Presbyterian Involvement In the Land Claims Settlement
The Presbytery of Yukon, the Presbytery of Alaska, the United Presbyterian Church USA, and National Council of Churches took great interest in and was deeply involved in the Alaska Native Land Claims Movement which resulted in the Land Claims Settlement Act was passed by Congress in 1972. This support took the form of various statements of support, lobbying, and financial aid.
The Presbytery of Alaska meeting in Wrangell on April 10, 1969, unanimously adopted an overture to General Assembly calling on the Presbyterian Church nationwide to support a Just, Equitable Early Settlement of the Alaska Native Land Claims. In December of that year, the National Council of Churches adopted a similar resolution.
Financial support came through several loans and grants.
The 181st General Assembly (1969), for instance, directed the Board of National Missions to establish a seed fund in the amount of $100,000 to be made available by June 1, 1969, for use by Indian-American groups, both ecclesiastical and secular, for purposes deemed wise by the Indian groups themselves; these funds to be raised from non-General Mission sources." (Minutes, Tuesday, May 20, 1969.)
In December of that year, the Presbytery of the Yukon wrote the Rev. Robert MacFarland, contact for the Synod of Washington-Alaska, Board of National Missions:
Dear Mr. McFarland:
I am writing to urge prompt action concerning the request of the Alaska Federation of Natives for Fund for Freedom monies. The need for these funds is becoming critical. These funds will be used for public relations, I understand. It is exactly as this point that the AFN is at a disadvantage in telling its story.
The Presbytery of Yukon took action at a special meeting on November 22, 1969 supporting the request of the Alaska Federation of Natives for these monies in response to Overture 46 of the last General Assembly.
Further the Presbytery requested that our United Presbyterian Church, USA, through its national offices, be requested to co-sign a loan to the Alaska Federation of Natives in an amount of $250,000. As we understand the situation, the Chase Manhattan Bank is willing to make the loan but is required to ask for a co-signer. As the pastor in our church at Barrow said, himself an Eskimo, such action by our church would truly be evangelism on the Arctic Coast....
...(signed) David C. Koch, Stated Clerk
McFarlane responded later that month:
Dear Mr. Koch:
Thank you for reporting the action taken at a special meeting of Yukon Presbytery on November 22nd, supporting the request of the Alaska Federation of Natives to fund a Public Awareness Project for the Alaska Native Claim Bill.
As you may already know, positive action was taken on the request by both the Board of National Missions and the Synod of Washington/ Alaska. On December 23rd the Synod put out a news release describing this important grant....
Your letter raised a second matter. One that I have had some contact with earlier in December. Mr. Notti met with a group of us in New York and brought up the possibility of our co-signing a loan from Chase Manhattan Bank for $250,000. That issue is currently being discussed and I have no idea what the resolution may be. However, it is helpful to know that the Presbytery of Yukon requests that the United Presbyterian Church take positive action....
...(signed) Robert S. Macfarlane, Jr.
January 6, 1970
To: Mr. James W. Thomas, Director, Office of Public Relations, Alaska Federation of Natives, 1689 C Street, Anchorage, Alaska 99501.
Re: Public Awareness Funds for Alaska Land Claims
Dear Mr. Thomas:
We have had previous correspondence relative to the application for financial assistance from the United Presbyterian Church and I also had the privilege of meeting and sharing with you in a Mission Strategy meeting in Anchorage in November where the action for aid was officially initiated.
The Synod office through Dr. W. Wilson Rasco has previously notified the Alaska Federation of Natives that our request for $10,000 has been grated favorable action by the Board of National Missions. I am pleased today to present you with an emergency check of $1,000.00 pending final processing of the $10,000.00 single grant by the Board of National Missions. We are assured that the balance of this grant will be released to the Synod of Washington/Alaska during the month of January, 1970, then remitted by Synod's Treasurer to the Alaska Federation of Natives upon receipt in this office.
We are all fully aware that this issue is controversial within and without the Church in the State of Alaska. Because of the sensitivity of the issue and the involvement of Church funds not always properly understood and appreciated by individual church members, we will need to be as discreet and judicious as possible in the disbursement and accounting of these funds. In response to inquiries and protests, the Synod office is releasing a letter of explanation and documentation to all our churches in Alaska. The Synod has no intention of restricting the use of the grant except within the scope of our mutual understanding of the Public Awareness efforts as it relates to the Native Land Claims. A periodic financial reporting for our records will be much appreciated. Thank you for already anticipating this and extending the cooperation of your office.
The news releases to the Alaska news media has been received. Thank you for this courtesy.
With every good wish for a profitable board meeting on Thursday and Friday of this week,
...(signed) Alexander M. Campbell
Friday, January 9, 1970: The New York Times reports “Oil Tests on North Slope 'Good'; Mobil Sees Significant Potential.” The Mobil Oil Corporation had just announced the first actual production test results of oil drilling on the North Slope of Alaska and said the results indicated that the wells there had "good producing characteristics" and "significant potential.”
North Slope Natives Repay Presbyterian Loan and Grant
The most significant part of this story and the next came in 1974, when the Arctic Slope Native Association -- including two-thirds of the session of the Barrow Presbyterian church -- received their long expected oil monies, and decided to repay both the grant and the loan received earlier from the Presbyterian Church in one $245,000 check.
“It was a dramatic gesture at General Assembly. Elder John Upicksoun delivered the check in person. A great moment,” recalls Gordon Corbett, associate synod executive for the Yukon and Alaska presbyteries at the time.
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