The North American Experience

By The International Labour Organization
A brief history: United States conclusion

In April 1994 President Clinton ordered all Federal agencies to “consult, to the greatest extent practicable … with tribal governments prior to taking actions that affect [them]”, and to work “directly and effectively” with tribal governments in matters where their own lands and legal rights are concerned. Two months later, the Federal agency responsible for conserving fish and wildlife issued a policy directive describing indigenous peoples as “co-managers,” and promised that they would enjoy “direct and continuing participation” in decision-making.

The situation in Alaska had been different in some respects. The US made no treaties with the indigenous peoples of Alaska. In 1867, the US purchased the Alaskan claims off the Russian Empire, which had been trading with indigenous peoples there for more than a century. A few small settlements were established in connection with fishing, but the population of the territory was predominantly indigenous until the construction of large US military bases in the 1940s. Even then, no thought was given to the land rights of indigenous people until large deposits of petroleum were discovered and mining companies proposed a pipeline through areas still used exclusively for hunting. In 1971, a Federal law was enacted that set aside roughly one-sixth of Alaska for indigenous communities, opened other lands for mining and settlements, and reserved other lands for disposal in the future. Congress invited indigenous leaders to comment on this arrangement before it became law but there was no negotiation or agreement.

In 1980 Congress decided to designate most of the remaining lands in Alaska as national parks or wildlife conservation areas. (Note 2) However, indigenous peoples had convinced Congress that they still needed these lands for traditional hunting and fishing. Accordingly, the 1980 law directed Federal conservation agencies to give priority, in regulating the use of public lands, to subsistence activities. Increasingly this has been implemented through co-management agreements with indigenous communities, for example, the Beverly-Kaminuriak Barren Ground Caribou Management Agreement and Waterhen Moose Management Agreement. In 1984 another Federal law, the Maritime Mammal Protection Act, was amended to require Federal conservation agencies to co-manage marine mammals with indigenous peoples. Under that authority, a special joint commission has been established to manage sea otters, the most valuable source of furs for indigenous peoples in Alaska.

This is the end of A Brief History: United States. A Brief History: Canada is Next.

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