Settlement of Aboriginal Claims and the Enhancement of Tribal Self-Determination 

Aboriginal claims to land, and hunting and fishing resources were extinguished by Congress through the passage of the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971. While land claims were basically settled through the establishment of Native corporations, subsistence hunting and fishing failed to be protected and continues to be a major area of on-going concern for Alaska Native people. Opportunities for tribal self-governance dramatically increased through the passage of the Indian Self-determination and Education Assistance Act (1975) and through the Indian Child Welfare Act (1978). However, the State of Alaska began challenging the existence of tribes in Alaska after the passage of ANCSA. The main concepts students are expected to learn from this Unit are: 

  • The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971 extinguished aboriginal land and resource claims, and placed the land under the ownership of Alaska Native corporations with Alaska Native shareholders. While ANCSA is federal Indian law, the Native corporations ANCSA established are also subject to the terms of Alaska State corporation law. ANCSA has been viewed by many as an experiment that has seen both successes and failures. The Act has been amended by every Congress since its passage in attempts to address the shortfalls. While ANCSA was the largest land claims settlement in U.S. history, it failed to protect Alaska Native subsistence and left questions about the status of tribes and their jurisdiction. 
  •  Congress passed the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEAA) in 1975 which allows tribes and tribal organizations to run their own programs and deliver the services created through the federal trust responsibility such as health, education, social services, justice, roads, and housing. The Act is also referred to as P.L. 638 and tribes may assume programs from the Indian Health Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs through 638 contracts or compacts. Services provided under the ISDEAA bring in around one billion dollars annually to Alaska. 
  •  The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was passed by Congress in 1978 to stop the separation of American Indian and Alaska Native children from their families and communities, by being adopted out into non-Native homes. ICWA applies to the activities of state courts when Native children in need of aid are in their custody. ICWA requires that the child’s tribe is notified and allowed to intervene in state cases. It also requires that preference be given to placing children in Native homes. It was the passage of ICWA that encouraged Alaska tribes to organize tribal courts in the 1980s to protect their own children, which in turn was challenged by the State of Alaska up until the current time. 
  •  Congress extinguished aboriginal hunting and fishing rights through the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971, but the Act did not adequately protect subsistence the for Alaska Native people. Congress attempted to remedy this through the passage of Title VIII of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980. Title VIII gave a preference for subsistence hunting and fishing to rural residents of Alaska, which was declared unconstitutional by the Alaska Court system. The result has been that the federal government manages subsistence on federal lands and waters, while the State manages it on State lands. Subsistence for Alaska Native people remains not adequately protected as hunting and fishing resources dwindle, and competition for them increases.