The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 (ANCSA) was a new approach by Congress to federal Indian policy. ANCSA extinguished aboriginal land title in Alaska. It divided the state into twelve distinct regions and mandated the creation of twelve private, for-profit Alaska Native regional corporations and over 200 private, for-profit Alaska Native village corporations. ANCSA also mandated that both regional and village corporations be owned by enrolled Alaska Native shareholders. Unlike in the lower-48 states where the reservation system was the norm, ANCSA departed significantly – it was not based on the reservation system, tribal sovereignty within a reservation, or a government-to-government relationship between a tribe and the federal government. Instead, ANCSA’s foundation was in Alaska Native corporate ownership.
Through ANCSA, the federal government transferred 44 million acres – land to be held in corporate ownership by Alaska Native shareholders – to Alaska Native regional and village corporations. The federal government also compensated the newly formed Alaska Native corporations a total of $962.5 million for land lost in the settlement agreement.
ANCSA had expansive effects, reaching far beyond Alaska Native people. The passage of ANCSA allowed for federal lease sales to move forward across Alaska, with proceeds going to the federal government. Oil and gas exploration on the North Slope of Alaska and the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System created thousands of jobs and pumped revenues into the state’s coffers—eventually leading to the creation of the Alaska Permanent Fund. Since the passage of ANCSA, various industries have been strengthened in Alaska, creating jobs in both the private and public sectors. By creating Alaska Native-owned, for-profit corporations, ANCSA also brought additional economic diversity to the state that has benefited, either directly or indirectly, all Alaskans.
To understand ANCSA, it is important to understand the history of aboriginal land claims in Alaska. More than 100 years prior to the enactment of ANCSA, Alaska was purchased from Russia. From the time of purchase until the passage of ANCSA, aboriginal land claims were not definitively addressed by the federal government.