DANSRD, Development, and Education: Professor Carroll visits Finland

Beautiful curtains of lights in downtown Helsinki.

We often forget just how unique the Department of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development (DANSRD) is in the world of Indigenous higher education and how fortunate we are to have programs that emphasize Alaska Native and rural student needs and perspectives as learners, researchers, and development practitioners instead of objects of study or top down planning.   Last year I started looking closely at our graduates’ senior and master’s projects and theses to understand what areas DANSRD students are most interested in and why, and with the budget crisis this summer I began also gathering information about the impacts of DANSRD graduates in their communities. So, this fall when I saw the call for papers for the Northern Political Economy Symposium in Rovaniemi, Finland I decided to put some of the work I’d been doing together and submit an abstract.

The author and a friend siting at a restaurant table in front of a window looking out onto a community square in Helsinki.
Irja took this beautiful photo of Hanna and me at a local restaurant. One of my favorite things about being in Finland was that northern foods like reindeer, lingonberries (our lowbush cranberries) and tart northern blueberries were a part of everyday food even at restaurants.

I spent a week in Finland in mid-November, first in Helsinki and then on to Rovaniemi to present at the Northern Political Economy Symposium at the University of Lapland. In Helsinki Saami linguist Irja Seurujärvi-Kari, my excellent host, introduced me to her friends and colleagues, including Hanna Guttorm and Pirjo Virtanen, at the University of Helsinki Indigenous Studies program and we spent a lovely two days visiting and talking about Indigenous issues in Finland. I was able to speak to Professor Virtanen’s Introduction to Indigenous Research Methods class about my teaching and research at UAF and listen to some of their collaborative discussion presentations of different Indigenous research methods from around the world (if I can figure out a way to copy that assignment in a mixed face-to-face and distance class I will, so students be prepared!). I also attended their lecture series on “Sacred Spaces” – starting with presentations on sacred trees in the Amazon and in Estonia.

Sunset in Rovaniemi walking back to the hotel from the University of Lapland.

Then it was off to Rovaniemi for the Symposium. The Symposium theme asked, “What is left of development in the Arctic?’ and called for topics related to the potential (or lack of potential) for sustainable development in the Arctic. My paper, “Development Dilemmas: Rural Development Students Imagining a Sustainable Future in Alaska,”   looked at the projects and theses produced by University of Alaska Fairbanks Rural Development Master of Arts students as a reflection of changing attitudes towards development in rural Alaska. Our students’ work illustrates how the program has helped increase Alaska Native and rural peoples’ ability to participate in dialogues and negotiations about development in rural Alaska, brought Alaska Native perspectives into these development dialogues, and helped students generate self-defined visions of what development means. I think more than anything, attendees at the Symposium were impressed to hear about educational programs focused on Indigenous needs and perspectives and whose graduates (for the MA) are 65% Alaska Native.

The trip reminded me of how special our programs are, but it also reminded me that DANSRD faculty and students have not been very active in sharing and communicating our scholarship with people outside of Alaska and our immediate community and we do not pay enough attention to some of the ideas being developed in other parts of the world. Here are just a few of the interesting people, publications, and ideas from my trip.

  • Irja Seurujärvi-Kari, Pirjo Virtanen, Hanna Guttorm, and their colleagues have a new book on Indigenous research methodologies coming out next year, but in the meantime their Encyclopaedia of Saami Culture is a great resource for learning about Saami people.
  • Symposium keynote speaker Reetta Toivanen of the University of Helsinki discussed the concept of “Arcticism’ (modeled after Said’s “Orientalism’ – the way in which various discourses inform Western perceptions of the Arctic) in her presentation entitled “Whose development are we talking about? European fantasies on the Arctic.’ The term was originally coined in Arctic Discourses (2010), available at Rasmussen Library.
Frontier aesthetics: *Natural sublime to technological sublime. *God-like perspectives, bird-eye camera angles, long shots. *Straight lines, intense colors, high contrast. *Backgrounding of nature, diminution of human agency. *"Arctic: colors - visual freezing of the frontier. Shows colors moving from grays to browns to blues.
“Frontier aesthetics.” Slide from Liubov Timonina’s presentation, November 14, 2019.
  • As many of my students know, I love visual analysis and am still waiting/hoping for a student to do a visual analysis project. The Arctic Institute’s Liubov Timonina’s “Imaging and narrating development in the Arctic: Visual storytelling in times of Capitalocene’ looked at the way images shape conceptions and marketing of oil and gas development in the Yamal Peninsula. Google “Yamal’ and see if you can see the “frontier aesthetic’ she describes. How do these images compare to the images you get when you search for “Prudhoe Bay’?
  • Gerard Duhaime of Université Laval looked at how public policies reproduce or amplify inequalities in his presentation “Market inequalities and the reproduction of unsustainability in Nunavik.’ It made me think about the ways our laws around subsistence also reproduce unsustainability in rural communities. I’m also going to check out Arctic Food Security (2008), edited by Duhaime and Nick Bernard, also available at the Rasmussen Library.
  • We often talk about Canada in my classes on the circumpolar north, but it can be hard to grasp the variability in the Indigenous settlements across the country and how they have responded to colonialism. Philippe Boucher of Concordia University focused on understanding Inuit voices and leadership in “Sustainable development through the Inuit cooperative movement.’
  • In his presentation “’North Plan’ — What’s left for Northern Indigenous communities? Can the North bring its riches back?’ Mathieu Boivin, University of Montreal, looked at how Quebec’s “Plan Nord’ prioritized non-Indigenous peoples in planning and development and its impacts on Indigenous peoples. I enjoyed speaking to Philippe and Mathieu about the Indigenous response to colonialism and Indigenous educational opportunities in Canada.
  • Susanna Pirnes, University of Lapland, presented on “History as a resource in Russian Arctic politics,’ looking at the use of historical imagery to establish Arctic identity. The presentation is from her chapter in Resources, Social, and Cultural Sustainability in the North (2019). The book was edited by Symposium organizer Monica Tennberg, Hanna Lempenin, and Susanna Pirnes, all of the University of Lapland and includes chapters from several presenters at the Symposium.
  • I had a great time talking to Frank Sejersen, of the University of Copenhagen about development and Indigenous approaches and perspectives. His article “Brokers of hope: Extractive industries and the dynamics of future-making in post-colonial Greenland‘ (2019) looks at how mineral extraction relates to ideas of national independence and is available online to UAF students if you sign in through the Rasmussen Library.

Rural Development = Boots on the Ground: A guest post by Emeritus Professor Jenny Bell Jones

As I observe all the problems surrounding State governance and the budget, it has become clear to me that this is absolutely the time to emphasize the development potentials of the Rural Development (RD) Program. The State and its leadership need help and the RD program and its students are uniquely positioned to provide some of that assistance.

While there is no doubt that the Governor’s cuts to the budget are draconian and unworkable, this does not remove the reality that the State is in financial trouble. The time has come when everyone will have to pull together to address the budget shortfalls. Alaskans will have to accept that taxation is a part of modern life. We will have to reduce dependency on transfer payments and find ways to increase community and individual self-sufficiency. And, most of all, we must diversify our economy while at the same time retaining control over it.

Economy is crucial, and development strengthens local economies if it is done right. We can have positive development, but only if we get behind it and make it work. If we sit and wait for “development’ in the form of large private resource extraction projects, then we can expect to be harmed, but it does not have to be that way. Consider this: those mega-scale development projects that so many people do not like, gain traction in small communities because they promise jobs. But what if people in those communities already had jobs and decent incomes because other more modest development projects were already in place? Would there still be support for the mega-projects?

Nowhere is the need for a stronger and more diverse economy obvious than in Alaska’s Native villages. In these tribal communities, unemployment is the highest in the state, with numbers as high as 24% in the Kusilvak census area in 2017.[1] Not only are unemployment and “under-employment’ unacceptably high, but in addition a disproportionately high number of jobs are in “government.’[2] There is nothing inherently wrong with a government job but the problem here is that very few of Alaska’s tribal governments are self-supporting. They have no land bases to develop, no revenue sources from taxes and licensing, and almost all of their funding comes from the federal or state governments. If too large a proportion of the community is employed by a government that depends on another government for its revenue, that employment is not very stable. We must come up with ways to make village economies more diverse and self-sustaining.

Diversification of the Alaskan economy provides all kinds of avenues for Rural Development students, and the program should be a natural home for rural residents who care about the long term future of their communities. Now is the time to pursue partnership with entities outside of the university like tribes, ANCSA Corporations (ANCs) and private entrepreneurs that can fund student projects and research, and help students get involved in work that will produce meaningful sustainable economic development in their communities. Now is the time to encourage student interest in the economic and financial aspects of development, and explore ways to have development that is both a good cultural fit and something that produces positive change. If we miss this opportunity we will be selling both the students and the communities that we serve short.

All manner of development challenges and projects exist out there, both those we want to promote and those we want to prevent. Let’s focus on those we want to promote first because if we do this, we may find that doing so takes care of the prevention piece for us. How can we think outside the box and come up with ways to increase village sustainability. How can we grow local economies and prevent disasters like communities running out of water. How can we work with migration and make it work as a positive rather than a negative. How do we use local resources in a truly sustainable manner without depletion and cultural offence?

We cannot expect the State, under the current administration to do any of this for us. Likewise, the current federal administration is not one that understands phrases like “local control’ “sustainable uses’ or “culturally appropriate’ very well at all. What we can expect from them are developments we do not like if we sit back and do nothing. If we allow those schooled in traditional western business practices to take the lead, then we should expect to see a continuation of the colonial extraction-based model that has brought us to where we are today. Only when we begin to actively implement changes in how business is done, will we start to see long-term local improvements.

Development is going to come to rural Alaska regardless of whether people want it. That is simply a part of ongoing human change. There are plenty of aspects of development that improve the quality of life for residents, like newly paved roads in Elim[3] or battery storage projects in Kwethluk and Kongiganak.[4] Development has many faces and variations, and many benefits if it is done with the involvement of local communities. But that involvement is critical: if we are not involved we will not get what we want.

Rural Development graduates can put “boots on the ground’ in Alaska Native and rural communities to help guide developments and make sure they are place based and appropriately sized for each location. They can and must plan for the future growth of their communities and implement projects that will contribute to economic stability and independence from state and federal funding. They can build the bridges that are needed between tribes and ANCSA Corporations (ANCs), and they can develop relationships with private entrepreneurs who are willing and able to contribute positive investment in their communities. These graduates are vitally important to the future of Alaska Native and rural communities!

[1] https://labor.alaska.gov/trends/sep17.pdf

[2] https://live.laborstats.alaska.gov/alari/details.cfm?yr=2016&dst=01&dst=03&dst=04&dst=06&dst=07&r=3&b=29&p=20

[3] https://www.knom.org/wp/blog/2019/08/21/elim-residents-ride-on-new-roads-kawerak-says-theyll-improve-quality-of-life/

[4] https://www.alaskapublic.org/2019/09/04/kwethluk-gets-new-battery-storage-project/

DANSRD Fall Update: Planning for our future

The Department of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development met August 14 through 16 to discuss and plan for the upcoming academic year and beyond. We know that the budget issues this summer have caused a lot of uncertainty for students, faculty, and staff, but we want to assure you all that the Alaska Native Studies BA, Rural Development BA, and Rural Development MA remain fully available to students.

Here are some of the highlights and important information for students.

  • There will be budget cuts, but they will have limited impact on DANSRD program or course offerings at this time and DANSRD is offering a full slate of courses this fall. We expect to continue to offer full schedules in spring and into the future.
  • We are putting our community development toolbox and skills to good use with internal department strategic planning to strengthen our position within the university system so that we will continue to offer strong programs to students across the state. We don’t just teach it, we use it!
  • We met with fellow Indigenous focused programs Indigenous Studies and Tribal Management to find ways to strengthen our programs and course offerings and make the linkages and course progressions between our programs more seamless and clearer for all of our students.

We have seen some speculation that Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development will be “dissolved’ under the “New UA’ proposal. “Although we also have questioned why the New UA planning process does not have a formal place to consider Indigenous programs, we have heard nothing that indicates that our programs will be dissolved. A statewide Alaska Native Workgroup has met to synergize and plan around our shared goals, Alaska Native serving mission, and programs.

We must all remain engaged and vigilant. Please register for the courses you need this fall AND keep advocating for our programs and all Indigenous focused programs and services across UA.

Alaska in the Upside Down Expanded Version

This is an expanded version of the community perspective I wrote that was published in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on July 21, 2019 in response to the budget crisis and cuts to the University of Alaska. I thought it was worth putting a version on the blog that provided a bit more context and extended quotes from Frederick Jackson Turner on the importance of State Universities.   Jennie

Alaska in the Upside Down, or Stranger Things in Alaska

In the spring of 1989, I was a junior at Harvard College looking for a senior thesis topic when the Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef, spilling approximately 11 million US gallons* of oil into Prince William Sound. Topic acquired, I returned home over the summer to travel through Alaska interviewing Alaskans from all walks of life: miners, teachers, fishermen, biologists, sales associates, homemakers, and politicians, including longtime Alaska State Senator Jack Coghill, later Lieutenant Governor (1990-94), and Governor Wally Hickel (1966-69 and 1990-94). All in all, I interviewed 47, mostly non-Native, Alaskans. Collectively they had lived an average of 31 years in the state, ranging from one year to seventy-five years. Twenty-three percent were born in Alaska.

I asked them what made a person an Alaskan? What kind of development was appropriate for Alaska? What was the role of government? How should we protect the environment? Had the Exxon Valdez oil spill changed their views? Throughout these interviews Alaskans used the language of the “frontier’ — what it means, how it should or should not change — to frame, explain, justify, and sometimes paper over their conflicting feelings about independence and governance, development and environmental protections.

These Alaskan’s perspectives mirrored those put forth in historian Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis, first published in 1883. Turner argued that the unique characteristics of American democracy were developed through the frontier experience. Individuality, independence, egalitarianism, faith in the common man [Turner excluded women and minorities from his analysis], all were forged through the pioneer experience. While there is much to dislike about Turner’s Thesis, particularly his views toward Native Americans and his celebration of unbridled opportunism and exploitation,** his ideas also express some of the best of the frontier spirit that has flourished in Alaska.

Listening to the current budget conversation in the State, I am reminded of Turner and of the conversations I had with my fellow Alaskans in 1989. I hadn’t realized just how much of those frontier ideals are missing from the current discourse. For sure, some threads of the conversation have remained the same. Many Alaskans retain the distrust of government and over-regulation of industry expressed by my interviewees. On the other hand, some foundational values expressed then seem to have all but disappeared, particularly when it comes to ideas about Alaskan self-reliance, hard-work, and neighborliness. No topic illustrates that change more clearly than how some Alaskans now view the PFD.

Alaskans in 1989 weren’t complaining about the “free money,’ but they weren’t about to depend on it either. As one person told me, “We’ll take it while it’s here, but we don’t rely on it.’ Now, as some Alaskans argue that the PFD has become sacrosanct, it feels like the key Alaskan values I was raised with have been turned on their head. The PFD has gone from a tool to an entitlement and we have become more like “food stamp pioneers,’ the term one of my interviewees gave to people who wanted to have the Alaskan experience without the actual work. So, now we have PFD pioneers who believe it is more important than education, medical care, or public safety; more important than taking care of each other. Alaska is in the Upside Down and the PFD is our Demogorgon.

Turner didn’t just look at how the frontier shaped the American democratic character, he also looked at how we could retain it even in the absence of the seemingly endless and free resources of the frontier. His answer to that was the State University. In his essay “Pioneer Ideals and the State University’ Turner argues that State Universities are a critical tool for advancing and preserving American democracy and supporting sound governance and development of resources. State Universities unite “vocational and college work in the same institution’ and train people in “service to democracy rather than of individual advancement alone.’

His arguments rest on two basic premises; first, that education is necessary for sustainable development and growth in modern societies, and second, that education must be provided to all people of talent and interest, not just the wealthy and powerful. Turner’s essay is filled with the language of optimism and hope, and no paraphrase can do them justice so here are a few excerpts.

“In the transitional condition of American democracy which I have tried to indicate, the mission of the university is most important. The times call for educated leaders. General experience and rule-of-thumb information are inadequate for the solution of the problems of a democracy which no longer owns the safety fund of an unlimited quantity of untouched resources. Scientific farming must increase the yield of the field, scientific forestry must economize the woodlands, scientific experiment and construction by chemist, physicist, biologist and engineer must be applied to all of nature’s forces in our complex modern society. The test tube and the microscope are needed rather than ax and rifle in this new ideal of conquest. The very discoveries of science in such fields as public health and manufacturing processes have made it necessary to depend upon the expert, and if the ranks of experts are to be recruited broadly from the democratic masses as well as from those of larger means, the State Universities must furnish at least as liberal opportunities for research and training as the universities based on private endowments furnish. It needs no argument to show that it is not to the advantage of democracy to give over the training of the expert exclusively to privately endowed institutions.’

To do this work, he argues, universities must act as pioneers, free to investigate and follow new ideas.

“That they may perform their work they must be left free, as the pioneer was free, to explore new regions and to report what they find; for like the pioneers they have the ideal of investigation, they seek new horizons. They are not tied to past knowledge; they recognize the fact that the universe still abounds in mystery, that science and society have not crystallized, but are still growing and need their pioneer trail-makers. New and beneficent discoveries in nature, new and beneficial discoveries in the processes and directions of the growth of society, substitutes for the vanishing material basis of pioneer democracy may be expected if the university pioneers are left free to seek the trail.’

Cutting the University of Alaska leaves the State without this important driver of innovation and development. It abandons the citizens of Alaska, taking away their opportunity for education and leaving them at the mercy of outside experts, politicians, and economic interests. It is the opposite of the ideals and values that Alaskans have worked towards for over 50 years. We must not give up on our university, our young people, or our right and ability to chart our own course. I leave you with Turner’s final words on the subject:

“The pioneer’s clearing must be broadened into a domain where all that is worthy of human endeavor may find fertile soil on which to grow; and America must exact of the constructive business geniuses who owe their rise to the freedom of pioneer democracy supreme allegiance and devotion to the commonweal. In fostering such an outcome and in tempering the asperities of the conflicts that must precede its fulfillment, the nation has no more promising agency than the State Universities, no more hopeful product than their graduates.’

If you want to read more from Turner his full collection of Essays, “The Frontier in American History,’ is available online as a Project Gutenberg eBook.

*My original community perspective said 10.1 “billion barrels” – quite a typo! The 10.1 number was the estimate from 1990 when I completed my senior thesis. Estimates today are around 11 million US gallons.

**Some people may wonder about using Turner given some of the problematic aspects of his theory. I’ll write about that in a later post.

Is your research fieldwork or homework? Kamala Visweswaran’s ideas about decolonization, anthropology, and ethnography

Theoretical Musings is an occasional series where I explore some of the significant theoretical foundations and turning points in my academic journey. See the first installment here.

When I ask students to identify their theoretical framework(s) or paradigm(s), they often become what I call intellectually frozen. For many students, theories seem too broad, too abstract, or too academic to be useful and their brains (and typing fingers) become paralyzed. One common misconception they have about theory is that they have to pick just one and follow it. While it is true that some academics and policy makers pick a single theoretical approach and stick with it, most of us are theoretically pluralistic, finding nuggets of insight in many different places. This is particularly important for students who come from different cultural backgrounds with their own cultural paradigms about knowledge and learning. For me, one of those theoretical nuggets was Kamala Visweswaran’s ideas about fieldwork and homework.[i]

When I began my Ph.D. program in anthropology in 1995, I was preparing to join through marriage my intended research community. Within the common paradigms of Western scientific inquiry, this created an obvious and immediate conflict: I had become too close to the community and culture of my study. I was no longer “in the field,’ but “at home.”

Historically, in anthropology “the field’ has been both a location of transformation and a location of separation, a rite of passage through which the student passes, a vessel of concepts, theories, and methods waiting to be filled with cultural grist for the anthropological mill. For the budding anthropological scholar, the field is the location of their transformation from student to practitioner, a transformation marked preferably by physical and mental challenge, with a bit of hazing thrown in.   The field is also a location of knowledge transformation, where so-labeled traditional and cultural knowledge collected by the researcher begins that mystic transformation into academic knowledge in a dissertation or publication. These transformations depend upon and reinforce the field as a location of separation, a place that enhances boundaries between the anthropological self and exotic other, between culture A and culture B, between “cultural” knowledge and “acultural“[ii] knowledge. By becoming a part of my intended field I had at least partially collapsed those boundaries and took my transformation in a potentially unscholarly direction.

I needed to explore my new positionality and place it in context and so began to look at approaches to ethnography and oral history that explored the relationships between researcher and researched in ways that went beyond the traditional Western dichotomy. Fortunately, many feminist and postcolonial anthropologists were already working with and writing about this issue. One of those was Kamala Visweswaran, a cultural anthropologist by training who is now a professor in the Ethnic Studies department at UC San Diego.

Fictions of Feminist Ethnography was Visweswaran’s first book, a collection of essays exploring feminist theory and practice in ethnography. While her discussion of the potential nature and textual forms of feminist ethnography was useful, it was her theorizing about the nature of fieldwork and homework that gave me a piece of theoretical foundation that I use to this day: Viswesaran linked the decolonization of anthropology with the notion of homework,  an “anthropology in reverse’ that speaks “from the place one is located’ (1994, 104).

I have argued for the convergence of two distinct epistemological shifts, one where gender ceases to hold the center of feminist theory, and one where the field fails to hold the center of anthropology.   One shift signals the failure of feminist thinking, and the other, the failure of ethnography.   Both shifts, I believe, mark decolonization as an active, ongoing process — incomplete, and certainly not one to be memorialized as past historical moment…if I have strategically theorized home in order to unearth the hegemonic “field’ of feminist anthropology, I also recognize that field and home are dependent, not mutually exclusive, terms, and that the lines between fieldwork and homework are not always distinct (1994, 113).

As this quote illustrates, her arguments were highly theoretical – broad, somewhat abstract, and academic — but her core notion, that research from a place of belonging (or partial belonging) was not just a legitimate, but a necessary anthropological endeavor, helped me understand my place and has continued to help me as I work with students who are doing their own homework of some kind.

So, for your research or project, in what ways are you doing homework? In what ways are you doing fieldwork? Does it help you to think about your research as homework instead of fieldwork? Do you think it would help you explain your work to others? If so, you have a little piece of theory that supports your approach to your own work and places you within an academic tradition. Congratulations!

Next up in Theoretical Musings:

This particular theoretical idea deals with positionality — the ways in which our culture, gender, class, ethnicity, and locations in time and place influence how we understand the world. It falls under epistemology, the branch of philosophy that is concerned with theories of knowledge. In terms of research paradigms, epistemology looks at the nature of the relationship between the knower and what can be known. Establishing an understanding of your relationship to your research is important, but it (usually) will not be the only theoretical perspective you need for your work. For example, you might need to decide whether to focus on “needs’ or “assets’ for a community development project and find a framework that explains and organizes your approach. For our next installment I will look at two different types of assets based theoretical approaches, Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach and Cordelia Flora and Jan Flora’s Community Capitals Framework.

[i] Twenty-four years later her ideas still resonate within feminist anthropology circles, as this 2018 post in Anthropology News attests.

[ii] As Western academic knowledge is often presumed to be.

Fictions of Feminist Ethnography can be read online by UAF students through the Rasmussen Library website.

Visweswaran, Kamala. 1994. Fictions of Feminist Ethnography. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

 

What Are ANCSA Settlement Trusts? Researched and written by Jenny Bell Jones with input from current and former DANSRD colleagues

In recent weeks DANSRD has received a number of questions from both students and faculty regarding ANCSA Settlement Trusts. Most of these questions seem to have been generated by a recent push by some of the ANCSA Regional Corporations (ANCs) to establish these Trusts in response to changes in tax requirements under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, also known as Public Law 115-97.   Others have come because these Trusts were part of required course work. While we recommend that shareholders ask their respective ANCs for information if a Settlement Trust is being considered, some questions had come from students who simply were not understanding the information the ANC had provided. With that in mind, we put together some basic information to try to answer some of the questions.

First, the Settlement Trust option for ANCSA Corporations (ANCs) is not new. There were 18 established by December 31st 1999[1] and over 30 are now in existence.[2] The tax incentives are new and they are substantial for the ANCs so in 2018 there is renewed interest in establishing these Trusts. Settlement Trusts were included in the statute[3] as part of the “1991 Amendments’ and there is some good information about the original intent of the Trusts in the “1991: Making it Work’ publication published by the Alaska Federation of Natives to explain changes to ANCSA made in 1987. That publication, which was re-issued by Sealaska in 2001, describes Settlement Trusts as follows:

Under the “1991’ law, a Native corporation may transfer some or all of its assets – such as surface land, stock and property – to a trust created just for the benefit of its shareholders. The main purposes of the Settlement Trust are to promote the health, education and welfare of Native shareholders; preserve Native heritage and culture; and give greater protection to Native corporation lands.’[4]

In general, the Settlement Trust option appears to be a good one for ANCSA Corporations. It is one that has long been under-utilized for various reasons involving tax structure. Those who want to learn more about this, and the tax law changes, should review a very recent article by Bruce Edwards entitled “The 2017 Tax Act and Settlement Trusts’.[5] The new tax law allows Settlement Trusts to be funded on a pre-tax rather than an after tax basis, as has been the case since 1988, so this is a good incentive for the Corporations as it will give them a substantial tax-break.

These trusts are intended to “promote the health, education and welfare of the beneficiaries of the Trust and preserve the heritage and culture of Alaska Natives‘ and should be able to provide some benefits for shareholders who will then be referred to as beneficiaries of the Trust, however it is important to understand how they work so that people do not have unrealistic expectations.

You can examine a few different Trust Agreements online to get an idea what they contain. The Bristol Bay Native Corporation Trust Agreement online at https://www.bbnc.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Trust-Agreement-of-the-BBNC-Settlement-Trust.pdf  is one of the longer Agreements. If you look at paragraph 6.1.1 Types of Benefits, you will get an idea of what BBNC envisions their Trust might do for beneficiaries. It is important to understand that these benefits are things that could be provided by the Trust, but there is no guarantee that they actually will be. The ability of the Trust to provide any or all of these benefits is dependent on the amount of assets contributed to the Trust and how well those assets are managed going into the future. It is up to the Trustees to decide how best to manage the Trust and distribute benefits.

Settlement Trust Agreements vary. They all will contain some boiler plate language that indicates their compliance with the law, but beyond that shareholders being asked to vote on establishing a Settlement Trust need to read the Trust Agreement for their own ANC and be sure they understand its contents. Something important to consider is who the Trustees will be and how they will be chosen. The Trustees will have very significant power over the assets in the Trust and hold the responsibility for its success so it is important for them to know what they are doing. Some of the Settlement Trust Agreements call for Trustees and ANC Boards of Directors to be one and the same, but the duties and responsibilities for these two positions are quite different, so meeting them both could be quite challenging.

How does a Settlement Trust work?

When the Corporation establishes a Trust it is giving some of its assets to the Trust and the Trust will then manage the assets separately from those that the Corporation keeps. The ANC can do this in one of two ways: on a regular basis, perhaps annually, or as an endowment which means the Corporation makes a large one time contribution to the Trust. Corporations that are using the Settlement Trust as a vehicle to reduce their tax burden would likely make annual contributions. If an ANC endows a Trust this does not prevent it from making more contributions later on.

Under the new tax law, the Corporation makes those contributions to the Trust pre-tax, and then the Trust pays tax at a lower rate. If the Corporation pays dividends to shareholders those dividends are subject to taxation. If the Trust pays distributions to beneficiaries, those distributions are, in most cases, tax exempt. Distributing the assets through the Trust means, at least in theory, that more money is available to the beneficiaries. The CIRI website provides a table which describes clearly how much money might be saved by using a Settlement Trust. It shows what recipients actually keep from $1 million in corporate earnings distributed by an ANC versus a Trust:

Table credit: https://www.ciri.com/overview-of-settlement-trust-after-2017-tax-act/

While there is a clear tax benefit, it may be difficult for a Settlement Trust to actually serve to “promote the health, education and welfare of the beneficiaries of the Trust and preserve the heritage and culture of Alaska Natives’ over the short term in ways that the Corporation does not already do, unless it is very well funded. In order for the principal or “corpus’ of the Trust to grow it will need ongoing contributions from the ANC plus income from investments to remain in the Trust so that over time it can make larger distributions. The Trust cannot pay out everything it receives from the ANC every year because if it does the principal will not grow. If the ANC experiences some bad years where profits are low or non-existent, it may not make any contribution to the Trust. If that happens the Trust needs to have enough in its principal to hold its own using investment income until contributions start again.

If the only actual benefits to Trust beneficiaries are tax free distribution payments, occasional educational benefits, elders benefits and assistance with funeral potlatches, then these benefits are the same as what most shareholders currently receive with the exception of tax exempt distributions.  If distributions from the Trust are always made in the form of cash to beneficiaries, rather than used for some of the things the BBNC Settlement Trust envisions, then it is up to those beneficiaries how the money is spent. That money may or may not be spent to “promote the health, education and welfare of the beneficiaries of the Trust and preserve the heritage and culture of Alaska Natives’. A less obvious but longer term benefit to beneficiaries is the protection that assets acquire once they are a part of the Trust and can no longer be used by the ANC in ways that may incur risk. This does not mean that there is no risk involved with the kinds of investments a Trust can make but risk will be much lower as long as the Trust is managed responsibly.

The tax exemption will result in some small savings for most shareholders who would otherwise pay taxes on an ANC dividend. Shareholders with higher incomes may see more savings. It will make no difference for those whose incomes are so low that they already pay no federal income taxes. The tax exemptions correspond to different tiers described in the new tax law so most of the time they will apply.  If a much larger than usual distribution were to be made then it most likely would not be tax exempt because it would fall into the Tier 4 category of distributions.[6]

How much these Trusts can provide to beneficiaries is really dependent on two things: the amount of the assets that the Corporation contributes to the Trust, and how well those assets are managed going into the future. A Trust cannot do more than it has money for. The BBNC Trust Agreement provides a very expansive picture of all the things it might do. Other Trust Agreements are a lot more conservative in their description of distributions than the BBNC Agreement, and may provide a more realistic picture of what a Settlement Trust could provide.

There is a possibility that Settlement Trusts could do a lot more for Alaska Native communities than the ANCs are currently able to but, as noted earlier, their success will be dependent on how well they are funded by the ANCs and the skill of the Trustees who are managing them.

What will NOT happen if a Settlement Trust is established?

  • Land placed into a Settlement Trust will not become Indian Country.
  • A Settlement Trust cannot operate a businesses and cannot “go under’ as a result of a joint venture the ANC is involved in failing.
  • An ANC cannot convey sub-surface land to a Settlement Trust.
  • Trust distributions are unlikely to be a whole lot more than dividend payments were at least until such time as the Trust is well established and its investments are doing well.
  • If land is placed into the Settlement Trust it cannot then be conveyed to another party.
  • Shareholders will not vote on the transfer of assets from the ANC to the Trust UNLESS the ANC is going to transfer all or substantially all of its assets.
  • The ANC cannot take back assets after it has contributed them.

What should shareholders ask about?

Each ANC has provided different information for shareholders regarding these trusts. We looked at several FAQ sheets and found Calista Corporation to have the most transparent and comprehensive document. We mentioned earlier that shareholders should review materials from their own ANC however most of what Calista has is very standard information and you can review this at https://www.calistacorp.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Settlement-Trust-FAQs-FINAL.pdf

After researching all of the available materials we compiled a list of general questions that we felt were important, especially for shareholders. Some of these are questions we had been asked by students, and we found we could not answer them using the materials available to us, so it is likely that others would also have trouble answering them:

  • Under what circumstances would distributions from the Settlement Trust received by beneficiaries NOT be exempt from taxation?
  • What is the real impact for people in different tax brackets?
  • How will distributions from this trust affect federal needs-based eligibility programs such as food stamps? (This may be covered under 43 U.S.C. § 1626(c)(E) https://lbblawyers.com/ancsa/1626.htm but it would be a good thing to verify)
  • If Trustees are going to be the same people as the ANC Board how will the rights and responsibilities of each position differ?
  • Could the dual responsibility of being a Board Member and a Trustee create a conflict of interest and, if so, how would that be addressed?
  • What assets are going to be placed into the Trust?
  • Will the distribution that I receive as a Trust beneficiary be INSTEAD OF or IN ADDITION TO the dividend I usually receive from my ANC?
  • Will any surface land owned by the ANC be placed into the trust?
  • For how long and how often will the ANC continue to contribute to the Trust?
  • Is there any requirement for the ANC to continue making contributions to the Trust?
  • Suppose the ANC has no need for a tax deduction in a given year, will it still contribute to the Trust?
  • How will this Trust affect shareholder’s future rights and responsibilities with their ANC? (Some ANCs already have problems getting enough shareholders to vote; will this change make things worse?)
  •  Will Trustees invite shareholder input on decisions on the addition of additional types of distributions that could be created in the future and, if not, how will the Trustees make those decisions?
  • If my ANC has a Foundation how will this be affected by the Trust?
  • What happens to the Trust if shareholders vote to lift restrictions on Corporation shares?

In Conclusion:

Settlement Trusts can secure investments in ways that the ANCs do not, and have the potential to provide significant benefits to shareholders but these benefits will be dependent on:

  • The terms of the Trust Agreement.
  • The amount that the ANC contributes to the Trust.
  • The skill of the Trustees.

DANSRD cannot advise you on how to vote but we recommend you educate yourself thoroughly if you are being asked to vote on establishing a Trust. If you have already voted, be an active beneficiary and keep abreast with your Trust and what it is doing!

[1] Edwards, Bruce N. UNDERSTANDING AND MAKING THE NEW SECTION 646 ELECTION FOR ALASKA NATIVE SETTLEMENT TRUSTS. Alaska Law Review 2001. Page 223

[2] QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ABOUT THE DOYON SETTLEMENT TRUST. FAQS

[3] 43 U.S.C. § 1629e Settlement Trust option https://lbblawyers.com/ancsa/1629e.htm

[4] 1991: Making It Work A Guide to Public Law 100-241 1987 Amendments to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Alaska Federation of Natives Reissued in PDF October 2001 by Sealaska Corporation www.sealaska.com. Page 43

[5] Edwards, Bruce N. THE 2017 TAX ACT AND SETTLEMENT TRUSTS. ALASKA LAW REVIEW Vol. 35:1 https://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1538&context=alr

[6] Edwards, Bruce N. THE 2017 TAX ACT AND SETTLEMENT TRUSTS. ALASKA LAW REVIEW Vol. 35:1. Page 25, 26

Introducing “Theoretical Musings”

Any student who has taken one of my classes knows that I love theory and think they should love it to. And what’s not to love? Theories — your own, disciplinary theories, knowledge paradigms —  are foundational for our research and praxis in this world.  Most students, though, don’t love theory. They often find it clunky and confusing. It’s hard to see why you need to have a theory when you just want to ensure your village has access to quality food. But, how you approach that problem depends on your theory. For example, food security theory and food sovereignty theory are two different approaches to understanding and resolving issues of food insecurity.[1] Food security theory emphasizes physical and economic access to safe, nutritious, and affordable food and looks primarily to market forces to provide that access. Food sovereignty theory arose from the activist group La ViaCampesina (The Way of Peasants), an international farming and peasant movement, and emphasizes the right to maintain and develop local capacity for a nation or area to produce its own basic food needs. Which one fits with your ideas about maintaining and enhancing community food supplies? And, theory doesn’t just help you articulate your perspective on your issue; it also allows you to enter into broader conversations in academia and elsewhere and see how local issues and concerns fit into global contexts.

Trying to encourage students to enjoy theory as I do has led me to think back on all of the times a theory has changed or enhanced my way of thinking about an issue. Certain quotes and perspectives come back to me again and again. Through a series of posts on “theoretical musings’ I am going to share these quotes and theories that have guided me in academia and in life and I hope other faculty will join me in sharing the quotes that have guided them as well. . First up from me will be a post on Kamala Viswesaran’s Fictions of Feminist Ethnography.[2] Look for it soon!

[1] For a brief discussion of food sovereignty theory check out this entry — https://globalsocialtheory.org/concepts/food-sovereignty/ —  at the site “Global Social Theory.’ The site is organized by Gurminder K. Bhambra, Professor of Postcolonial and Decolonial Studies in the School of Global Studies, University of Sussex. Professor Bhambra is co-editor with Dalia Gebrial and Kerem Nisancioglu of Decolonizing the University (Pluto Press, 2018).

[2] Kamala Visweswaran, Fictions of Feminist Ethnography (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994).

DANSRD Graduation Potluck

Faculty, friends, and family honored the Department of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development graduates (and one Tribal Management graduate) with a potluck tonight at the RSS Gathering Room tonight. Students received graduation gifts and shared a bit about their experiences and plans for the future. Congratulations to our graduates and their families!

Rural Development graduate Terrell Jones with Professors Charlene Stern and Kathleen Meckel
Professor Benson and Alaska Native Studies graduate Sarah Jones
Rural Development graduate Shaelene Holstrom with Professors Judy Ramos, Charlene Stern, and Cathy Brooks
Rural Development graduate Sara Leckband with Professor Charlene Stern
Tribal Management graduate Esau Sinnok with Tribal Management Professor Carrie Stevens and DANSRD Professor Charlene Stern
Rural Development (and Engineering) graduate Diloola Erickson with Professors Charlene Stern and Kathleen Meckel
DANSRD Professor Charlene Stern and Alaska Native Language Center Professor Walkie Charles with Rural Development graduate Christina Edwin

 

Professor Jennifer Carroll with Rural Development graduate Debbie Demientieff
Rural Development graduate Bobbie McNeley with Tribal Management Professor Carrie Stevens and DANSRD Professors Pat Sekaquaptewa, and Diane Benson

DANSRD graduates who could not make it to the potluck are Hitomi Marsh, Kyla Phillips, and Inuuraq Moss. Congratulations ladies, and we missed you!

DANSRD students at the 2018 Alaska Native Studies Conference

DANSRD students from my class RD 475 Senior Project, Eric Petersen, Pamela Murphy, and Debbie Demientieff, presented on their senior projects at the Alaska Native Studies Conference in Juneau April 14-15. The students did a great job and got feedback and questions throughout the conference about their projects, already making a difference through their scholarship!

Eric Petersen: Alaska Native Child Adoption      

Alaska Native Child Adoption Alaska Native children have been adopted out from their biological families, communities, and cultures for decades creating generations of Alaska Natives disconnected from their cultures. While there has been significant progress made since 1978 when the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was enacted there are still issues that need to be resolved. One significant problem is that biological fathers that are not on the pre-adoption birth certificate are unable to put their name on the child’s birth certificate after the adoption is finalized. This causes a void in the child’s connection to their culture as well as impacting possible benefits from increased blood quantum. This project explores this issue and suggests possible solutions to solve the problem.

Pamela Murphy: Sustainable Education Delivery Plan

The Bristol Bay Campus faces the burning question of how to get post-secondary, relevant, education to remote locations in rural Alaska for all its 42 communities in a way that is sustainable over time. Within the Bristol Bay Region there is a high priority for quality education to prepare youth with skills to succeed in college or vocational schools. Title III funding was recently awarded to the Bristol Bay Campus to develop sustainable programs for Dillingham and its outlining service area to accomplish this vision. The purpose of this project is to establish a Sustainable Delivery Education plan, starting with the mobile welding lab pilot project. This mobile welding lab will feature covered welding stations in a shipping container and start off in the community of St. Paul, Alaska.

Debbie Demientieff: Portraits of Resilience: Celebrating Who We Are

Our traditional value of taking care of our people is essential to this project. Traditionally people have natural role models that exemplify a good way of being, a good way of living. These role models or mentors were naturally known as tribes lived close in kinship and as a community. Now, in a world where families live apart from their tribal lands and their community it is important to share the success of Alaska Native people. People who are living a good life must be uplifted and serve as a good story for others to gain their own understanding of what they themselves are capable of achieving as Alaska Native people. Today, it is important to identify these leaders and role models so that others who may never get to meet them personally are able to learn from their experiences through their stories. This project explores the use of oral history as a means of documenting and sharing Alaska Native achievement and success as a guide for others to excel and reach their own personal level of success. They will be able to look at the experiences of successful people and know that they too can make the effort to realize their own goals.

I am so proud of these students!

“Beware the Pitfalls of ‘Distancing Language’ in Development Proposals” A Guest Post by Professor Jenny Bell Jones

This was not going to be the subject of my next blog post but a recent observation pushed it to the top of the list. As proposed development of the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), also known as the birthing ground of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, moves forward I am noticing a very disturbing trend. More and more people in leadership positions (our Congressional Delegation and Governor Walker in particular) are not only referring to the birthing grounds as “the 1002’; they are no longer even using the acronym ANWR to describe the location of this oil and gas development. This use of distancing language is of grave concern because the term “1002’ is so far removed from what is actually in question, land, animals and people, as to be completely meaningless to all but the tiny number of people who have actually read the part of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) that 1002 refers to. When “1002’ is used instead of ANWR  those who knew what ANWR stood for, and were therefore perhaps somewhat concerned about its future, will no longer make the connection that this development is going to take place in an extremely fragile location inside a wildlife refuge.

Throughout history distancing language has been a very powerful tool of colonialism. Indigenous Peoples were called “savages’ and could then be treated with less (or often no) respect and empathy. Native place names were changed and in turn those places lost the respect that they had commanded because their true names, which told important things about their history and purpose, had been erased. Racial labels were applied to different groups that allowed other groups to feel superior and that sense of superiority (and the fear of losing it) translated into support for exclusion laws, fascism, apartheid, and Jim Crow laws along with many other examples of dehumanizing regimes that harmed entire groups of people.

The weapon of colonial language diversions is still in use all around us today. Animals and birds are no longer living beings but rather they are now “natural resources’. Your home is “an investment’ rather than the place where you live and raise a family and therefore something you might lose because investments fail. “Natural resource extraction’ has taken the place of less palatable but much clearer words like “mining’ or “oil drilling’. Employees are now “human resources’ which makes it easier to disregard their needs as people. This list could be much longer but the underlying dehumanization is clearly there.

Can we dehumanize something that isn’t actually human such as an important area of land like the birthing grounds in the ANWR? If we take the viewpoint that all animals are equal in having needs, and that includes the human species of animals, we can see that dehumanizing may be too narrow but it is the best word we have to get started. If we take concern for life and place out of an equation by eliminating important information from the calculation it makes it oh so much easier to destroy life and place and that kind of action has a dehumanizing effect on us all. Calling something other than what it really is has allowed all sorts of evil to take place around the world. Perhaps we cannot actually dehumanize something that is not human but we can certainly help people to think about it in ways that will provide the same outcomes as dehumanization if we allow them to reduce something as complex and vibrant as the birthing ground of a very large caribou herd to four numbers.

How do we fight back? By politely but firmly demanding that the correct language be used so that everyone is properly informed, and always making sure we use it ourselves. Congress has decided to allow drilling in an environmentally sensitive area of a National Wildlife Refuge which is critically important to many species of birds and wildlife and especially to the Porcupine Caribou Herd which calves there on an annual basis. This is what they have said they want to do and this is how it should be presented to the public. They cannot be allowed to slide out of this by miss-informing the public. Whether it can be done “safely’ or “responsibly’ or “without environmental damage’ remains to be seen. We are not discussing that here. What we are discussing is the need for the public to be properly informed as to the location. “1002’ is meaningless in this regard.

Responsible development requires transparency at every step of the process. If a mine is going to use cyanide as part of its ore processing procedure it cannot just say it will use “chemicals’; the general public does not know enough about mining to make the connection with cyanide. If a development is going to create jobs the public needs to know “how many’, “for whom’ and for “how long’; just saying “jobs will be created’ obscures reality. Builders of a road must be clear about where they intend to put it; they cannot just say it will join up points A and B with no consideration of the route. Proponents of development in the ANWR have promised that it will be done responsibly; they need to begin with honest descriptions of where the development is going to take place so that the American public can make informed decisions about whether or not they support this. “The 1002’ is not an honest description of the birthing ground of the Porcupine Caribou Herd.