A 2009 documentary entitled, “The Mystery of Capital among the Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon” includes Alaska Native Leaders Julie Kitka, the President of the Alaska Federation of Natives, Bobbie Quintavell, President and CEO of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and Andy Teuber, the President of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.
This documentary was conceived, written and hosted by Hernando De Soto. Mr. De Soto is a well-known Peruvian economist and President of Peru’s Institute for Liberty and Democracy. He has been an economic advisor to Peru’s President’s and lauded by U.S. Presidents and academics for his economic work.
The premise of the documentary is summed up by de Soto with “The only way available to Indigenous people for defending their culture and their land in the 21st century is with economic power, and economic power only comes through business and property rights. That is exactly what the Aleutians, Eskimos, Inuits and other ethnic groups and tribes in other parts of the world are doing.”
“But what about their Indigenous values and traditions… well they can be incorporated into the property and business statutes and the law to simultaneously protect their culture and take advantage of globalization.”
In the film, Hernando De Soto invites the three Alaska Native leaders to Peru along with other Indigenous leaders from Canada. De Soto shows Alaska Natives as an example of how he says, “tribes can go onto become powerful organizations that can deal with the market”.
The film considers the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act or as a way that Alaska Natives have adapted to the 21 Century, without losing their identity and traditions.
This concept is further expanded on with an interview with Julie Kitka.
Julie Kitka: “What we have found from our experiences, we’ve learned you can modify the corporate structure and you can put indigenous values into the corporate structure and it isn’t just rampant capitalism that strips out anything of value from anybody that you deal with. WE have seen with the corporate structure that we deal with – with Native corporations on that – that you can modify that and you can change the corporate structure as you go about and do business.”
Native Leader Bobbie Quintavell states in the documentary, “It is important to recognize that you are not trading your values and principles by participating in this model. It has been my experience that we can operate our businesses, we can operate and build capital to operate our businesses without compromising our values, and the principles that make us unique as a people.”
However, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act is complex and not without criticism. Some Native leaders in Alaska such as Tribal Chief Gary Harrison of Chickaloon speak in opposition to ANCSA. In an article entitled, “Tribes look to international allies for political voice” by Jill Burke of Alaska Dispatch; Mr. Harrison says ANCSA is akin to genocide. Genocide, he says, is anything that destroys a people in whole or part, and Harrison believes giving up rights to land, and excluding future generations, fits that definition.
One of the early criticisms of ANCSA by Native leaders was the possibility of Native Land being sold to non-natives. However, today, I believe less than one percent of ANCSA lands have been sold. The lands are held and will most likely continue to be held by the Native corporations for the benefit of all shareholders. It is this concept of individual land title that is one of the criticisms of Hernando De Soto and this documentary.
According to a story in Indian Country Today, “Hernando de Soto has upset Natives as well as the foremost local experts on Peruvian Natives and Amazon issues with a documentary critics see as another attempt to strip Peruvian Natives of their lands so they can be transferred to oil and lumber companies.”
The article goes on to criticize the documentary citing Amazon expert Rodrigo Montoya, “Montoya said de Soto’s approach is overly simplistic with use of interviews that were convenient for his position and that de Soto lacks any knowledge or respect for Native Peruvian beliefs. He said those communities and Natives he interviewed are not representative of all communities.”
The article continues, “For example, de Soto argues land titles should be given to Native individuals to ease the exploitation of land, but Montoya said that approach ignores the Native American beliefs – “the territory is in first and last instance a mother” – and that vision’s implications influence the type of activities carried out in the soil.”
The differences between the Indigenous people of the Amazon and the Indigenous people of Alaska are great. In fact, there are large differences in Native cultures just within the state of Alaska. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was considered by many to be an “experiment “. It is without a doubt unique on to itself, as a model of how one country has dealt with some of its indigenous people. It has been nearly 40 years since the indigeneous people of Alaska retained title to some of their ancestral lands. I believe the next generation of Alaska Native leaders will reshape ANCSA to their vision.