In 1950, a corporate charter, constitution, and bylaws for the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island, Alaska, were ratified in accordance with the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. Still, the federal government retained ownership of land on St. Paul Island as a special reservation. Exercising its new rights, the Aleut Community of St. Paul filed a petition with the Indian Claims Commission.22 The petition alleged, among other things, that the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island exclusively occupied St. Paul Island and had exclusive possession of the entire island (with the exception of some buildings and improvements that had been the property of the Russian Government or the Russian-American Company) at the time the United States assumed sovereignty over the island; the United States and its lessees increasingly disregarded the possessory rights of the Aleut Community of St. Paul. The Fur-Seal Act of 1966 (Public Law No. 89-702) authorized the Secretary of the Interior to set apart land on St. Paul Island for the establishment of a town site, which would include land to be conveyed to individual Natives. This provision was contingent on the establishment of a viable self-governing community capable of providing municipal services (e.g., the incorporation of a St. Paul municipality). Ultimately, it was the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 (ANCSA, Public Law No. 92-203) that set the stage for the return of Alaska Native lands to indigenous populations. It authorized Alaska Natives to select and receive title to forty-four million acres of land and to receive $962,000,000 in cash as settlement of their aboriginal claim to land in the state.
The Aleut Corporation was one of thirteen Alaska Native regional corporations established pursuant to ANCSA. Under the umbrella of The Aleut Corporation, Aleut Natives formed village corporations. The Tanadgusix Corporation (TDX) became the St. Paul Island village corporation, and the St. George Tanaq Corporation became the St. George Island village corporation. Aleuts became the owners of the major portion of the Pribilof Islands. The Aleut Corporation gained ownership of the subsurface estate on much of St. Paul and St. George Islands. The village corporations received most of the islands’ surface estate. The U.S. Government retained certain portions of the Pribilof Islands, including those associated with the commercial fur-sealing operations. Section 3(e) of ANCSA directed that the government retain “the smallest practicable tract …enclosing land actually used in connection with the administration of any Federal installation.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Tanadgusix Corporation, and the St. George Tanaq Corporation signed a memorandum of understanding regarding Pribilof Islands land selections on December 22, 1976. Under the memorandum of understanding and consistent with Section 3(e) of ANCSA, NOAA identified government withdrawals of land used to support its interests in commercial fur sealing, including infrastructure maintenance, marine mammal management, navigation, and weather forecasting on the Pribilof Islands.
The Aleut community of St. Paul Island incorporated as a fourth-class city on June 29, 1971 (Phyllis Swetzof 2006, pers. comm.) and assumed responsibility to provide public services. In 1972, it became a second-class Alaska municipality in conformance with revised state legislation. Effective September 1, 1976, the City of the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island changed its name to the City of Saint Paul. The City of Saint George was incorporated as a second-class Alaskan city on September 13, 1983.In 1981, the United States, acting through the Secretary of the Interior, entered into an agreement with the Tanadgusix Corporation, the St. George Tanaq Corporation, and The Aleut Corporation to acquire lands on the Pribilof Islands for the establishment of the Pribilof Islands Subunit of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. The Secretary of the Interior agreed to pay $5,200,000 as compensation for the acquisition of such lands and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act selection rights relinquished by the Tanadgusix Corporation and the St. George Tanaq Corporation. The lands conveyed to the United States included specified shoreline from mean high tide to a point 150 feet inland from the top edge of the cliffs as well as other lands on St. Paul and St. George Islands, and the entireties of Walrus and Otter Islands.
The North Pacific Fur-Seal Commission, established under the 1957 Interim Convention on Conservation of the North Pacific Fur Seals, declared St. George Island a “control area” for biological research in 1973, prompted by declining seal populations (Mobley 1993; Federal Register 38(147):206000). This ended the commercial harvests on St. George. The U.S. Government transferred commercial fur-sealing operations to Native entities on St. Paul Island a decade later pursuant to the Fur-Seal Act Amendments of 1983 (Public Law No. 98129). The Tanadgusix Corporation conducted its first and last commercial fur-seal harvest in 1984. On October 14, 1984, the commercial sealing industry ended with the expiration of the convention. Since 1985, fur seals on the Pribilofs have been taken for Native subsistence only, as currently governed by regulations found in 50 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) part 216, subpart F under the authority of the Fur-Seal Act of 1983 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. Very few pelts are retained for handicrafts.
As directed in Section 205 of the Fur-Seal Act Amendment of 1983, NOAA worked with local entities to draft and approve an agreement known as Transfer of Property on the Pribilof Islands: Descriptions, Terms and Conditions, or the Transfer of Property Agreement. The Aleut Community Council of St. Paul, the Tanadgusix Corporation, the City of Saint Paul, the Aleut community of St. George, the St. George Tanaq Corporation, and the City of Saint George were signatories. The agreement described federal government land conveyances, the recipients, the terms, and the Pribilof lands the government was to retain. Each signatory received land under this agreement. In the late 1980s, NOAA transferred the hotel, cottages, and property on St. George Island previously connected with commercial fur-sealing operations, excluding the sealing plant and rookeries, to the St. George Tanaq Corporation and the City of Saint George. On St. Paul Island, NOAA transferred dwellings occupied by island inhabitants but retained other ANCSA Section 3 (e) withdrawal lands pending environmental restoration.
It has been said that the Aleuts of the Pribilof Islands were “slaves of the harvest.” On June 9, 1978, the Aleut Tribe and the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island filed a lawsuit known as the “Corned Beef Case” against the United States. The Indian Claims Commission determined that the U.S. Government was obligated to provide fair compensation and sufficient goods and services to the Pribilof Aleuts for the years 1870–1946.23 The plaintiffs won a judgment in the amount of $11,239,604, less allowable gratuitous offsets. A decade later, the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands Restitution Act, Title II of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 (Public Law No. 100383), offered additional recognition of, and compensation for, unfair treatment of the Pribilof Aleuts. It declared that: (1) the Aleut civilian residents of certain islands who were relocated during World War II remained relocated long after any potential danger had passed; (2) the United States failed to provide reasonable care for the Aleuts, resulting in illness, disease, and death, and failed to protect Aleut personal and community property; (3) the United States did not compensate the Aleuts adequately; and (4) there was no remedy for injustices suffered by the Aleuts except an Act of Congress.
Today, St. George and St. Paul Islands each function under three distinct non-federal entities: a municipal government, a tribal government or traditional council, and a village corporation. NOAA continues to manage the fur seals through co-management agreements with the islands’ tribal governments. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the islands’ extensive bird rookeries.
NOAA created this product in partial fulfillment
of a memorandum of agreement between it and the Alaska State Historic