January 27, 2015

Debt and Alaska Native Cooperatives

Alaska Natives possessed a variety of formal organizations before and during the implementation of IRA-based tribal governments and ANCSA Native-operated corporations. One of these formations, cooperatives, formed in villages as instruments to bring Natives into an emerging regional economy set-up by new comers. The cooperatives came as the US business interests increasing developed enterprises that extracted natural resources such as timber and sea life from the region. In doing so, the businesses quite often blocked Native access to traditional resource sites, altering the very life ways of these Native communities. One of the consequences of being forced from traditional lifeways was that Indigenous individuals funneled into the asymmetric employment conditions of cannery work. Often governing structures possessed legally consigned financial instruments for bringing Native people into the US economy, and Native people with few options had to participate.

Native houses at the Naknek Packing Co. Cannery.UAA-hmc-0186-volume4-3795
Even before the changes in Indian Reorganization Act to include Alaska Natives, the government enrolled Native individuals into chartered stock companies. Drawing from previous posts on this blog, many Natives once indoctrinated into the reindeer herding business then faced compulsory ownership in the reindeer industry. As active investors in industry, the worked to turn a fair profit on their labor.

Two men, Frank Seppilu and Irving Ifkohluk, sit at the entrance of a tent, counting reindeer. 
Collection: O. C. and Ruth Connelly, 1938-1941.
UAA-hmc-0562-53 c
Also in 1936 under provision 17 of the IRA, Native communities could organized as cooperative associations. Legal scholars David Case and David Voluck assert that these cooperatives brought together Native individuals by way of their "common occupation," rather than their "strict geographic residence." That is, the cooperatives activated in the spaces of labor activities brought together Natives through their involvement in the new territorial work force for what was surely promised to be measurable profits.


Above is a newspaper article I found while conducting archival work for my current book project. From 1954, the piece talks about how the southeastern Alaska Native cooperative canneries were in "bad shape" and suffered losses and that the "loan" programs toward these communities had "to this date not been successful." The interesting part of the cooperative business plan was that these ventures were financed through a government loan program. If these Native labor associations couldn't pay their loans then they suffered incredible amounts of debt, owed to the federal government. The article describes how some of these cooperatives were defaulting on hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the mid-20th century the burden of debt became a way to organize Native communities, under the instrument of the 'cooperative' in the mid-20th century.

January 9, 2015

A Tradition of Activism and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act



My fellow Alaska Native colleagues Maria Shaa Tlaa Williams, Holly Miowak Guise, and I will be presenting the panel "Native activism and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act," at the 16th Annual American Indian Studies Association Conference hosted by University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, Thursday February 5 & Friday February 6, 2015. Please stop by if you would like to know more about the activist currents in Native Alaska and how they relate to our contemporary legal relationships to land. The abstract of the panel is below, along with our panel details.


The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 was the largest land settlement made by the United States with an indigenous group. With the passage of the settlement the government formed 13 regional and hundreds of village Native-operated for-profit corporations in exchange for Native communities releasing their title claims to the Alaska region. Often maligned by the public, the settlement and their corporations, changed traditional cultural ways of living for Alaska Native communities in a variety of ways. This panel tracks the history of the settlement, with its origins in pre-statehood Alaska amid World War II Native alliances to the rise of the Alaska Federation of Natives through the Alaska Native Solidarity Movement. After giving consideration to the activist currents of political solidarity and their interests in maintaining traditional culture, that preceded the settlement, the panel examines how the introduction of IRA-based tribal governments in the 1990s complicated politics for the Native people, the corporations, and the State of Alaska. This is believed to be the first panel on the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act by Alaska Native scholars at a national conference. 

Session 4      11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Title:  A Tradition of Activism and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act
Room:  SUB Lobo A&B
Moderator:  Thomas Michael Swensen, Colorado State University

Holly Miowak Guise, History PhD Candidate, Yale University
Alaska Native Solidarity Movements During WWII
Maria Shaa Tlaa Williams, Associate Professor and Director, Alaska Native Studies, University of Alaska-Anchorage
Alaska Native Solidarity Movement and the Leadership Role of Nick Gray
Thomas Michael Swensen, Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies,
Colorado State University
Impossible Sovereignties: The Alaska Federation of Natives, Native Corporations, and Tribal Governments in Alaska