Alaska native and american indian policy: a comparative case


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It would seem that past Alaska Native/American Indian policies of the federal government led to poverty, inadequate healthcare and infrastructure, and a limited scope of economic and educational opportunity in the overall picture. On the other hand, if we change the scope of the analysis to the level of specific cases, we see that indigenous socio-political structures could adapt and break out of the federal box. From this perspective, it can be argued that there are many exceptions and unique circumstances that challenge the general hypothesis of isolation and doom. In fact, Alaska Native and American Indian tribes frequently took steps towards finding a legal means of seizing title and/or administrative sovereignty for lands and developed effective governance systems through innovative administrative structures. The previous section of this case offers some foundational ideas about the connecting threads, concepts and examples of federal policy that were instrumental in the failures. This section explores native-initiated innovations and successes.

Though there are earlier examples, it was sometime in the 1980’s that clusters of Alaskan Native institutions and the tribes of the Lower 48 began a steady movement forward. Though the result was not an eclipse of federal policy, they began to use the existing policies vacuums to free themselves, step by step, from federal control. Bill Ziegler, CEO of a unique native urban housing project who came from the Lower Brule reservation in South Dakota spoke: “It’s like the Lakota hunters bringing down a buffalo. It wasn’t one shot. It was a series of errors that led to success. And it’s going to take a series of arrows to bring down the beast” (Williams, 2013, p. 16).

Tribes and native organizations worked to get amendments to some of the laws that either left tribes out or promoted policies that were no longer useful. Some began to find ways to adapt core cultural concepts to progressive programs. The trend toward applied self-governance initiatives, backed by economic initiatives, nonprofit partners, and new assertiveness in state-tribal relations was pushed ahead with tribally-initiated policies and the support and solidarity of tribal organizations. As a result, policies and programs developed that were uniquely tailored to their bio-geographic and cultural contexts and their regional economies. Economic success soon brought forth increased political leverage. Tribal influence was enhanced by the current trend toward extremely tight political races often decided by a percentage point or two. If organized in a block, tribal members could change election results. With money from their enterprises, tribes could hire lobbyists and advocates and mount media campaigns. All of the emerging potential and actual successes raised a new set of questions and opportunities.

Data was coming in from the American Community Survey in 2011 that change was coming to Indian Country. The Census Bureau released the new statistics from the survey study of tribal communities. The numbers from the Census Bureau (US Census Bureau, 2011)were loaded with myth busters on education, business and jobs:

  • “Among American Indians and Alaska Natives 25 or older who have a bachelors’ degree or higher, the percentage whose bachelor’s degree is in science and engineering or related fields is 78.9%. This compares with 44% of the general population for all people 25 and older”

  • “The receipts for American Indian- and Alaska Native-owned businesses in 2007 were 34.4 billion, a 28.0 percent increase from 2002. These businesses numbered 236,967, up 17.7 percent from 2002.”

  • “The number of American Indian- and Alaska Native-owned firms in California in 2007 was 45,629…..Among the firms in California, 17,634 were in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana metro area, which led all metro areas nationwide.”

  • “The number of American Indian- and Alaska Native-owned firms that had paid employees in 2007 was 23,704. These businesses employed 184,416 people.”

  • “The number of American Indian- and Alaska Native-owned firms with receipts of $1 million or more in 2007 was 4,599 .

Surveys showed that the skill set and employment distribution of Native Americans is now quite diverse. The percentage of 16 or older civilian-employed American Indian and Alaska Native alone who worked in management, business, science and arts occupations in 2011 was 26.2 percent. In addition, 24.8 percent worked in service occupations and 22.8 percent in sales and office occupations. (US Census, American Community Survey 2011)

Now with some successes under their belts, Alaska Native Tribes and Lower 48 Tribes explored ways to make successful, sustainable restorations of their communities and cultures. What kind of capacity was needed to sustain economies and governance systems? What are the effects of having such large numbers of the community unemployed, while others are part of a middle-class Indian bureaucracy and still others successful entrepreneurs? Was the pathway to healthy self-determined communities paved by a shared set of tribally-initiated policies, and if so, can we define them? How were they using the dirty dozen to forge ahead? Was it the very recognition of distinctions and differences that led to diverse, adaptive policy-making decisions, especially tailored to each indigenous governance group?

Indian Country Today recently chronicled some of these indigenous successes:

The financial impact of Indian gaming beyond Indian Country is fairly well known. Less well-known is the impact made by non-casino enterprises….retail, housing, farming/ranching, tourism, Internet services, among many. When bundled with that gaming money, Native ventures have a hefty impact on state and local communities throughout the U.S…Gaming remains the standout….Tribes had $27.4 billion in gaming revenues in 2011, up from 26.5 billion the year before…The federal government, through the Housing Assistance and Native American Self- Determination Act, disburses some $600 million a year to Tribes to build housing….That housing money creates construction jobs, subcontractor contracts, trips to home retailers….(Fogarty, 2013)

As we start to look at different approaches, it is important to consider tribal political history, geographic location in relation to educational and business opportunities, cultural values, education and skill attainment levels, and many other factors. Some of these factors may be related to regional differences or to the level of cooperation with state and local government. Such factors are key to understanding how individual tribes or Alaska Native Corporations and Native Villages changed the face of bureaucratic domination from Washington, staved off land loss, broke down barriers of isolation and created diverse revenue streams that put them on a path of restoring everything from their land bases, their political independence to their economies and cultures. The examples in the following section show different kinds of successes as they unfolded in different regions. Not all successes were economic, and Tribes came to diverge widely in the degree of economic and other kinds of successes.

In addition, regional histories and context may shed light on uniquely tribal paths to success and sustainability. In the Northeast, Tribes once formed the powerful Iroquois Confederation that reached across borders. Caught between colonial powers, fluctuating borders and rival tribes, they developed sophisticated institutions for cooperation. In the far Southeast, the Seminole could retreat into the swamps, providing some buffer to the waves of Spanish, French, English and American colonizers. Eventually, the extraction of water for development had its impact. Despite the heavy urbanization and development, these two examples from opposite ends of the Eastern Seaboard exemplify the innovation and creativity that carried tribes through the centuries.

In the Southwest, tribes first felt the impacts of the Spanish, who left them with a different type of land-tenure system based on grants, followed by later Mexican and U.S. domination. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo secured title for much of the Pueblo lands and grants, but other tribes would have to fight for theirs. U.S. domination came late and the Dawes Act was little applied to tribes with strong different histories and a long record of resistance, leaving significant land bases for some of the Southwest tribes. With larger land bases and multiple choices for access to major transportation corridors, a number of Southwest Tribes are forging ahead. Because of the long history of relations with foreign powers, they developed considerable sophistication in dealing with external governments while maintaining an amazing level of control over their affairs, despite the era of broken treaties, confinement, bureaucratic attempts at control and loss of land.

A Baker’s Half-Dozen

The following examples were chosen because they seem to defy the usual adage that America Indians and Alaska Natives are plunged into a world of poverty, poor healthcare, and isolation. The selection was somewhat eclectic, relying on Internet searches and personal experience, accompanied by an attempt to get examples from different kinds of areas and programs. The author recognizes that there are many other powerful success stories out there. These examples illuminate possible pathways, but they are not meant to deny the problems of poverty, poor healthcare and the lack of meaningful educational opportunity and employment that exist across Indian County.

Three examples from the Northwest Salish Sea Region, formerly known as Puget Sound

  1. Northwest Fisheries

Northwest Tribes with small land bases fought many of the ills of previous federal policy and sustained their fishing rights. The Stevens Treaties that exchanged land title to millions of acres for money, some services, and the guarantee of their right to fish in “usual and accustomed places” had the effect of merging them together in a campaign to protect those rights. Federal policy left a giant vacuum on how their right to sustainable fisheries would be implemented by abdicating their trust responsibility to the state. Tribes became subject to severe and sometimes violent restrictions on their native subsistence lifestyle through arrest and enforcement of state licensing and state-approved fishing methods. The tribes initiated what was in fact a civil rights-style movement that had the additional foundation of treaty law that propelled it from 1964-1974. They resisted the state, entering into sometimes violent altercations with state officials resulting in imprisonment of native fishers. Finally, after tribal members like Billie Frank, Jr. were arrested again and again, the federal courts came to a settlement via the Boldt Decision that re-affirmed the tribal treaty right to 50% of the catch (Boldt, 1974). This gave the tribes a seat at the table in matters affecting fisheries. Eventually, through continual meeting, negotiating and battling in court, the tribes achieved the status of co-managers. The Northwest Indian Fishing Commission was created as a center for Native policy-making on fisheries and serves as a center for these negotiations and protection of the right to fish. Today major concerns about clean water are at the top of the list. Tribal natural resource agencies geared up to face ongoing challenges, and their expertise is recognized on the world stage in international meetings on climate change and biodiversity.

Though challenging issues continue to occur, the tribes carved out a permanent and powerful seat at the negotiating table and developed multi-party economic, political and cultural partnerships. In this context, the stories below of two Tribes in this region are intertwined and yet distinct to their own locale and culture.

  1. Tulalip Tribe—Diverse Responses to Community Development

Tulalip exemplifies both creativity and balance. To enhance their already well-developed foundation in casino management, they utilized a little-known law to create a federally-charted city that they named Quil Ceda. From that position, they were able to develop specially tailored economic policies without the usual fetters from multiple layers of government. The result was a thriving premium outlet mall and larger stores that serve the local public. Creativity was matched by a strong component of sustainability in their strategies.

Faced with water pollution, Tulalip incorporated the waste from the local dairy industry into an environmental business, building a bio-gas generation plant. Scholarships for tribal members were made available, and they donate to the local school district as well as a variety of other community organizations and causes. Leaders in Tulalip’s natural resource department play international as well as national and state-wide roles as leaders in sustainability and adaptation to climate change. Videos and media messages on television communicate Tulalip’s dedication to sustainable environmental and social strategies to the larger public. John McCoy, a Tulalip tribal member, sits as a Representative in the State Legislature developing an ever-increasing impressive legislative history. For more information about Tulalip successes, go to their website at

  1. The Squaxin Tribe—Business, Culture and Partnership

Once confined by the government to a tiny island without fresh water, this Tribe prides itself on its cultural integration and economic diversity. Through multiple court battles, the Tribe restored its rights to collect shellfish and re-established a sustainable land base that it manages with a deep ethic of stewardship. A tribally-designed Cultural Center educates the public while offering opportunities for enhancing cultural traditions and language restoration to tribal members in the area. Concurrently, Squaxin developed the first-class Little Creek Casino with a Resort and Golf Course, becoming the largest employer in Mason County. They partner with the State of Washington on various initiatives to protect their beautiful inlets and ground-water resources. Tribally owned businesses flourish under a separate administrative arm created by the tribal government. Partnerships encourage small privately-owned businesses for tribal members and local businesses. The Tribe also provides financial support to area educational institutions, fire and emergency service and other community services. To learn more about their enterprises, go to their website at

Along the Border: California and Arizona

  1. Morongo Band of Mission Indians—The business of generosity

Morongo exemplifies business success combined with a penchant for generosity. As they develop new enterprises, they provide a powerful example of how to diversify and build an economic foundation.

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians has led its region in economic development, generating thousands of local jobs and nearly $3 billion in annual economic activity in a wide variety of industries. Morongo has a diversified business portfolio with holdings in gaming, finance, health care, agriculture, restaurants, recreation and manufacturing. The tribe employs about 3,000 people in its various enterprises. Morongo puts its revenues toward the betterment of its tribal members. It operates a tuition-free college preparatory academy on its reservation, and the tribe also pays 100 percent of the college tuition and expenses incurred by any of its members. The band also funds its tribal health care, public safety and public works departments, and helps support nongaming tribes across California. The Morongo Band supports thousands of local jobs both directly and indirectly. Morongo has contributed millions to area law enforcement, youth sports and schools, and works collaboratively with its neighbors to tackle regional transportation and environmental issues. The tribe also contributes more than $1 million annually to support community groups and nonprofit organizations across Southern California. Morongo’s community outreach programs include its annual donation of 10,000 turkeys to provide 220,000 holiday dinners to children, families, seniors and veterans in need. In December, Morongo provided $100,000 to fund an annual holiday shopping spree for more than 1,500 disadvantaged children (Fogarty, 2013).

To learn more, go to their website at

  1. Navajo Nation—Big and Complex

The Navajo Nation, the largest of the Indian Nations, spans four states on a reservation roughly the size of West Virginia. The Nation broke ground with its own Navajo Code, Navajo Court system and a distributive justice program based on Navajo cultural values. The Nation supports broad efforts to protect its culture and language. The Navajo Arts and Crafts Cooperative markets Navajo artistic creations nationwide. They have committed their clan system to computer and Dine College provides advanced educational opportunities. The Policy Institute analyzes important issues like food sovereignty. The Navajo Legislature represents many districts and in recent years local areas have been empowered. Non-profit groups are proliferating with objectives for increasing support for culture and language, Native agricultural pursuits and lifeways. The Nation faces many challenges and widespread poverty, often the result of failed federal policy like the “Bennet Freeze” that went on for years and stopped all development and housing projects on thousands of acres during the Navajo-Hopi land settlement process.
New economic energy is infusing Dine enterprises as evidenced by Indian Country Today’s rundown of the many economic interests of the Navajo Nation:

The Navajo Nation has many funding sources—internally, through taxation on coal and gas, as well as hotel occupancy and sales taxes, and externally, from state, federal and private grants. The Navajo Generating Station and the Kayenta (coal) Mine are huge money-makers. A recent federal report covering the past 25 years used a figure of $1.3 billion in revenue, with $772 million of that going to the Navajo Nation for royalty payments, bonuses and water fees. The payrolls for just those two totaled 1,000 employees (85 percent to 90 percent of whom are tribal). They are exploring significant green energy potential. The Navajo Nation website offers extensive information at

Another major cash infusion comes from travel and tourism. According to the most recent Navajo Nation Visitor Survey, the total annual economic impact of tourism is approaching $144 million—and nearly 80 percent of it comes from spending by out-of-region visitors. The tourism industry supports nearly 1,800 full-time jobs. “Visitors are captivated by our scenery, but what makes Navajo-land truly unique is our culture,” says Senior Economic Development Specialist Roberta John. “We want to share that heritage, and tourism is one way to do that.” (Fogarty 2013) Gaming is an important revenue generator, with three casinos in New Mexico making a $63 million annual economic impact. A fourth casino is expected to open in Arizona in summer 2013.

With eight industrial parks throughout the reservation, developing an industrial base is a key for future economic diversification, attracting branded entities like Coca-Cola, which has a bottling plant in the Chinle Industrial Park. “We’re doing a lot. We’re booming here on Navajo-land and can’t turn back now,” says Albert Damon Jr., the Navajo Nation’s director of economic development” (Fogarty, 2013). The Navajo Nation website offers extensive information at

The Eastern Seaboard provides numerous examples of contemporary success: here are two of them.

  1. Onondaga Indian Nation—Independence and the League of Peace and Power

Part of the great Iroquois Confederation of the Haudenosaunee peoples (People of the Longhouse), the Onondaga Nation joined the “League of Peace and Power” that spanned the Northern border by the 16th century or before. Today, some scholars refer to the Iroquois League as the ceremonial and cultural institutions embodied in the Grand Council which still exists today. The Iroquois Confederacy, responding to European colonization, was considered dissolved after the defeat of the British to whom the Confederacy was allied although the term is still used today. Harboring a strong sense of innovation, environmental ethics and expertise in international and cooperative relationships, Onondaga opened up multiple paths, including international business opportunities tied to sustainability. Indian Country Today recounts some of their successes:

“The Onondaga Nation is a traditional Haudensaunee nation that does not accept money from the U.S. government. The nation’s revenue sources stem from four enterprises. The first is a smoke shop. The second is the tribal-owned lacrosse and ice hockey arena, the Nation Arena Tsha’HonNonyen Dakwha’. The nation founded Plantagon International with Swedish company Swecorp Citizenship Stockholm AB in 2004. Plantagon develops systems and technologies like vertical greenhouses for urban agriculture for the global market. The socially responsible company aims to provide fresh organic produce directly to urban consumers while reducing the carbon footprint and environmental damage “(Fogarty, 2013).
The nation is also an investor in EcoLogic Solutions, a Brooklyn, New York–based company that makes organic cleaning products, which are now being manufactured and distributed partially from the nation.

“Revenue from all tribal businesses goes to fund services for the nation’s citizens; none of the chiefs are paid. Among the many services provided are health care, a fire department, heating assistance, home repair, healing-counseling, historic preservation, a language program, a water system and a solid waste and recycling program” (Fogarty, 2013).

More information about the Onondaga and their initiatives is available at

  1. Seminole Tribe of Florida—Casinos, Resorts and More

Analysts suggest that the Seminole Tribe of Florida holds assets and capital worth several billion dollars. It is likely that the Seminoles of Florida were the first American Indian tribe to establish a casino on Indian land more than 30 years ago, although some other non-approved tribal gaming operations were also operating. Today, the Tribe operates seven casinos in Florida. Indian Country Today records their significant economic accomplishments:

In March 2007, the Seminoles of Florida purchased the Hard Rock International from the Britain-based company Rank Group PLC for an estimated $965 million. The unprecedented deal now includes 177 venues in 58 countries: 141 Hard Rock Cafés, 18 Hard Rock Hotels and 8 casinos. The tribe, which has more than 3,800 enrolled members, also acquired in the deal the largest collection of rock memorabilia in the world, including Jimmy Hendrix's Flying V guitar and one of Madonna's bustiers.

The Seminole Tribe directly employs more than 20,000 persons, including more than 10,000 in their Florida gaming operations, and more than 7,000 at Hard Rock International. Another 15,000 persons are employed by Hard Rock licensees around the world, or by vendors who operate various businesses under contracts at Seminole gaming sites. In addition, the Tribe generates billions of dollars in economic impact in Florida and elsewhere through vendor contracts and indirect spending spun-off from its gaming and governmental operations, as well as other business interests.(Fogarty, 2013).

You can read more about the Seminole Tribe at

Top of Form

And Five More: Alaska Native Successes

Despite the problems implementing ANSCA and ANILCA, Alaska Natives forged ahead and they made significant advances in healthcare, education, employment. They achieved significant amendments to ANSCA through Native solidarity and got some structural flaws fixed through ANILCA. The Native Corporations managed to resolve the complex revenue sharing mechanism between them creating a significant model of economic justice-- something that the forty-nine other states would hardly be able to do. The Alaska Native population continues to grow at the rate of 9.7%. The proportion of Alaska's population identified as American Indian and Alaska Native as of the 2011 American Community Survey was the highest rate for the American Indian/Alaska Native race group of any state at 19.7 percent (US Census Bureau, 2011).

In Alaska, the Native Corporations, Alaska Native business enterprises and Native Villages found success in many arenas from health to natural resources and cultural achievements. Despite struggles in earlier years, all 12 corporations were recently ranked as top businesses: Alaska Business Monthly reported the twelve native corporations were listed in the top 25 Alaska-owned businesses based on revenues (Harrington, 2013) ). Corporations also produced significant nonmonetary benefits. Forming partnerships with tribal organizations, nonprofits and villages, these included employment development opportunities, cultural preservation, land management, economic development and advocacy. (Harrington, 2013) Along with the utilization of the corporate model outlined by ANSCA, innovative use of provision 8(a) of the Small Business Administration Business Development Program Act of 1958 was an effective strategy. This Act makes Tribes eligible for federal contracts and gives them an edge by setting up an incubation period that allows them a special pathway to enter the marketplace and demonstrate their ability to perform before facing the full stream of competition. Geographic context, mineral resources, and cultures provide diverse opportunities. Some corporations and Native Villages have easier access to business opportunities, tourism, and lifestyles

  1. Doyon—Federal Contracting, Petroleum Exploration and Balanced Development

The Doyon Corporation represents a strong regional Native Corporation that aims to “strengthen the native way of life and protect and enhance our lands and resources.” It is the largest of the Alaska Native Corporations with extensive inland holdings. It encompasses a diverse array of successful businesses ranging from oil field services to tourism. This Corporation seeks balanced development and it moved carefully to consider the areas it wanted to protect before opening areas to exploration. In 2013 it finally opened to widespread petroleum exploration. Doyon holds approximately 400,000 acres of State of Alaska oil and gas leases. Besides the utilization of the Corporation model delivered by ANCSA, innovative use of provision 8(a) of the Small Business Administration Business Development Program Act of 1958 that makes tribes eligible for federal contracts gives them a competitive edge. Updated information is available at the website

  1. Chenega Corporation---Out of the Spill comes Success

The Chenega Corporation, located in Prince William Sound, built a successful village corporation after the devastating environmental tragedy of the Exxon Valdez spilled death upon its shorelines and waters. It was created in 1974 to represent the interests of the Chenega people, an Altiiq people with ancient roots in Prince William Sound. Many Chenega people reside in this area and maintain a subsistence way of life. The work of the Corporation supports them with a comprehensive cultural, societal, religious and community strategy. Its diverse business initiatives led to its place as a top five Alaska-owned business, despite the impacts of a tsunami in 1964 and the oil spill in 1989. The Corporation participated in the Trustee Council and Habitat Restoration Programs to deal with the long-term effects of the spill on the Chenoa people and the lands and waters they depend on.

Facing an uncertain future, the Corporation took an unusual course of selling land to the State and the Forest Service. The step was coordinated with a strong strategy for investing the proceeds. Much of their strategy was based on implementing the 8(a) provision that gave them an edge for obtaining federal contracts by allowing them to be the sole source. Establishing top flight information technologies and accounting systems, the Corporation took the number four spot on Alaska Business Monthly Magazine’s list of Top 49 Alaska owned businesses in 2011 and took the 65th place in the list of the Top 100 federal contractors. They build capacity in key areas like engineering, construction and environmental compliance. Technology installation, contracting military intelligence, support and security operations, and environmental and health solutions rounded out a wide array of professional services made available through the Chenega Corporation. More information is available at their website and

  1. Sealaska Corporation—From Profits to Curriculum for Education

An early entrant into timber industry markets, Sealaska later diversified and became a major player in the Alaskan economy. It continues to provide consistent distributions: in fiscal 2012 it paid out more than $24 million to shareholders and Southeast Alaska village corporations. In addition it made payments to other corporations in accordance with ANCSA Section 7(1) that requires corporations to share 70 percent of their resource revenues from ANCSA lands with the other corporations. In the early years, more than $300 million was distributed to other ANCSA corporations. Every year $300,000 is made available for higher education scholarships. Support is given for internships and the new Soboleff Center in downtown Juneau is under construction.

One of Sealaska’s signature programs is its unwavering support of educational innovation. In 2012, numerous grants were given to school districts and institutions serving Alaska Native students with new ideas for educational improvement. Ideas for revamping the curriculum, creating culture-based learning frameworks, providing training to school boards, creating supportive networks inside and outside the school, providing urban cross-cultural immersions and giving students opportunities to test their independence and skills in decision-making goal setting and individual learning plans were included in these projects. Learn more about Sealaska at

  1. South Central and the Cook Inlet Regional Corporation—Health and Cultural Innovation

South Central is an Alaskan Native-owned nonprofit healthcare organization serving 60,000 Alaska natives and American Indians. It was incorporated in 1982 under the Cook Inlet Region, Inc. (CIRI). CIRI nonprofits employ over 1400 people in 65 programs. The South Central Project began by implementing P.L. 638, a provision of the Self-Determination Act, to contract with federal Alaska Area Health Services in 1985 for the provision of dentistry, optometry, injury control services and public health representatives to communities. It soon added substance abuse and other services and by 1994 it was administering nearly half the primary care services for Alaska Native peoples. Early in 1997 Congress passed Public Law 105-83 allowing Alaska Native people to obtain ownership and management of all Alaska Native health care services. Moving quickly, the Alaska Native Medical Center opened its doors in May 1997. Today, a broad array of services in a modern setting, with a beautiful backdrop of native cultural and art exhibits at every turn, are provided through this award-winning public-private-nonprofit hybrid.

CIRI founded other enterprises including the Alaska Native Heritage Center, the Cook Inlet Housing Authority, the Koahic Broadcasting Corporation and the Alaska Native Justice Center. Their strategy was to emphasize opportunities over entitlements. Learn more at http://www.ciri.comcote/history/regional.aspx

  1. The Gwich-in Steering Committee Arctic Circle, Alaska---Political Organization

The Gwich-in Nation, determined to live a subsistence lifestyle based on the caribou and fishing, united with partners to form a powerful political organization aimed at preventing oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Opening up the refuge to oil drilling was a major priority of the second Bush administration along with oil companies and many who feared higher prices and an oil shortage. This small Alaskan Native Nation, numbering in the thousands, played a major role in what is considered the major conservation fight of the 21st century. When they became aware of the threat to the caribou calving grounds, they held a traditional gathering in 1988---the first such gathering in 100 years. Out of their gathering came a representative steering committee of 15 Tribes from the U.S. and Canada and they broadened their message to encompass global human rights. In a letter to Senator Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Gwich’in leader Matthew Gilbert recalls that the gathering established a spiritual foundation for a thirty year strategy to protect their lands and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas development (Banjeree, 2013). Supported by the Steering Committee, Gwich-in activists travelled the nation and the world with their message. They formed partnerships with major environmental organizations, religious groups, writers, artists and others who could help further their message. More than 400 American Indian Tribes signed on. At home, they developed plans to decrease their dependence on oil and train youth in their culture and their message, while encouraging their education. As a result of their efforts, about 7,000 Native Alaskan in 15 villages fended off multimillion dollar corporations and a presidential administration equally determined to open the oil fields. Their gatherings and their work continue, as the threat of oil development is ever-present. Learn more at


American Indian and Alaska Native communities and their institutions are in a time of great change. From the effects of climate change to the instability of markets, to the implementation of complex mechanisms and relationships with state, federal and local governments, they are working to ensure a sustainable future for their indigenous communities. Overall, there are few studies of their successes. Further study of models of successful programs, governance and economic systems, and cultural resilience may lead to the ability to identify characteristics leading to success and move away from bureaucratic one-size-fits all solutions. It is time to do that research.


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1 Copyright (2014) by The Evergreen State College. Linda Moon Stumpff is a faculty member at The Evergreen State College. Please use appropriate attribution when using this case. Teaching notes for this case are available at Thanks to the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians for supporting the writing of this case.

2 The Census Bureau statistics are based on racial identification rather than political status as tribal members. In addition, the Census Bureau now separates out a category for those who identify as mixed race. Due to this, some American Indians/Alaska Natives may identify in this category, causing an underestimate of those who are for cultural and political purposes American Indian/Alaska Native.

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