john-martin-sr-tlingit-elder
Melissa Griffiths/Juneau Empire
Tlingit elder John Martin Sr. leads a prayer in Tlingit at the beginning of a 2014 meeting of the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

‘Don’t Let the Corporation Steal Our Land!’ Tlingit Elder Opposes Alaska Native Landless Bill

Frank Hopper
1/28/16

For much of the year the jet stream brings one rain system after another to Southeast Alaska, feeding the largest temperate rainforest in the world, the Tongass, ancestral home of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Nations. Sitka Spruce trees shoot up 300 feet like skyscrapers above a diverse ecosystem of plant and animal life. For thousands of years the Native people lived in harmony with the forest, honoring and respecting it.

Then one day the Natives began mowing it down. During the 1980s the Natives clear-cut thousands of acres of old-growth rainforest in the Tongass, leaving behind only a hideous desert of stumps.

This was the result of an experiment in social engineering called the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act or ANCSA. Now Alaska Natives in five communities who were left out of the original 1971 settlement are petitioning Congress to include them. And at least one Tlingit elder is speaking out against it.

“I oppose S.872 as it is written. Our true Łingit people want culture and language. We oppose corporations. They are profit-making corporations and have nothing to do with traditional cultural values.”

John Martin Sr. (Keihéenák’w) is a Tlingit elder from Tenakee, one of the five “landless” communities included in S.872, the Unrecognized Southeast Alaska Native Communities Recognition and Compensation Act. If passed, the bill would establish five Native corporations for the communities of Haines, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Tenakee and Wrangell, all of which, for unclear reasons, were originally left out of ANCSA. Each of the Native corporations created by the Landless Bill would receive 23,040 acres of commercial timberland to own and manage.

But John Martin feels corporations damage both Native culture and land. Martin, Clan Leader of the T’akdeintaan Raven/Sockeye House, is one of the last remaining fluent speakers of traditional high-level Tlingit. Last fall he wrote to members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee after they began holding hearings about the Landless Bill.

“The future of our traditional culture depends on safeguarding the integrity of the indigenous habitat that remain. This Senate bill, as it is written, will convey indigenous habitat to a short-term, profit-driven corporation, the antithesis of traditional culture.”

Signed into law by Richard Nixon in 1971, ANCSA awarded 44 million acres of land and nearly a billion dollars to Alaska Natives. But the money and land were given to newly formed Native corporations. Tribal members got shares in these for-profit companies. The idea was for the Native corporations to regularly pay dividends to Native shareholders, increasing the economic well-being of the people.

The disadvantages of the corporate system soon became evident as the pressure to pay dividends forced Native executives to clear-cut much of the timberland they’d been given. During the 1980s, nearly 100,000 acres of old-growth rainforest were clear-cut. Many of the worst hit areas were close to the town of Hoonah, near where John Martin grew up.

Stumps and tree remnants are all that’s left in this clear-cut area of the Tongass rainforest of Southeast Alaska. (From the documentary, “Walking in Two Worlds, a Tale of Alaska’s Tongass, America’s Largest Forest,” Bo Boudart, producer/director)

“Our clans occupied and utilized all of the traditional lands in the Tenakee, Hoonah and Angoon area until we were forced to move to Hoonah to enable the children to attend the Hoonah Territorial School. My parents had a place to live and a beautiful garden that provided our family with fresh vegetables for the dinner table. We had access to all species of fish in the waters of Tenakee Inlet and nearby.”

But traditional subsistence activities like these were not the goal of ANCSA. Profit and dividends through resource extraction were. Martin saw this firsthand. Although the clear-cut areas were hidden from the cruise ships to keep from affecting tourism, the Natives knew they were there.

This hidden logging damage paralleled hidden cultural damage. In a 2014 article called “Alaska Native Corporations and the Twice Marginalized Citizen” (Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory, Volume 42, Issue 2), author Zachary Hozid points out how the corporate system encourages class separation among Native people.

“It is my argument here that these organizations are run by, and primarily produce benefits for, upper and middle class Alaskan Natives, and as such exacerbate the marginalization experienced by Alaskan Natives in lower socioeconomic classes. Members of the elite class of Natives hold the top positions in these organizations; they also use these organizations, intentionally or not, to further promote their own ideologies and goals.”

In his book, Against Culture: Development, Politics, and Religion in Indian Alaska (University of Nebraska Press, 2001), anthropologist Kirk Dombrowski suggests the increased class separations created by ANCSA’s corporate system drove poorer Natives away from their culture and into Pentecostal church membership.

“...the roots of Pentecostalism’s appeal grow in the increasing internal differentiation that has accompanied the most recent wave of colonial expansion in the region—ANCSA. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 has laid the foundation for new forms of local economic and political stratification in every village.”

In other words, in the corporate system created by ANCSA, Natives who are well-educated and more affluent benefit the most, while poorer, less-advantaged Natives suffer not only from marginalization due to their race, but also marginalization within their own people, driving many away from a beautiful culture that could benefit them.

The corporate system is based on profit only and worsens class differences between higher and lower income groups. The ancient, traditional clan system, however, although not perfect, is based on community-building. One system separates, the other unites.

John Martin would like the Landless Bill to be rewritten so the land received would be used for a cultural center in Tenakee, but this is unlikely. The Landless Bill has been in the works since the 1980s and will most likely pass as written. Knowing this, Martin’s impassioned plea to the Senate seems especially poignant.

“Tenakee is the last Tlingit village in Southeast Alaska that is not corrupted by corporations. Please help us keep it that way! Don’t let the corporation steal our Łingit land!”

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mem's picture
mem
Submitted by mem on
So sad, but from the beginning 1492 to be exact the story is the same - natives being over taken by a contagious disease brought over from western Europe - GREED. This disease has horrible symptoms & poverty is one of the major symptoms. Really & unfortunately many have caught this disease and it will only spread to cause extremely high numbers in casualties. There is no funding for a cure, it is not even recognized as a disease by society because society itself is too sick with the disease to see it. We have to Research, Record, Write & Expose the history of this sickness as it overtook us from east to west. We have no other recourse but to RRW&E for the future generations to know that we tried to point a finger at it, we tried to stop it, we tried to educate others of it, our warriors did fight the best fight against it, we still have not given up and should not ever but even if we lose inch by inch - we have to let the future know how we exhausted our very lives to cure such devastation. We must let the future know we were ignored by all, by Europeans, by Africans, by Asians they all came to gobble up our world, all carriers of the disease. We holler, we scream but they silence us and hide us so that the world does not hear or see our warnings. That's the importance of RRW&E.

yeilyadi's picture
yeilyadi
Submitted by yeilyadi on
Never truer words spoken. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, has been a farce, segregating the Alaska Native communities into two halves, the 'haves' and the 'have-nots'. Like all corporations the propiorities and profit margins, quarterly earnings, and invested percentages; than ancient cultures, dying languages, and abject poverty, alcoholism, and sexual violence. I Don't support S.872

johnnybperkins's picture
johnnybperkins
Submitted by johnnybperkins on
I wrote this to all Alaska newspapers almost 7 years ago (Striving to be 'landless' no more) "The landless were deceived into believing that a settlement was contingent upon land and that corporations couldn't be established by any other asset. Some landless representatives hold strong to the belief that this is the one and only asset that should be agreed upon. This is silly. All for-profit businesses operate with several different assets, all directed toward the same thing, making money. A landless bill in this generation should involve land designated for cultural purposes such as the Yakutat set-net sites, and cultural enterprises similar to the setup in Hoonah. Land could be obtained for shareholders, such as the property allotments in Angoon and Klawock. This land could be managed by a non-profit heritage foundation established for each community's corporation. The rest of the bill would have to be a cash arrangement distributed on the same basis as the original settlement. Less land, more cash. Sealaska, Sen. Murkowski or Rep. Young will not support a bill unless there's something for the timber or mining industry. Landless families are not their priority. Sealaska has a vested interest with a land settlement for these communities since they're entitled to subsurface (mineral) rights to those lands. And of course they're also in the timber business, as well as being first in line for any actual land allotments." During that time I met with the Martin Family and John along with his brother provided a lot of background information. I realize the writer of the article is anti-corporation and I agree, especially when it comes to the fixed system of the discretionary vote. Tlingit's are a subsistence culture as opposed to a corporate one, which is why these crooked policies stand. But John Martin benefited financially from the Hoonah clear-cuts also and didn't stand up with protests then, so I don't want to hear his hypocrisy on this issue now, he's not the right man for the job. His wife signed up with Hoonah Totem Corp. and John signed up at-large (landless), simply to hedge their bets. One paid off and the other didn't. I've witnessed first hand the damage that big dividends handed out for years has done to Tlingit people, especially the younger ones. Most of them are in real bad shape now that the well has run dry. The lack of skills, education or discipline has created a dependent generation. Why John is saying what he is, is anybody's guess. I'm sure while interviewing him you folks realized what we have known for years - nobody ever really knows what John's talking about. A land selection probably won't involve any areas around Tenekee and we've all learned that the hard way. Klukwan, the last corporation formed, selected their land all the way on the other side of southeast Alaska, where the timber was rich and far away from their village. A smart business decision. The other villages selected under the impression it was to be like sovereign reservation land and picked land they were living on, and ended up with the picture you posted.. Finally, the other comments are correct, ANCSA has created a division in community's and family's that will never be mended. The law was created in three years after the oil discovery in Prudoe Bay and the white folks had to make sure the Natives couldn't make claim to any of it. Thus they created ANCSA and put corporations between land and people. And in their hurry they left out many people and hurt all but a few. We are now a microcosm of the entire country; the have's and the have not's, greed. Will the landless bill pass? I doubt it very much. We have the most dysfunctional congress since the civil war.

johnnybperkins's picture
johnnybperkins
Submitted by johnnybperkins on
I did post a relevant comment - check it for accuracy if need be. But it would be an awkward bias if I weren't published. John Perkins see Juneau Empire.com

onedman's picture
onedman
Submitted by onedman on
Yesterday 1/29/16, I received an email from my Senator John McCain. I replied today 1/30/16. I posted my reply on the front page of my web site gilbertwsatchell.com. For mem, I did say what is happening is not just sad, it's a sin, a crime against humanity, and I asked him politely to stop it any way he can. I am very sorry our government cannot treat you better, it is a sickness, a disease. I don't know what else to do, I wish I did. I know ego is one of the sources of this disease, I try to keep mine in check, keep it very small but that is a personal choice that others know not of, they haven't a clue to as to what ego even is, thus we have these crimes against humanity, against our very "self".

TsaXoo's picture
TsaXoo
Submitted by TsaXoo on
With all due respect to John Martin and article author, Frank Harper, I find it necessary to correct some of the misrepresentations made by this article. • The article suggests that Native Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) Corporations steal clan lands. Not true; the traditional Native homelands of Southeast Alaska were stolen by the United States. Less than 3% of the Tongass National Forest were returned to Native pursuant to ANCSA. • The article suggests that the “mowing down” of timber in the Tongass began at the passage of ANCSA. Wrong; most of the timber harvested in the Tongass was done by pulp mills. It is estimated that the Sitka Alaska Pulp Company produced an average of 500 tons of pulp per day from 1956 – 2002. ANCSA Corporations (village and regional) have harvested less than 20% of all timber harvested in the Tongass. • The southern hills of Tenakee Inlet were logged by pulp companies; there has never been logging done in Tenakee Inlet by an ANCSA corporation. • While Tenakee Springs was a Tlingit community in traditional times, less than 3% of the community’s. population is Native American (Tlingit). I have personally known Mr. Martin for over 30 years and he lived in Juneau all of those years. Once pristine clan lands around Tenakee Inlet have been primarily taken over by non-Natives from the outside. The proposed legislation would return a small part of those traditional tribal lands to the rightful Native owners to manage as they see fit. • While I, personally, long felt that ANCSA should have turned settlement lands over to tribal governments in the beginning that didn’t happen. Having some of our lands back in Native ownership in spite of the weaknesses of ANCSA is much, much better than none of our lands back in Native control.

TsaXoo's picture
TsaXoo
Submitted by TsaXoo on
With all due respect to John Martin and article author, Frank Harper, I find it necessary to correct some of the misrepresentations made by this article. • The article suggests that Native Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) Corporations steal clan lands. Not true; the traditional Native homelands of Southeast Alaska were stolen by the United States. Less than 3% of the Tongass National Forest were returned to Native pursuant to ANCSA. • The article suggests that the “mowing down” of timber in the Tongass began at the passage of ANCSA. Wrong; most of the timber harvested in the Tongass was done by pulp mills. It is estimated that the Sitka Alaska Pulp Company produced an average of 500 tons of pulp per day from 1956 – 2002. ANCSA Corporations (village and regional) have harvested less than 20% of all timber harvested in the Tongass. • The southern hills of Tenakee Inlet were logged by pulp companies; there has never been logging done in Tenakee Inlet by an ANCSA corporation. • While Tenakee Springs was a Tlingit community in traditional times, less than 3% of the community’s. population is Native American (Tlingit). I have personally known Mr. Martin for over 30 years and he lived in Juneau all of those years. Once pristine clan lands around Tenakee Inlet have been primarily taken over by non-Natives from the outside. The proposed legislation would return a small part of those traditional tribal lands to the rightful Native owners to manage as they see fit. • While I, personally, long felt that ANCSA should have turned settlement lands over to tribal governments in the beginning that didn’t happen. Having some of our lands back in Native ownership in spite of the weaknesses of ANCSA is much, much better than none of our lands back in Native control.

WinterWindTeacher's picture
WinterWindTeacher
Submitted by WinterWindTeacher on
I think it is a challenging time perhaps more so than in 1492 because this involves the very survival of the earth. The rivers have been poisoned beyond reality which flows the toxic waste out into the ocean carried for distances in the currents. There is leaking radioactive waste going into the soil and water table. Children's likely-hood of contracting cancer is increasing. The polar bears are becoming emaciated for their deteriorating environment, such a noble animal limping around in its bones is as disgraceful as the men who worship money. There are something like 83 children that are missing every hour. The children are being kidnapped and caged, sold off for sex slaves and killed for satanic rituals. The crimes are being done within the government at the highest levels in many parts of its departments and no investigations are taking place. The government has enslaved the people to money and poisoned the water, air and land so people have no hope of escaping or of not cooperating with evil. On that very first journey from Europe they brought the beast with them to this American continent. There has been so much destruction to the entire planet since then, not just to America. It is both frightening and devastating to witness this monstrous destruction. The rate at what this death to life is happening seems to be speeding up. There is a definite sadness and resignation to the real life passing before our eyes. We were not able to stop it or we have become exhausted because the battle against evil rages on and on seemingly endlessly. We will battle it out because we have no choice. It is to serve the beast or be starved and murdered by it. The beast has to be removed from the earth and no life is safe until it is locked up. It is very painful to endure such an inhumane and maddening life crushing deceitful reality. Peace for a thousand years is promised by the Creator on the day of reckoning, it is written. His words are true, why all these trials and the accompanying sorrows, perhaps there were too many false people? Life is true, the earth is true, the people on the earth must be true. If the people are false then they spread contagion and deceit through the earth, through life. One can see the contagion and hear it and it is offensive, dirty and mean. In every way that we do care than we are fulfilling our purpose but will still have some difficult and trying times until the beast is removed from this life, earth, heart and soul. We try to find the courage to go on a bit further, brave yet, to even be part of the sacrifice so that this earth and all her life may yet survive the scourge that has been upon her breast devouring her for so long for the blessing that the foul beast will be hurled out and locked away from life. The Father see all the defilement and desecration to her being and love her and cleanse her to be whole and clean, lovely and beautiful with full life again. I pray and hope this much for her and for her children who are suffering everywhere. We love her and she loves us and it will not be lost or forgotten. It is hard to have faith, but spirits are about and they can take these prayers and blessings into the universe to be nurtured and fed, kept safe and grown to return to happiness in the living reality. May many prayers be said for the earth and all her life, as mother to us all she struggles to survive and care for us. We can all do what we feel will be helpful from our perspective but it is important to not feed the beast with much pointing and blaming, it brings out an appetite for hatred and revenge, it feeds the violence which has been raging for so long. Directing our thoughts toward deep thought and energies deep into the earth where she hurts where is our pain also. Sending our love and acknowledgement helps bring the nourishing healing balm to her wounds and ours. A plague is wide like an ocean wave, a stampede long, we should not be to foolish to think to hold it back, but keep giving our energies for our mothers survival. Plagues, viruses and disease run their course and wither for nothing left to feed, doing one's best to starve it is helpful, it will slow it down. It is brave and loving John Martin to do all that you can to protect your culture and the beautiful land where you live. May the good spirits be with you and give you their hand and assistance as you state your truth for all the life to hear you, for those words you speak are for their protection and well being. Many blessings to you, a brother and friend to this life. There is great love surrounding you for caring, for your strength and conviction.

WinterWindTeacher's picture
WinterWindTeacher
Submitted by WinterWindTeacher on
Hi John Martin Sr, I was just looking around on the web and it seems very hopeful if not difficult to save the Indigenous forests where you live. I think there is some program that you could apply to where you would or someone from your tribe monitor the forest for changes and and manage the well being of it and it would give you for managing and protecting the forest carbon credits which are needed desperately bad to keep the earth from getting any warmer. This is what is what is being done in Central America to try and stop the destruction of the Amazon forest. The Indigenous people in Central America were working with Green Peace. I think if you could contact them and tell them the difficulty your experiencing than hopefully they will know how to handle the bureaucratic end of things or at least direct you to who can help you with it. I'll try looking for what is available out there. Hold on there has to be hope. Your nation needs the forests to live and the earth needs the trees to continue to live. I do not want the corporations to take anything away but the handcuffs they themselves wear. Pray and hold on, the survival of the forest is necessary, the earth and her people.

Bert Edenso
Bert Edenso
Submitted by Bert Edenso on
Very Interesting I support John Martin. Need to go clean up the logged areas so they can prosper again
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