Fifty years ago today the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was signed by Pres. Nixon in what was the most consequential U.S. action of the century for Alaska. (Yes, even over statehood.) Agree or disagree with the actual act, it’s ripple effects for the whole state, Native and non-Native alike, are huge and still ongoing. I would comfortably guess most Alaskans don’t even understand how this act influences them.

This photo is my favorite of the ANCSA advocacy and passage time, taken in 1972. Here the articles of incorporation for Sealaska, one of the 12 original regional corporations, is signed by the Asst. Sec. of the Interior, and the original Sealaska board of directors. The young lady holding the pen is my grandma, Marlene Johnson.

I’ve talked with, and interviewed, several Native leaders involved in the passage of ANCSA, and I now think our view of how things are today colors what we think happened 50 years ago. And because we see Native organizations and people with more political and social power today, we don’t understand how little we had of both back then.

Ultimately, 50 years ago a large group of Native people from groups who had never had reason to work together before formed an incredibly unlikely coalition who fought for title to our own land, and compensation for the land that was stolen. And that’s what they got.

We will be arguing about what could have been done and what is being done and what will be done well past the next 50 years. But ultimately I’m incredibly proud of what Alaska Native people did then, and of what we’re continuing to do now.

Sealaska directors sign the Sealaska articles of incorporation in 1972 with Assistant Secretary of the Interior Harrison Loesch. Pictured L to R: Clarence Jackson, Jon Borbridge, Jr., Marlene Johnson, Harrison Loesch, Dick Kito, Leonard Kato. Photo from Sealaska.