In 1971, Congress passed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), the largest indigenous land claims settlement in U.S history. Intended to resolve disputes over land and to spur economic development, ANCSA remained silent on issues of indigenous governance, or tribal sovereignty, as well as on subsistence rights, a particularly urgent issue because many Alaska Natives remain dependent on subsistence practices for survival. Consequently, Alaska Native politics since ANCSA has centered on campaigns for sovereignty and subsistence rights. Despite these shortcomings, ANCSA accorded Alaska Natives unprecedented possibilities for economic development that enable other forms of community self-determination. This essay explores the limits and possibilities of ANCSA by examining the ways it has transformed Alaska Native communities and politics. It also traces the legal conflicts that have ensued from the settlement, including those culminating in the landmark Venetie (1998) and Katie John (2001) decisions on sovereignty and subsistence that pit Alaska Natives against state and federal authorities.

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