Political Changes

The creation, operation, and oversight of schools is an inherently political process. The business of schools is socialization of the young to society's roles and rules, and the political process remains the least violent way to decide whose rules will be followed. The history of increased control of educational policy and institutions by indigenous peoples is inextricably linked with the growth of political power in other areas, including economic and governmental. In the United States, beginning in the 1960s federal funds were offered to aboriginal and other minority groups to create regional and national organizations to spur economic and social improvements in their communities. President Lyndon Johnson's administration initiated the Office for Economic Opportunity (OEO) in the mid-1960s, which allowed for the creation of community action programs throughout rural Alaska. Under the auspices of the OEO, Native leaders came together regularly from across the state for the first time to discuss shared concerns. Out of this sharing emerged a common agenda for change. In 1966, the first statewide Alaska Native political organization, the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN), was founded.

In 1961, representatives of the Canadian First Nations formed the Nation Indian Council—a forerunner to the National Indian Brotherhood and what is presently called the Assembly of First Nations (AFN)—to lobby for indigenous rights. In 1971, Inuit leaders from across Canada established Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC) as the coordinating organization for six regional Inuit groups seeking land claims settlements. (The organization has since been renamed Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK).)

One of the major developments stimulating indigenous political organization was the expanding exploration of the North by companies and governments seeking energy resources for their growing markets. On the North Slope of Alaska and in the Mackenzie Valley of the Northwest Territories, the search was for oil and gas reserves. In Arctic Québec, the Saami territory of Norway, and in the region around the Native village of Rampart on the Yukon River in Alaska, water and its potential to generate electricity was a sought-after commodity. The agendas of national governments and energy companies collided with the determination of indigenous peoples to participate in decisions affecting lands that they traditionally had occupied.

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on December 18, 1971. Under the Act, Alaska Natives became the recognized owners of more land — 40 million acres—than was then held in trust for all other Native Americans. Alaska Natives also received $962.5 million in financial compensation for lands they gave up. The cash settlement, to be paid over a period of 11 years from Congressional appropriations and mineral revenues from state and federal lands, represented almost four times the amount all other tribes had won from the Indian Claims Commission since its creation in the 1940s.

In Québec, three Crown corporations—the James Bay Development Corporation, the James Bay Energy Corporation, and Hydro-Québec—had begun development of a major hydroelectric scheme in the province's north. As in Alaska, no treaty had ever been signed by any government with the Cree and Inuit of Northern Québec. The James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement signed by the Inuit, Cree, the federal and provincial governments, and the Crown corporations involved in the development projects on November 11, 1975 was the first major land claims settlement in Canada. Unlike the 1971 Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), the comprehensive agreement with the indigenous peoples of Arctic Québec addressed education, health and social services, administration of justice, and other economic and social development issues in addition to land ownership and financial settlements.

Political control of Arctic regions by indigenous peoples has also increased through the initiation of Home Rule government in Greenland in 1979, the opening of the Norwegian Saami Parliament in 1989, and the creation of the Inuit-majority territory of Nunavut in Canada's Eastern Arctic in April 1999.

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