Being lectured to by, strange enough one of our own attorneys, local attorneys.

And we had some outright threats about the -- how we were going to finance the land claims effort. And how would -- how the Tlingit and Haida money -- how John liked the Tlingit and Haida money to be tied up for five or ten years. That also could be done with the stroke of a pen, if we didn't operate the way we should. Like all good boys should. But anyway, we stood our ground.

And I remember when the board sent us back that was -- they took the vote at five o'clock and the plane left at eleven. And I got a call at home about 9 o'clock from a governor's representative in Anchorage there, and he was down at the Elks Club, half -- half drunk at the time.

And I don't know if I should repeat the language that he used that night, but we wound up the conversation -- I'll use it anyway. And he said, "You know, what do you guys think you're doing?" And all kinds of things. "You're crazy. Everybody I've talked to think you guys are crazy for going back."

And we talked awhile and he wound up by saying, "You're no god-damned Native, you're just another son-of-a-bitch!" And I said, "Thank you. I'm glad to know how you feel." And we hung up.

But the -- those are just some of the things that happened in that fight.

And I remember in those early days, prominent people used to come to me and edge to me and say, "Hey, come on. You don't think you're really gonna get the statewide movement, do you? You know the Tlingits aren’t going to work with the Eskimos. You know the Athabascans fought the Eskimos. They're not going to work together."

And I always said, "Yeah, I think we will. You know, we -- we will. I'm not -- I'm not too concerned that we can't work together. We do work together under crises."

We follow the example, I think, statewide that the ANB (Alaska Native Brotherhood) set. If you look at the back of your ANB card, there's some major accomplishments. The ANB was formed under crisis and they faced a lot of issues and worked hard together. Financing many of their own trips.

What does concern me is that the -- now, things are pretty good. Relatively speaking. And -- but I think we're in a crisis. We may not recognize it, but I think the decisions that are made now, if we make mistakes, they may not show up for some years.

If we make the wrong investments, we're on a one way slide, and the end result is failure. So, I think that's why we have to plan very carefully about what we do. And those plans are going to be developed in the next couple of years.

You know, from time to time, we beef about what the BIA does or doesn't do. But, when I came out of the Yukon at -- at eleven years old to go to boarding school, I think it was because of BIA that I did get a high school education. 'Cause there were no high schools up in that area.

Now, as we plan for our youngsters’ future, no one can guarantee that the BIA's going to be here. Or that the public service -- health service is going to be here in twenty years, ten years. And that’s why it’s important that we plan carefully to guarantee the future of our children.

Because Alaska is changing. Strangely enough, the biggest changes are coming about because of the settlement of the land claims issue.

That means it clears the way for the right of way and a pipeline. When the pipeline goes, expect somewhere from nine to ten-thousand direct jobs. 30,000 jobs with all the service that will be generated by them -- by the pipeline construction.

And the -- because United States is going through a period of high unemployment, we can expect three people for every one job. That means that Alaska is changing very rapidly.

Now nothing in the history of the United States tells me that the Alaska Native is going to be treated any different than the Indian is treated in Oklahoma or North Dakota. And that's not a very pleasant picture.

And that’s why it’s necessary and vital that we ensure that our children have the tools to fend for themselves.

Things are pretty good right now. We have 20% of the vote and politicians listen to us. They come to our meetings. There are a few appointments. But when we get down to 5%, nothing in my experience tells me that that -- those conditions will continue. (Break in the recording.)

ROGER LANG: I also feel honored just to get a chance to address this convention about the Alaska Native land claims bill.

And I think, perhaps, part of the history of Tlingit and Haida involvement should start out with how the lobbying effort, how the battle within the AFN infrastructure, and how the battle within the executive committee came out so that finally we were represented, no matter where Tlingit and Haida interests were presented.

There were some in -- interesting questions in the budget this afternoon. One of them concerned the $23,000 dollar bill that was for travel and per diem for executive committee members.

And I think there needs to be a little background in that light. One, since we joined the Alaska Federation of Natives, we do not collect travel or per diem from that organization. We pay our own way.

We pay our delegates’ way to AFN board meetings. We pay our per diem to the people that we send to represent us. This is also true of the lobbying effort in Washington D.C.

I specifically asked a question from the floor this afternoon about the $250,000 dollars that we guaranteed the Alaska Federation of Natives. The reason I asked that is because I knew that our cost in the lobbying effort was $23,000 dollars.

We sent a full executive committee meeting -- a full executive committee to the final sessions in the House and to the -- the free conference committee, where our interests were vital.

It's -- you have to remember when you start a lobbying effort for Native needs, you start with a basic premise. One, you don't have any friends. Two, there’s no justice. Three, there’s no equity.

You have to remember we're fighting for a minority member's needs. And when you fight those kinda fights, there are two ways to do it. Either you riot and raise a lot of hell, or you stay within the law and do it properly.

I don't know whether I'm very proud of the Alaska Federation of Natives and the Tlingit and Haidas, but we've never yet strayed from without the law that somebody else wrote for us. We always stayed within it.

Let me tell you about the lobbying effort. That was beautiful to watch and beautiful to be a part of. Because, when -- when it came down to the crunchy part, the -- The Wednesday afternoon if you don't compromise, Indians were going on the more you can forget about a bill 'til April. This was during free conference.

And we sat there, all of our board and all of the AFN board, and there was some discussion, so we went into executive session. Now you're -- you're beyond lawyers. You're beyond advisors, consultants. Really you're talking about Indians.

So we went into an executive session in Washington D.C. in a small little hotel room. I forget the name of the hotel.

And somebody said, "Hey, it's a good cause. In December -- It's worth fighting for in December. And we've compromised all the way down to where we can't compromise anymore. Then maybe we ought not to compromise one more inch? Not less than 40 million (acres), not less than a billion dollars. Not less than 2%.

And it's amazing to watch not one dissenting vote. Now these guys were putting their name on the line. Putting their heads on the line. No bill was the threat.

And we stayed anyhow. And find out that there were other efforts. When I say there's no justice and equity, I mean there are other efforts that came into the bill at the last minute.

They voted on a Thursday. On a Monday, there was a brand new land claims bill introduced. It was very simple. It was one page long. It said this: "That no region in the State of Alaska could survive with the monetary picture that was presented in that bill."

If you couldn’t survive on your money, then you were gonna have to survive on your resources. Where are your resources? They're in the land.

Eventually, somebody was going to own our land, too. That came up. There was no timber rights for Southeast. We had timber rights, but they were severely cut and controlled by somebody else. Now that's --

And just because John Borbridge gets up at 7 o'clock in the morning and has breakfast, he happened to walk into an office at 8 o'clock when no sane senator or congressman is around, and find a copy of this proposed bill.

By 10 o'clock, we had had all our friends -- I might as well mention, Lloyd Meeds (U.S. House Representative from Washington), Patsy Mink (U.S. House Representative from Hawaii), and Senator Bible (Alan Bible, U.S. Senator from Nevada) who turned into a friend once he lost his land fight for conservation.

And we got them to raise a little Cain for us. And holler and kick and scream, because there'd been no Native input into this bill.

And we visited our Alaska delegation at nine in the morning and we said bad words back and forth to each other.

And it's amazing that -- that the bill was the product of a meeting of four elected people from the State of Alaska. Two congressmen, a senator and governor.

And once we found the thing -- we couldn’t find an author who -- not one of the four elected people would own up to authorship or even writing it. And that -- that just part of the effort.

The ancient prejudices that come out in lobbying effort for Indians is an amazing thing to watch, too. The ancient prejudice within Indian groups is amazing to watch, too. Because in writing the bill for the Alaska Federation of Natives, there were some beautiful fights.

There were fights to offset the Tlingit and Haida Settlement by $7 million dollars. You know, they said, "Hey, you guys already got your seven million. Until we got that much, why we'll catch up to ya." That was an in-house AFN fight.

There was an in-house AFN fight on two formulas for how the money would be divided once it got formulated. Once it got enacted.

One was called “the Land Loss Formula.” I lost so many acres, I'll collect so much for each acre I lost.

The other was a population formula, which, of course, was our stand. That -- that it needed to be, once the bill got enacted. It then became a people's bill. Not an acre bill. Not a resource bill. But a bill that belonged to people. So we fought that battle.

Other battles. The simple inclusion of Tlingit and Haida Indians into a statewide land claims bill. Figure that some time when we aren't -- Some people didn’t even think we belonged there.

And I think it's steady heads and the statesmanship posture taken by Emil Notti, who was then presiding on the AFN. Not -- not only made our inclusion, but made us a viable part of that organization.

Some other things that I think need to be said, I can't say I'll gladly tell ya. One of the time down at the Kito's Cave, some of the real hairy things that happened doing this AFN battle for -- for a land claims bill.

I -- I think that the most interesting, the most publicized, was that the Arctic Slope walked out on us one time. All of you read that.

I happened to be in a meeting representing Tlingit and Haida on the AFN board when they came back. And we spent four days in executive session that day -- that week, I mean.

That was a beautiful fight. There's been some wonderful, wonderful fights to get a land claims bill that means something.

I think, perhaps, some day history will -- will show that it was a fight worth fighting. History will also show that the Natives of Alaska were winners.

Because Florie (Flore Lekanof) talked to you upstairs about five and ten year plans, you know. And those are nice.

Tomorrow, you're gonna vote on a regional corporation. When you get home, you're gonna vote on a village corporation. But really, that's not what it -- it is.

Let me tell you, plain and simple. The simple fact is there shall be about fifteen regional corporations in Southeast Alaska. There's already talk about starting a bank. That'll have its own corporation.

Florie's also talking about politics. That's gonna have it own corporation. It'll be called Cope or Step or whatever, Pace, or whatever we wanna call it.

Florie also talked about how eventually there'll be a Southeast Native Housing Association. Just like there's ASHNA (?).

There are gonna -- there's gonna be an economic development corporation. There is in effect now. Just regionally.

Those of you from villages will have to learn that there are tax loopholes, there are advantages to your existing IRA Corporations that need to be used.

Beyond your village corporation. Beyond your local development corporation that Dick Stritt talked to you about this morning. You need -- also need an economic development corporation in your village.

So actually, while the bill tells you that there shall be a corporation, actually, if you handle things right, if you use your imagination, if you use the law. And frankly, if you're better than the bill, we're gonna have enough corporations so that one corporation meeting a year will require more people than are in this room now.

It's fabulous. It really is. Those of you that sat in Juneau in the special convention in 1968 when we took $7 million dollars to continue this fight have paid a price since then.

Some people have called us fools for taking $7 million dollars when could've got $80 (million). Now eighty is insignificant.

When we talk about the $968 million dollars and when we talk about the 2% overwriting a royalty and our resources, we've not yet talked about the money that shall be interchanged between regions on the development of their corporations and their resources.

We've not talked about sharing the wealth that the North Slope will develop in their oil. We've not talked about any of that.

And this is why I think the most exciting part about land claims is not the fact that there is a bill. That bill is only a ways, a mean and a method, written by somebody in Washington, D.C. that this convention has to be better than.

We don't have to be as good as that bill, we have to be better than that bill is. Otherwise, they shall control our destinies by that bill. And they shall control us, period.

I don’t know if it’s possible, but some day I'd like to pile up every law, every policy, every idea ever compounded in Washington D.C. deciding the lives of Indians.

I have an idea that since -- excuse me Flore -- since the BIA is probably the second oldest bureaucracy in the United States, that we couldn't pile that paper in this room.

And all those papers are how to run your lives. So is this land claims bill. That's all it is. It’s a means, a ways and a method to control your destiny.

I talked more than I should've. I -- I wanted to confine myself to lobbying, but that --

I also feel that -- that we shouldn't confine our thoughts or our imaginations to what's in that bill.

When they say a village corporation, think better than that. When they say a regional corporation, think better than that. Thank you.