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It is safe to assume that no one believes that the reservation system for Native Americans has been either safe, helpful, or beneficial for Native Americans. It is that awareness coupled with the desire to make a smooth path for oil profits that resulted in a new and novel approach to the indigenous people of Alaska, the Alaskan Native Corporation. 

When Alaska was declared a state in 1959 there was a large and gaping question about what that would mean for the indigenous people of the newfound state. Many indigenous people filed claims for land resulting from a continued disagreement over who should control the land between themselves, the federal government, and the state government. 

This conflict was raised in importance when oil was found on the north shore of Prudhoe Bay. It was quickly realized that the oil field was one of the largest worldwide and definitely the largest in North America. Its remote location and harsh conditions which included at times twenty-four hour darkness, cold, snow, and ice, it would be very difficult to transport the oil through traditional methods such as shipping. The state and companies realized that they would have to build a pipeline in order to move this oil to an energy hungry continental United States below. 

In this time of conflicting priorities President Richard Nixon stepped in to sign the Alaskan Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. The act recognized that attempts to forcibly settle Native Americans on reservations which were often substandard lands was not only cruel, but also paternalistic and self-defeating from the start. The Native Americans who were forced onto the reservation system had lower health outcomes, were unable to economically provide for themselves, and because their spirits are broken from the destruction of their lifestyle additions have grown. 

To solve these issues, America tried a new idea, the Alaskan Native Corporation. The government provided indigenous peoples with forty-four million acres of land and nine hundred sixty two million and five hundred thousand dollars for their prosperity, safety, and ingenuity. The government recognized two important concepts which were embedded into the Native Corporation System. 

First, in order to streamline a unified policy and to ensure that the indigenous people could provide for themselves in a modern economy, the governing body of the indigenous peoples was a for profit corporation. They also recognized that Alaska was a unique and varied ecosystem and that they wanted to maximize the location, skills, and know-how of each tribe so they divided the determined land into twelve location based corporations and one for indigenous peoples who live in the city or away from the physical land. There were additional hyper-localized village based corporations where over two hundred have been currently created. 

Has the system been effective? On the one hand, since the corporation is a business, they use their proceeds to pay regular dividends to the indigenous and also invest in other areas in order to improve their lives. The system has worked to provide capital and resources to promote business in various industries and has led to the creation of new location based industries that would not have been created without a more diverse business base and has served to improve standards of living for both indigenous and non-indigenous Alaskans. The corporations raise taxable resources which allows for the government to leave more money in the pockets of their citizens and to invest more in the state’s success. Lastly, most corporations take the profits and transport them to investments based in the continental United States, but all of the money made by Alaskan Native Corporations remains in the state in a positive and enriching loop. 

The Alaskan Native Corporations are not without problems, but they are miniscule compared to the benefits that they offer. The corporations provide the indigenous people with minimum amounts of income, a path to current and future prosperity, and a structure that gets preferential treatment in contracting and interacting with the federal government. This forward facing idea avoids the painful struggles of reservation life and begins to make up for the evil against and damage caused to indigenous peoples in America. Now that it has been demonstrated that there is a different successful method to structure indigenous communities it is imperative upon the United States that we implement them in the rest of the United States as soon as is humanly possible. We cannot control our past mistakes and offenses against Native Americans, but we owe them a better future starting today. 


Cheat sheet: Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act 101
It can be confusing to keep track of the various Native organizations and layers of tribal enrollment options within…

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