Then Fight For It!
The Largest Peaceful Redistribution of Wealth in the History of Mankind and the Creation of the North Slope Borough
About the Book
Hoonah is an ancient Tlingit village nestled within a harbor on the south shore of Icy Strait. The Hoonah Tlingit have always enjoyed a well earned reputation of both vigor and rigor in domination that fierce country through the centuries. A prime example of the hardy Hoonah Tlingit is George Dalton and his family. Back in the spring of 1921 George’s father had taken his family, as he did every year, to plant their garden on one of the Native islands in the middle of Icy Strait. Here they grew potatoes fertilized by seaweed they piled onto the cultivated land after each harvest. That island had belonged to the Dalton family for centuries. As they began unloading gear onto their island, happy to be at their gardening home during the bright promise of spring, a shot rang out. “Somebody’s hunting.” they said to each other. “Who could it be?” How wrong they were! An angry white man had fired a warning shot, and now threatened them with more. “Get the hell off my island,” he shouted. “I got permits from the Forest Service and the Land Office to be here.” The Daltons left. Fox farming had become a profitable business. A person had only to turn some breeding foxes loose on a small island. Then he had little do do but feed them free Icy Strait salmon until harvest time in the autumn. At Hoonah, the Daltons learned that fox farmers had ordered many other Tlingit families away from islands they had always used for gardens. By the time the elections came round in 1924, feeling between Natives and whites on this subject ran high. The White Man’s Party platform said, “Passage of legislation by Congress giving the fox farmers title to lands occupied and improved by them, thus ending definitely a possibility that the Indian leaders might succeed in driving ranchers from their island establishments which Paul and his supporters claim belong to the Indians.” Delegates to the ANB’s annual convention in 1925 discussed the subject from every angle. During the activities Peter Simpson, a Tsimshian Native, took my father aside to talk seriously about the fox farmers. “Willie,” he said, opening a conversation I heard my father recount many times, “Tell me one thing, Who owns this land?” My father always hesitated before answering in a low voice. “We do.” The old man looked deep into my father’s eyes. “Then fight for it,” he commanded. “Then fight for it.” My father told that story in exactly these words again and again. In that moment my father felt the old man had confided to him a challenge, a mission, a sacred trust. Thus was born the Alaska Native Land claims movements, a birth in which the fox breeders of Icy Strait may be said to have served as midwives. Nothing had influenced Native opinion in the way the fox farmer’s summary eviction of Native families from their island gardens now galvanized and united the Natives of Southeast Alaska.
About the Author
William Lewis and Frances Lackey Paul moved to Alaska with their sons William Lackey and Louis Frederick in 1920. William was a Tlingit Native lawyer and became involved with the fight for rights for his people. Fred and Bill were reared in a period of intense discrimination of Natives from white bureaucrats and carpetbaggers. After Fred finished U/Wash. law school, he returned to Alaska. He was appointed Assistant Attorney General for the Territory. Before he left Alaska in 1945, he wrote the law that became known as the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945. He left in order to make a living. His experience in Seattle included being a successful defense attorney, criminal and civil lawyer besides representing various Indian tribes and individual Natives. He became active in Alaskan Native advocacy in 1966 by a letter to his father William from Charles Edwardsen (Etok) asking for help for the Eskimos (Inupiats) to save their land from exploitation by multinational oil companies. Fred fought the Bureau of Indian Affairs and immense financial and political opponents. His work culminated in the Alaska Land Settlement Act of 1971 that won 1 billion dollars and 44 million acres of land and recognition of all Alaska Native people. He gave up his personal life and financial security for his people.
The North Slope Borough was a product of his determination to bring independence to the Eskimo people and freedom from dependency on both the Alaska State government in Juneau and the U.S. Federal Government in Washington DC. He was successful in all his endeavors except for his own financial stability. In the end he was defeated by politics and envy. In his last years, his only income was from Social Security.
He died on 28 April 1994 in the home of his sister.