Transcript: Sen. Ted Stevens at AFN
Monday, October 27, 2003

The following is a text of an address Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) gave via videotape to the Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention on October 24, 2003. The transcript was provided by Stevens' office.

Every year, I look forward to addressing this conference and discussing solutions for the challenges that face our Native people. This year is no different, and in light of recent events and reports by the press, your meeting has special significance.

Responsibilities I am privileged to have in the Senate have intensified because of the war on terror and the on-going situation in Iraq. My staff and I are working seven days a week right now, and those responsibilities prevent me from joining you in person. But I wanted to address you directly. It's my hope that you will listen to what I say and make up your own minds as to who is or is not a "racist" in the dialogue about Alaska tribal issues.

More than 50 years ago, I started practicing law in Fairbanks. That fall, at the urging of our episcopal minister, my wife and I invited a young village girl to live with us so she could go to high school. We had one child then, and Ann was not working. This girl was not with us to work, but to learn. That experience began a relationship with the Alaska Native community that has lasted a lifetime.

That fall, after the federal judge appointed me to be U.S. Attorney, one of my first actions was to go to every business in my area displaying "White Only" or "No Natives Allowed" signs to tell them to take the signs down or I would file a civil rights action against the owner. There was some grumbling, but the signs came down.

Later, I made some friends in Ft. Yukon, where a fraternity brother of mine, Father Lambert, was the episcopal priest. He made me aware of the impact that liquor was having on Native families. So, at the church's request, I prosecuted people for making liquor.

In 1956, having become involved with the statehood movement, I accepted a transfer to Washington, D.C., to be the legislative counsel for the Department of Interior. My key job was to manage the statehood bills for Alaska and Hawaii for the Secretary of the Interior, Fred Seaton.

We achieved statehood for Alaska in July 1959. As Congress considered the statehood bill, I worked with Delegate Bob Bartlett on section 4 of the Statehood Act to preserve Native land claims. After thoroughly studying the issue, I concluded that only the Congress could settle Native land claims equitably. So, Bob Bartlett and I made sure that section 4 not only preserved Alaska Native claims against the United States, but also committed the Congress to the task of settling those claims. Without section 4, your land might have been transferred to the new state, putting your right to your own land in jeopardy.

I returned to Alaska in 1961 and opened a law office in Anchorage. That summer, Howard Rock, the founder of AFN, and I met with La Verne Madigan of the Association on American Indian Affairs; Roger Ernst, Former Assistant Secretary of the Interior; and Dr. Henry Forbes. The result of our discussions was the formation of The Tundra Times, the first statewide Alaskan newspaper. We felt that paper was needed to bring together diverse Alaska Native points of view and assure a unified position in pursuing the claims in Congress.

Howard, together with many of you here, helped form AFN to advocate a Native land settlement before Congress. Howard and I shared the honor of being Alaskan of the Year.

I sought election to Congress in 1962 and lost to Ernest Gruening.

As I resumed the practice of law, the village of Minto sought my help to prevent the state from selecting lands they occupied. The extent of their claims were known to the federal government for at one time, I was informed, the people of Minto were offered a reservation, which would be theirs and held in trust by the federal government. Minto declined a reservation but occupied the lands under an old law which protected Alaska Natives' right to lands which they lived and hunted on. As former Solicitor of the Interior Department, I was barred from being employed by Minto to represent them in protecting their rights, but I felt strongly that they were being wronged, and I wanted to help. So, I represented them as a lawyer and gave them my legal advice without charge.

As the years went by, I also represented many oil companies and prepared title opinions for them on prospective "drill sites" - these were the areas selected by the companies to explore for oil. On each of those "drill site opinions" I noted the existence of unsettled land claims of Alaska Natives. Those claims were what was called "a cloud on the title" to the drill sites, and after oil was discovered in 1968 at Prudhoe, those were ominous clouds on the title to leased lands on the North Slope. Unless the clouds were removed by settling the land claims, development of Alaska's oil was in jeopardy.

In 1968, when Senator Bob Bartlett passed away, Governor Wally Hickel appointed me to the Senate. I started working immediately on Alaska Native health issues. There were no clinics in any villages then; the BIA school teacher and his wife in territorial days had maintained by phone or radio a connection with the Indian Health Service hospitals in Anchorage, Bethel and a few other places.

We started training health aides in Nome. Today, we have a whole network of community health aides in almost every village in the state, and last year, we expanded the program again to include a counselor in every village.

I also secured approval of funds to build village clinics, which we turned over to the villages, and the Indian Health Service rented those clinics for the villages. Today, we have clinics in almost every community and there is another $20 million in the budget this year.

Slowly but surely, we reduced infant mortality, ear infections, the effect of many childhood diseases, and now we have modern telemedicine facilities in almost every village and the best hospitals in the Indian Health Service.

In 1969, I started working in the Senate on a settlement for the land claims issue. Before I got to the Senate, Senator Ernest Gruening also saw that land claims could not be solved through the courts; that course would have tied up all land transfers in Alaska for decades. In 1967, Gruening introduced a bill which provided for a grant of 50,000 acres per village - a total of roughly 1.75 million acres - to settle all Alaska Native claims. It contained no cash settlement for lands taken by the federal government.

In 1969, I introduced a bill to settle Alaska's Native land claims that provided monetary compensation and additional land. There was a bitter dispute over how much land and how much money should be part of that settlement, but I went to President Nixon with Brad Patterson, Nixon's assistant, and Don Wright, an AFN leader. Together we convinced the President to support a settlement involving at least 40 million acres and one billion dollars.

That was in 1971. By 2002 standards, that one billion dollars would now be over four billion, and today, with 44 million acres, you are the largest private land holder in the state. You have more land than the states of Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Vermont, Maryland and Massachusetts combined.

As you know, that act, called the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, passed in December of 1971. It required a vote of Alaska Natives to ratify the settlement - that vote occurred and you approved the settlement on December 18, 1971.

Two important things came out of that settlement: First, we were able to secure a lot more land and a lot more money for the Native community, and second, selected lands became the private property of each village and region - private property subject to state law.

Through the period of 1972 to 1980, we battled Congress to settle the Alaska lands issue which arose out of Section 17 (d)(2) of the Alaska Native claims settlement. That section required a review of Alaska lands to determine what parks, refuges, forests, and wilderness should be created. The result was ANILCA - the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980.

That act protected Alaska Native land claims against state selection, but it also withdrew over 100 million acres of land from state selection as well as Native selection. A series of provisions offered what we called "lieu" selections to some Native organizations which had claims on lands set aside for federal use. I also wrote Title 8 of the law, which protected your hunting and fishing rights, and Title 11, which protected your right to access your land.

Since those two laws were enacted, ANCSA has been amended more than 20 times, ANILCA more than 19. Most of those changes were made at the request of Alaska Natives, and most of them passed as "riders" on an appropriations bill.

Let me remind you what some of those amendments did for the Native community: They created an open season for Native veterans to claim allotments. They reduced the tax bracket for settlement trusts, meaning that Alaska settlement trusts are some of the only trusts in the country taxed at the lowest tax bracket, not the highest. They also gave you the right to consolidate your villages and established many other changes that are important to your daily lives.

During my 34 years in the Senate, I have worked on countless other issues vital to the Native community. I made sure that Aleuts who were removed from their homes during World War II were compensated, and I drafted legislation to promote Alaska Native art and culture.

I have worked hard to ensure that Native Alaskans get a quality education. After the federal government transferred BIA schools to our state, I worked hard to fund them properly and bring them up to code, and I got Congress to pass the Alaska Native Education Equity Act. This year, at my request, Congress has set aside nearly $40 million for education, including schools in Bethel and Barrow.

I've helped restore and protect natural resources vital to the Native way of life, including the bowhead whale, walrus, seal, sea otter, polar bear, Arctic nesting goose, Aleutian Canada goose, and our salmon population. The money I allocated for groups like AVCP, TCC, and Kawerak helped Native people make it through the winter when the fishing harvest could not sustain us.

That work has become even more important as the Native community has grown; I will fight for these kinds of issues as long as I serve in the Senate.

In a recent meeting with Julie Kitka, Julie pointed out that the Alaska Native population is rapidly expanding. As you know, the federal Census is taken every 10 years. In 1960, the Census reported that there were 42,522 Alaskans classified as "American Indian, Eskimo, or Aleut." That increased to 50,601 in 1970. Beginning in 1980, the Census counted the population in each Alaskan village. The total Native population reached over 50,800 in 1980, over 79,000 in 1990, and over 98,000 in 2000. Alaska's Native population has nearly doubled since I was appointed to the Senate.

In a recent meeting with the press I was asked a question about sovereignty. In my answer I said: "It's a very difficult thing. The road they're on now is the road of destruction of statehood because the Native population is increasing at a much greater rate than the non-Native population, I don't know if you realize that. And, they want to have total jurisdiction over anything that happens in a village without regard to state law and without regard to federal law. Very serious, but people seem to laugh it off and say �There goes Stevens again, he's picking a fight with the Native people of Alaska.' Not so at all. I'm trying to give them the protection of the American system."

The problem I raised in that press conference was the same problem I raised here with you at your convention: I raised it in 2000 and again in 2002. It's a problem that developed because the former Director of BIA, Ada Deer, decreed that every Alaskan Native village was a tribe, leading many to assert there are now 231 Alaskan tribes.

Some seek to have each Native village declared to be a sovereign tribe. They have sought courts, administrative tribunal support, and grants for many tribal government services.

Today, Alaska Natives represent 4 percent of the nation's Native population. Yet, Alaska Natives receive about 20 percent of the Indian Health Service budget.

Alaska Natives are only one twenty-fifth of the nation's Native population; yet, they receive approximately one-seventh of all Native American housing funds.

It is just not possible to fund 231 separate villages as tribes. The time is fast approaching when I will no longer be Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and someday I will not be in the Senate to represent you. When that day comes, the current funding levels will not be sustainable. Already, tribes in the Lower 48 are using the new Census figures to take almost 10 percent of Alaska Native housing funds in 2004.

I have long been concerned about what will happen when I can no longer deliver the funds you need. I want to ensure, to the best of my ability, that we have built programs for the Native community that are sustainable well into the future. I have been working toward that end.

Sovereignty advocates want each village to be a sovereign nation - not subject to state law, not subject even to jurisdiction of the federal courts. But that course of action cannot succeed.

As the Native population has expanded, so has the number of villages. In his 1968 study, "Alaska Natives and the Land," Joseph Fitzgerald reported there were 178 villages. Now the claim is there are 231. If those villages are recognized as sovereign nations, the future of Alaska as a state is in jeopardy; Alaska would ultimately encompass a huge collection of independent tribal nations left unconnected by a state government and unprotected by the federal system.

The resolution of the sovereignty issue is critical to Alaska's future. A lot is at stake, and there are reasonable differences of opinion. But, to be called a "racist" after more than 50 years of dedicated service to Alaskans, particularly Alaska Natives, is something I will not forget. It is a stain on my soul.

You are not only my constituents, but my friends. Many, many of you have been guests in our house in Washington and here at home. Your children have been interns in my office in the Senate, and I believe I have traveled to as many villages as any other elected official.

The reaction to my statement should be a wake-up call to those of you who want to improve the lives of your children and their children. I have worked with Alaska Native people for a half century, but I will not be deterred from the cause of helping Alaska Natives by those who seek, not to enhance, but to destroy your future.

Tribal sovereignty is not the answer to the problems Alaska Natives face. It merely brings authority to some, power to others, and legal fees to advocates that bring incessant litigation.

Full sovereignty is only possible by turning your lands back to the federal government to hold in trust for you. You could make no decisions about your land without Uncle Sam's permission.

As most of you know, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of the Interior are now in the seventeenth year of litigation over mismanagement of the assets of Native peoples in the Lower 48. Is that what we want for Alaska? Minto rejected that years ago. I hope you will continue to reject that failed solution.

In a recent study by the McDowell Group for the First Alaskans Foundation and the Alaska Humanities Forum, Alaska Natives identified subsistence, education, jobs, and substance abuse as the most critical issues in the Native community. The study also revealed that most Natives feel that the state is best able to help Native villages meet these challenges.

This study is a reminder that, although there are issues like the powers of tribal courts about which we will have reasonable disagreements, the Native community has many other pressing issues to address.

Incidentally, I have supported and continue to support village family courts. I have been a supporter of the Indian Child Welfare Act and have funded programs that keep Native families together and stop domestic violence and child abuse.

I also share your pride in your culture; my offices are filled with Native artwork and artifacts that reflect your history. In fact, visitors to my Washington, DC offices often remark that they look like Alaska Native museums. I want to continue to work with you to make sure that we preserve your culture for generations to come.

I have also been receptive to suggestions about how to resolve issues involving the powers of tribal courts. Only last week, Julie Kitka, Chris McNeil, Representative Albert Kookesh, and I discussed many options: such as the establishment of different levels of Alaska Native villages with different levels of governing powers derived from the state and recognized by the federal government. This new form of government would be eligible for services and funding as a political subdivision of Alaska.

We discussed this and a whole range of other suggestions, but before we attempt to get federal approval for these proposals, I want to hear your reaction and the state's reaction to them.

There is a lot of work left to be done, and my desire is that we work on those issues the way we have worked on other critical challenges for 50 years: together.

I turn 80 next month. It has long been my hope that our congressional delegation's hard work would create a "color and racial blind" citizenry in Alaska by now, and I would enjoy the respect I have tried to show each of you whether we agreed or not.