Taking Ownership - The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act

Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act

In 1971, Congress passed ANCSA. The Act has been called an extraordinary experiment in relations between the federal government and the indigenous peoples of Alaska.  It is the culmination of years of work by Alaska Native people to ensure the future economic stability of their people.

ANCSA, P.L. 92-203, was signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon on December 18, 1971, and is the largest land claims settlement in United States history. The settlement resolved the issues around the land claims of Alaska Native peoples by transferring government-held titles of Alaska land to 12 Alaska Native regional corporations and more than 200 village corporations. A 13th Regional Corporation, without land, was eventually created for Alaska Natives who no longer lived in Alaska.

More than 44 million acres of land in Alaska, including the surface and subsurface rights once claimed by the Federal government, were transferred to these 12 corporations and more than 200 village corporations, changing the legal relationship of Alaska Native people to their land. Before ANCSA, Alaska Native peoples co-owned Alaska’s land with the Federal government. After ANCSA, Alaska Native people became shareholders of their regional corporation – basing land ownership on the corporate model.

As a result of ANCSA, NANA became entitled to approximately 2.2 million acres of surface and subsurface real estate. Under ANCSA, village corporations owned surface lands.  Subsurface mineral rights to all lands went to the regional corporations.

In the NANA region, all of the villages, except Kotzebue, merged their assets in 1976 with NANA to simplify land ownership and reduce administrative burdens and costs. Only after extensive meetings throughout the region, efforts with the Alaska Legislature, Congress and government agencies, and region-wide votes, the merger was approved by the federal government in 1976.

This merger doubled NANA board representation for all the villages, with the exception of Kotzebue. Village corporation shares were exchanged for NANA stock. For example, if a shareholder held 100 shares in their village corporation and 100 shares of NANA stock before the merger, they held 200 shares in NANA stock after the merger.