ANCSA transferred 44 million acres of land and $962.5 million in cash to business corporations owned exclusively by Alaska Natives. The Act established 12 regional corporations (plus one additional corporation for nonresident Native Alaskans) and approximately 200 village corporations. The regional corporations are Ahtna, Aleut, Arctic Slope, Bering Straits, Bristol Bay, Calista, Chugach Natives, Cook Inlet (CIRI), Doyon, Koniag, Nana, and Sealaska. Each Alaska Native (of at least one-quarter Native blood or recognized by a Native community) alive at the time of the Act (December 17, 1971) was allowed to enroll in a village corporation, which automatically enrolled them in the corresponding regional corporation (see Map). The Act also abolished the few existing Indian reservations in the state, with the exception of the one at Metlakatla.
The corporations were given substantial freedom in choosing and using their new endowments, consistent with Alaska corporation law. However, the Native shareholders could not immediately sell their shares and the regional corporations had to share a portion of their natural resource rents with all other Native corporations on an equal per capita basis. The land transfer was straightforward. Village corporations received selection rights to 26 million acres of proximate lands. The intent was to formally convey ancestral heritage and subsistence lands. It was widely recognized that 26 million acres was not enough land to provide for subsistence needs and that no fishing rights were included in the deal (although a later act, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) of 1980, gave preference for subsistence use of federal lands to rural residents). Regional corporations received all of the subsurface rights under village lands plus an additional 16 million acres in fee simple (surface and subsurface) lands.
The Tlingit-Haida decision had established the principle of money compensation for lands acquired. Secretary Udall came up with the idea of tying the money settlement to future federal petroleum leasing revenues from outer continental shelf (oCS) lands off the Alaska coast as a way of making the compensation politically palatable. The Prudhoe Bay discovery probably made this tapping of prospective new revenues seem like a painless proposition. The final figure of $962.5 million was a last-minute compromise; the basic amount of $1 billion appears to have been pulled out of thin air and was not based on a review of the earning potential or value of land or on corporate capital needs. All parties nevertheless recognized that working capital would be needed for functioning business corporations. The regional corporations were required to incorporate as for-profits, while the village corporations had the option of incorporating as nonprofits. Almost none did. The regional and village corporations each received 45% of the money settlement. The remaining 10% went to each individual enrolled Native Alaskan.
The use of the corporation as the settlement vehicle was a direct recommendation of the state of Alaska's Land Claims Task Force. The corporation concept was adopted based on a widespread distaste for other alter-natives—especially IRA corporations (Indian Reorganization Act (1934)) and other entities controlled by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs—and for the formally egalitarian structure of shareholders' rights. But the deliberate vagueness that the corporate form offered was clearly a reason as to why it was embraced by all sides. Assimilationists saw in corporations business dealings and modern capitalism. Tribalists saw more real autonomy and, in any event, an improvement over the reservation system. New Native political leaders saw the opportunity for economic and political self-determination, not to mention the promise of management positions for themselves. The corporation offered a beguilingly simple vehicle for settling the thorny land claims issue. It allowed all parties to feel comfortable with their vision of the legislation.
Although the overall corporation concept was adopted early, there was significant debate about how the corporations would be structured. Many early versions of the claims bill called for a statewide investment corporation to own subsurface rights and control much of the working capital. The AFN opposed this concept and fought vigorously for regional corporations. They had learned from bitter experience how hard it was to hold together a statewide political coalition among disparate Native groups.
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