“‘Then fight for it’ Alaska Native Brotherhood and The Fight for Land and Fishing Rights” by Judith Daxootsu Ramos

In the piece that follows, Judith Daxootsu Ramos, DANSRD faculty from 2012 to 2021, discusses the early participation of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood in the pursuit of land claims. This early involvement resulted in a different formula for deciding on the acreage to be conveyed to the qualifying villages in Southeast Alaska under ANCSA. In addition, the communities of Wrangell, Petersburg, Tenakee Springs, Ketchikan and Haines were excluded from forming Village Corporations and they are still fighting for recognition. At the end of this piece are the sections of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act that pertain to Southeast Alaska and the Tlingit-Haida settlement.

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“Then fight for it”

Alaska Native Brotherhood and The Fight for Land and Fishing Rights

Judith Daxootsu Ramos

“Then fight for it” are the famous words by Peter Simpson at the 1925 Alaska Native Brotherhood IANB) convention. In a conversation with Tlingit lawyer William L. Paul, Peter Simpson asked William, “Willie, who owns this land?”, William answered, “We do”. Peter Simpson, replied “Then fight for it”. It took William Paul four years to convince the ANB to begin the fight for land claims. It was at the 1929 ANB Grand Camp, at the urging of Judge Wickersham, the Tlingit and Haida tribes of southeast Alaska began the process of “filing a lawsuit against the United States seeking compensation for expropriated lands and fisheries” (Metcalf, 2010).

The Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) is one of the oldest Indigenous organizations in the United States. ANB was formed in 1912 by eleven Alaska Native men and one Native woman. The Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS) was formed three years later. Their primary issues were the fight for citizenship and voting rights, civil rights, health, education, and the abolition of fish traps. Local camps were established around the state.

The ANB fight for fishing rights beginning in the 1930’s led to the movement for land claims. The abolition of fish traps was an important goal of ANB because salmon was the primary food source for the Tlingit and Haida Indians. Traditionally each clan owned and managed the streams and the harvest of salmon in their traditional territory. Canneries and their fish traps controlled the fishery in Alaska from the 1880’s until statehood in 1960. The White Act prohibited subsistence fishing within streams. “The Indians were conflicted about asking for full-blown reservations but worked with the Interior Department and pressed claims for aboriginal fishing rights. Eventually, the courts ruled that they had abandoned those rights when they went to work in the canneries for cash. Eventually, the Indians asked for reservations including fishing rights, but were rejected in that request by the Interior Department” (Colt, 2000).

ANB’s fight for land claims began with the establishment of the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska in 1905 and the Glacier Bay National Monument in 1925, two acts by the Government that tied up the land under Federal ownership and extinguished aboriginal title to most of southeast Alaska. After repeated attempts to bring the case to the United States Court of Claims, Congress finally passed the Jurisdictional Act of 1935 which authorized the Tlingit and Haida Indians “to bring suit in the United States Court of Claims” (CCTHITA, 1995).

For various reasons the Department of Interior disqualified the ANB “from being the plaintiff in the lawsuit against the government” (Metcalf, 2010). The ANB executive created the Central Council for Tlingit and Haida Indians of Alaska for the purpose of land claims.  Judson Brown (1982) in an interview remembers their meetings in 1936, “I recall vividly our frantic attempts to raise money to hold both the ANB Convention and the Central Council meeting at the same time … the first Tlingit and Haida meetings we held in the evening after the ANB business was complete”.

In 1959 the Court of Claims issued a judgement recognizing the Tlingit and Haida Indians use and occupancy. Finally in 1968 the US Court of Claims issued the quantum judgment (CCTHITA, 1995). Judson Brown (Hope 1982) recalled “The amount we received in return for the land taken …. Was a mere pittance. We settled on pennies per acre”. In addition, because the Tlingit and Haida Indians had settled their land claims prior to the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971, they were treated differently in the Act, they received less land, and some communities did not receive any land at all. Despite this, the ANB and ANS played a significant role in the success of Alaska Native land claims.

Metcalf’s (2010) research on the Alaska Native Brotherhood found “Without it (ANB), Alaska’s congressional delegates would have had no credible organization with which to collaborate on issues of importance to Alaska Natives; and without the ANB all those who represented Alaska Natives interests before Congress before statehood would have been without credentials. It was the ANB that fielded — and provided funding for — the lobbyists and attorneys who participated in defining Alaska aboriginal title. And it was the ANB that maintained the crucial alliance with the National Congress of American Indians”

Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts on land claims. My Lingit name is Daxootsu. I am Raven moiety, from the Kwaashki’kwaan clan, and Tiskw’ Hit (Owl House). I am the daughter of the Lʼuknax̱.ádi (Coho) Clan and granddaughter of the Teikweidí (Brown Bear) clan. I am a shareholder in the Sealaska Regional Corporation and the Yak-tat Kwaan Village Corporation. I am a member of the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe and Central Council for Tlingit and Haida Indians of Alaska.

My parents and grandparents were active in ANB and ANS. I served as President of the Yakutat Camp 13. ANB/ANS Camps are very busy in local communities. When someone passes away in the community, the camp hosts a memorial service. The ANB Hall serves as the center for local community activities, from traditional dance practice to potlatches, to meetings. There are currently around 23 local camps, but not all of them are active. This 109-year-old organization continues to pay an active role in many Alaska Native communities today.

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43 U.S. Code CHAPTER 33— ALASKA NATIVE CLAIMS SETTLEMENT

§ 1615. Withdrawal and selection of public lands; funds in lieu of acreage

(a) Withdrawal of public lands; list of Native villages

All public lands in each township that encloses all or any part of a Native village listed below, and in each township that is contiguous to or corners on such township, except lands withdrawn or reserved for national defense purposes, are hereby withdrawn, subject to valid existing rights, from all forms of appropriation under the public land laws, including the mining and mineral leasing laws, and from selection under the Alaska Statehood Act, as amended:

Angoon, Southeast.

Craig, Southeast.

Hoonah, Southeast.

Hydaburg, Southeast.

Kake, Southeast.

Kasaan, Southeast.

Klawock, Southeast.

Saxman, Southeast.

Yakutat, Southeast.

(b) Native land selections; Village Corporations for listed Native villages; acreage; proximity of selections; conformity to Lands Survey System

During a period of three years from December 18, 1971, each Village Corporation for the villages listed in subsection (a) shall select, in accordance with rules established by the Secretary, an area equal to 23,040 acres, which must include the township or townships in which all or part of the Native village is located, plus, to the extent necessary, withdrawn lands from the townships that are contiguous to or corner on such townships. All selections shall be contiguous and in reasonably compact tracts, except as separated by bodies of water, and shall conform as nearly as practicable to the United States Lands Survey System.

(c) Tlingit-Haida settlement

The funds appropriated by the Act of July 9, 1968 (82 Stat. 307), to pay the judgment of the Court of Claims in the case of The Tlingit and Haida Indians of Alaska, et al. against The United States, numbered 47,900, and distributed to the Tlingit and Haida Indians pursuant to the Act of July 13, 1970 (84 Stat. 431), are in lieu of the additional acreage to be conveyed to qualified villages listed in section 1610 of this title.

References

Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribe of Alaska (CCTHITA). 1995.    “Central Council Historical Profile” http://www.ccthita.org/documents/T&H%20Historical%20Brochure.pdf

Colt, Steve. 2000.   Salmon Fish Traps in Alaska: An Economic History Perspective. http://www.alaskool.org/projects/traditionalife/fishtrap/fishtrap.htm

Hope, Andrew III, ed. 1982. “On the Organization of the Tlingit and Haida Central Council, An Interview with Judson Brown.” In Raven Bones. Sitka Community Association.

Metcalf, Peter. 2010    “The Sword and the Shield: The Defense of Alaska Aboriginal Claims by the Alaska Native Brotherhood.” Contributor by Kathy Ruddy. http://ankn.uaf.edu/ANCR/Southeast/Chronology/LR%20Final%20Sword%20and%20Shield.pdf

Metcalfe, Peter. 2014. “A Dangerous Idea, The Alaska Native Brotherhood and the Struggle for Indigenous Rights.” University of Alaska Press.

For more information:

A Traditional Literary History of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood: Writing Alaska Native Solidarity into American Modernity, talk given by Michael P. Taylor, Ph.D https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uu44PDabIDs&t=259s

In His Own Words, a Biography of William Lewis Paul, talk given by Benjamin Starr Paul https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmQuMHBbU98

Fighter in Velvet Gloves: Alaska Civil Rights Hero Elizabeth Peratrovich, talk given by Ann Boochever https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gzvcc1UlrMw

Paul, Fred. “Origin of the land Claim Movement” https://www.anbansgc.org/document-library/.

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