From Many to One

Cooperation is not just an Iñupiaq value, it is one of the hallmarks of the NANA region. Northwest Alaska is known statewide for its collaborative efforts in advancing regional priorities like education, energy and health.

This commitment to cooperation is learned and passed down from generation to generation. Cooperation is what helped the region settle land claims with the State of Alaska and what led to the 1976 merger of the village corporations with NANA.

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) was passed in 1971. As part of the land claims, one regional corporation and eleven village corporations were created in Northwest Alaska. All of these corporations had responsibilities and requirements they had to fulfill as part of ANCSA, and all faced the same challenge of finding staff and money to meet these obligations. These two problems actually threatened the survival of most village corporations throughout the state. Many people feared that these corporations would fail before they even had a chance to begin.

A March 1971 newsletter by Alaska Native Foundation consultant, Lee Gorsuch, raised a warning that administrative expenses, which included preparing audited financial reports, creating and printing annual reports, holding annual meetings and other tasks, threatened to bankrupt village corporations and their land bases. Nevertheless, in a cooperative effort, NANA worked with the communities to fulfill the many required tasks of the village corporations.

Finding the funding for these tasks was also a very big challenge. Congress did not initially include federal monies necessary to get the corporations up and running. That mistake was corrected in a 1972 appropriation bill which enabled the Secretary of the Interior to advance up to $500,000 to a regional corporation. This money was an advance on the corporation’s share of ANCSA’s cash payout, but had to be requested by July 1, 1972. NANA quickly incorporated on June 7 of that year in order to apply before the deadline.

Village land selection committees were formed not long after ANCSA became law to begin reviewing and selecting lands. NANA’s board and staff traveled to each community of the region to assist with incorporation and land selection of the village corporations. It was a huge effort to ensure the formation of the village corporations as legally required, but many in the region worked hard to make it happen.

As a result, in October 1973, 11 village corporations were successfully set up and approved by the State of Alaska. In the autumn of 1973, members of the village corporation boards attended an ANCSA seminar in Kotzebue. NANA organized the event to bring everyone together to learn more about their responsibilities and to begin planning. As a result of discussions at the seminar, a memo was drafted regarding the financial situation of the village corporations. It became clear that the amount of money the village corporations had would "be insufficient to fund any major activity by any given village." The group came to the conclusion that it would be better, and more cost-effective, if all planning was done on a regional level, leading to the discussion of a merger of some kind.

After the meeting, a merger committee was formed and chaired by Sigwien Savok from Buckland. The committee was made up of two representatives from each village corporation. Together they discussed scenarios for how the possible merger or mergers could take place while paying special attention to board composition and land use decision making.

Under ANCSA, the village corporations held surface title to selected land and were at the table for discussions with NANA as equal partners regarding land use. Communities wanted to retain that level of involvement and power regarding lands near their villages.

These concerns were addressed in the merger plan that provided an extra board seat for merging villages and the formation of permanent land committees, per Article VIII, to be composed of directors from sub-regional villages. Many meetings were held to discuss these potential terms and votes were eventually held in each community.

Once the draft merger plan was approved by the villages, NANA worked to overcome the legal hurdles of finalizing the plan by working toward legislative solutions in Alaska, Washington, D.C. and with the Securities Exchange Commission and Department of the Interior. It was a complex solution, but one that eventually resulted in a stronger, unified region. Kikiktagruk Iñupiat Corporation was the only village corporation not to merge.

When barriers to the merger were successfully addressed, NANA shareholders and shareholders of the ten participating village corporations voted on the final merger agreement. These votes were held between March 18 and March 30, 1976.

Like many agreements, the merger of the village corporations into NANA Regional Corporation was a negotiation. There was give and take as various parts were balanced out into something thousands of people could agree upon. The villages retained direct influence over immediate lands through the Article VIII committee and the additional board seat. NANA received land ownership of previous village corporation land but also assumed their debts and any legal liabilities or obligations outstanding. This can still be seen today. For example, when NANA conducts 14(c)3 reconveyances, it is fulfilling an obligation that was originally part of the administration of a village corporation.

The merger also solidified the NANA region's commitment to cooperation and consultation. This is why NANA travels to the communities to have conversations about important topics such as offshore drilling, access to resources on NANA lands and regional strategic planning.

The merger agreement was signed by the secretary and president of each of the merging corporations.

William L. Hensley and Robert Newlin

Noorvik/Putoo Corporation
James K. Wells and Alfred Wells Sr.

Shungnak/Isingnakmeut Incorporated
Stanley Custer Sr. and Levi Cleveland

Ambler/Ivisaapaagmiit Corporation
Bessie Douglas and John Topkok

Kobuk/Koovukmeut Incorporated
Merna Cleveland and Jack Horner

Kiana/Katyaak Corporation
Vera Atoruk and Larry Westlake Sr.

Kivalina/Kivalina Sinuakmeut Corporation
Samuel P. Barr and Lowell Sage

Noatak/Noatak Napaaktukmeut Corporation
Paul B. Norton and Milton Adams

Deering/Deering Ipnatchiak Corporation
Gibson H. Moto and Gilbert Karmun

Buckland/Nunachiak Corporation
Raymond E. Lee, Sr. and Warren Thomas

Selawik/Akuliuk Incorporated
Roger Clark and Lloyd Davis

Sources Cited:
Baenen, Richard Anthony. NANA, a Continuing History. Kotzebue, AK: NANA Regional Corporation, 2004.
Hensley, William Iġġiaġruk. “A Personal (and Political) History of Complexity and Change.” Philanthropy Northwest Annual Conference. Juneau, Alaska. 1 October, 2013. Speech.
Hensley, William Iġġiaġruk. “Keynote Address.” 1980 AFN Convention. Anchorage. Oct. 1980. Alaska Native Knowledge Network. Web. 26 May 2014.

Caption for photo 1:
Alfred Karmun (left) and Bert Greist (right) hold up an improvised map of the NANA region for then- president, John Schaeffer, at a merger meeting in the winter of 1974.

Caption for photo 2:
Grant Ballot, Vince Schuerch, Emerson Moto, Wilson Ticket and Merna Cleveland attended a merger meeting held in Kotzebue in 1974 prior to the vote.