American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Alaska Native Brotherhood

Twelve Alaskan Indian men who were former students of the Sitka Industrial Training School and the Carlisle Indian School formed the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) on November 5, 1912, in Juneau, Alaska. Initially, membership was restricted to English-speaking, Christian Indians who pledged abstinence from alcohol. The ANB focused its energies on promoting Native solidarity, achieving U.S. citizenship, abolishing racial prejudice, and securing economic equality through the recognition of Indian land title and mineral rights, as well as the preservation of salmon stocks. The ANB promoted citizenship through good hygiene, punctuality, and regular school attendance, in addition to wearing Western dress, securing gainful and regular employment, using English as the primary language, and living in self-contained housing units apart from other Indians. The ANB embraced three central goals: (1) to force the recognition of the citizenship rights for the Natives of southeast Alaska; (2) to provide proper education for Native children; and (3) to abolish customs regarded by non-Natives as barbaric and uncivilized.

Comprised mainly of Tlingit and Haida men, the ANB was patterned after the non-Native fraternal organization known as the Arctic Brotherhood, a formal fishing union that strenuously lobbied the U.S. government for Alaskan congressional representation. Local ANB chapters called "camps" were located in various Native communities, guided by a central organizational and communications hub known as the Grand Camp that kept ANB delegates in regular contact and informed of political occurrences. Members held an annual convention of all the camps each November. Despite its nonsectarian approach, the ANB officers maintained a close relationship with the Presbyterian Sheldon Jackson school. By advocating the civilization and assimilation doctrine promoted by the federal government, the ANB's leaders embraced a political philosophy that was antithetical to traditional Tlingit and Haida political culture. Nevertheless, by the mid-1920s, nearly every Native community in southeast Alaska had a local camp of either the ANB or the Alaska Native Sisterhood (established 1915). Further, the members of most Native communities openly cooperated with the Brotherhood and the Sisterhood.

The U.S. government during this period considered Native people to be wards of the state. This prompted ANB leaders to fight for citizenship and its attendant rights. As the ANB grew in popularity, its leaders became increasingly convinced of the organization's influence over Alaskan politics. In 1921, ANB representative William Paul attempted to convince officials in Washington to prohibit fish traps from narrow bays and channels in Alaska.

Although Paul's request was ignored, his appearance informed federal officials that the ANB was the political voice for Native Alaskans. The ANB continued lobbying federal officials to grant Indians full citizenship status, and, in 1924, the U.S. government acquiesced, subsequently passing the Indian Citizenship Act. Following the ANB's attainment of Alaskan Indian enfranchisement, the Brotherhood attempted to extend its influence by subsequently working with both Native and non-Native labor leaders, eventually establishing itself as an influential labor union and bargaining agent. By the mid-1920s, the ANB represented Native Alaskans in both political and labor matters. Buoyed by support resulting from the distribution of the ANB journal, the Alaska Fisherman (established 1924), the ANB would remain an influential bargaining agent and labor force into the 1940s. Toward the end of the 1920s, ANB leaders denounced as discriminatory a recent announcement by the federal government that a single school system would be established for Native Americans. In 1929, William Paul successfully argued in court that Native parents had the right to send their children to the school of their choice. The attempt to dispose of separate Indian schools and to compel the federal government to recognize Native people as citizens was an ANB strategy designed to wrest from government control the direction of their lives. The ANB also announced its intention in 1929 to recover Tlingit land by joining forces with the Haidas to pursue a land claim settlement against the U.S. government. The ANB refined its political strategy at each of its subsequent five annual conventions, while persistently lobbying federal officials for change. The U.S. government eventually gave in and passed the Tlingit and Haida Jurisdictional Act of 15 June 1935, enabling the Tlingits and Haidas to initiate their land claim against the government and the U.S. Court of Claims.

By 1935, there were twenty-two camps with 2,200 members out of a total population of 6,000 Tlingit and Haida (Drucker, 1958). Significant community-based support notwithstanding, the Brotherhood was denied control of the land claims suit. Instead, the Department of the Interior supervised the creation of the Tlingit-Haida Central Council to pursue the land claim. For the first time in two decades, a proposed ANB strategy had failed. During this period, the ANB returned to the Tlingit heritage they had suppressed since the organization's inception in 1912. Both the Tlingit language and the potlatch were reintegrated into the ANB philosophy.

The following year, the federal government extended the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) to Alaska (1936), enabling the formation of tribal governments at the village level. The ANB supported the IRA, a popular move that further strengthened its political resolve.

As the ANB grew in popularity, the Brotherhood became involved in issues beyond labor activism and its desire to ensure Native incorporation. In 1929, an ANB Grand Officer was refused access to the main level of a movie theater in Juneau. Informed that he would have to sit in the Native section of the balcony, he brought his complaint to the ANB. A similar event occurred a few years later when a group of Natives caused damage to an ice-cream parlor after being refused admission. The goal was to have their case heard publicly in court. Following these two high-profile events, the ANB aggressively lobbied the Alaska Territorial Legislature for change, and, in 1946, an antidiscrimination law was passed. Despite claiming these impressive political accomplishments, the ANB created the Tlingit-Haida Central Council (THCC) in the 1940s. The THCC was the legal organization established by the ANB to pursue the land claim, since anyone in Alaska could join the ANB. Despite the separate mandates (the ANB specialized in community activism, while the THCC took over more formal governmental duties), the two organizations continued to work together and share leadership at many levels.

The ANB continued in the wake of diminished political influence, and by the 1950s it could claim the financial stability that helped it remain free of political coercion. Financial success also meant that the ANB could spend $50,000 to construct a new building at Hoonah in time for its 1952 convention. Organizational funding was largely generated through membership fees; each member contributed $10 to join and paid an annual $12 fee (Drucker, 1958). The Grand Camp directed half of this money to the Grand Treasurer. The money raised was used for a variety of other purposes, which included hiring a lawyer to defend a Native man convicted of violating fishing laws in the early 1950s.

The 1960s was a tumultuous period for Native people in Alaska and, in particular, the ANB. Having long been usurped by the Tlingit-Haida Central Council as the governing body of the Tlingit and Haida people, the land claim filed in the 1930s that the ANB had hoped to resolve was finalized in 1968 with an award to the Tlingits and Haidas of $7.5 million. This opened the door for the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANSCA) in 1971, which transferred approximately one-ninth of Alaska's land plus $962.5 million in compensation to Native interests, thereby resolving all land claims previously brought against the state. Even though it was part of the original movement to support Alaska land claims and despite the fact that the ANB was one of the constituent organizations of the Alaska Federated Natives (AFN), it was largely shut out of these discussions. The ANB was further excluded from AFN operations following a reorganization in the mid-1970s. They nevertheless continued to hold annual meetings each November and delegates continued to pass resolutions that the Grand Camp took to state and federal officials. In October 2005, the ANB held its ninety-second annual convention, in Juneau.

As of 2005, the ANB was restructuring. Now visible online (ANB, n.d.), the organization Web site proudly lists ANB accomplishments, which include desegregation of Alaska schools, securing the Native franchise and relief for elderly Natives, supporting implementation of the IRA in Alaska, and bringing hospitals to Native people in Alaska. This is an impressive list to be sure, although most of these events occurred prior to the 1950s. The group is also refashioning its constitution, its manual of ceremonies, and its rules of order and official handbook. Criticism has been leveled at the ANB for becoming overly intricate, suggesting organizational inertia. Further, complaints persist that the ANB is slow to develop and circulate and to act on resolutions. Nevertheless, the ANB persists into the twenty-first century.

Yale D. Belanger


Further Reading
Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB). No date. Available at: http://www.anbgrandcamp.org/. Accessed January 15, 2007.; Drucker, Phillip. 1958. The Native Brotherhoods: Modern Intertribal Organizations on the Northwest Coast. Bureau of Ethnology Bulletin, No. 168. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.; Haycox, Stephen. 1989. "Alaska Native Brotherhood Convention: Sites and Grand Officers, 1912–1959." Alaska History 4, no. 2: 38–47.; Milburn, Maureen. 1987. "The Politics of Possession: Louis Shortridge and the Tlingit Collections at the University of Pennsylvania Museum." Ph.D. dissertation, University of British Columbia.; Thornton, Thomas. 2002. "From Clan to Kwáan to Corporation: The Continuing Complex Evolution of Tlingit Political Organization." Wicazo Sa Review 17, no. 2: 167–194.
 

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