There were many players in the historic Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), which was signed into law on Dec. 18, 1971. One of those was the late Sen. Ted Stevens.

In this week’s show, we look at how Stevens helped Alaska Native leaders push this landmark legislation through Congress and adapt it over the years, as need be, to help Native corporations succeed.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of ANCSA. At the time it was created, it was the largest land claims settlement in U.S. history.

While ANCSA was far from perfect, it allowed the trans-Alaska oil pipeline to go forward. It also created an economic engine that has not only helped Alaska Natives, but the state as a whole.

Without ANCSA, we might not have seen the rise of Native corporation buildings along the streets of Anchorage — headquarters for businesses all over the world that bring profits back to shareholders, which are in turn spent in Alaska, increasingly a source of jobs and investment capital.

Ted Stevens called ANCSA his “baptism by fire,” documented in hundreds of thousands of pages of paperwork now being archived by the Ted Stevens Foundation. In many ways, Stevens’ legislative history is Alaska’s history.

Highlights for this week’s show:

    • Behind the Scenes at the Ted Stevens Foundation: The late senator’s papers were recently inventoried at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, then moved to a facility in Midtown Anchorage, currently closed to the public. With more than 9,000 boxes of materials yet to be sorted, the task for staffers is daunting.
    • Special guests, Karina Waller and Perry Eaton: Waller is head of the Ted Stevens Foundation and a longtime aide for Stevens. Eaton, a well-known Aleut carver, has worn many hats over the years. He was one of the founding fathers of the Alaska Native Heritage Center and Alaska Village Initiatives. He shares his memories about Stevens’ creative approach to crafting legislation — that led to legacy institutions that continue to benefit our state.
    • AFN’s 50th Anniversary. We also take a look at the organization that led the fight for ANCSA, the Alaska Federation of Natives, which held its 50th statewide gathering this October.

Thanks to our massive size, extreme climate and geography, Alaskans have an innate understanding of how our state is different from the rest — but we know less about its unique institutions, shaped by remarkable people, who recognized Alaska as fertile ground for innovation in government.

We are still a young state, ever a work in progress — a place where our survival depends upon creative approaches to politics and governance, which we hope to highlight in future Frontiers programs.

Editor’s note: GCI is the parent company of KTVA 11 News.

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