Fall 1973

Official Position Paper:

North Slope Borough

Re: Proposed Ad Valorem Tax on Oil Properties
A Statement of Policy
By Eben Hopson, Mayor
In 1958, when the people of the North Slope area voted overwhelmingly for Alaskan statehood, they did so for the same reason as nearly all Alaskans voted for statehood. They wanted to right to determine for themselves what they would do and when they would do it.

For as long as these people could remember, their lives had been directed by local representatives of government agencies, who were in turn directed by leaders in Washington D.C. Our people had no say in what was done. Our people had no voice in the council which made any decision. On one occasion, our people were arrested for taking subsistence ducks and geese. We were told these ducks and geese were “out of season.” It was useless to explain that the season never began until they left our area. Or that our people had hunted such ducks and geese for centuries. We had received our orders and as usual, we had no say.

We wanted to change this system and we voted for statehood, almost every man and woman.

Throughout the eight years work of creating the North Slope Borough, we had the same thing in mind. Through the “maximum of local government,” guaranteed us by the Constitution of this State of Alaska, we wanted the maximum of self determination.

We wanted the right to send our children to schools operated by our own people serving on a local school board. We wanted to high school within our own area. We wanted to give our children the finest possible education, an education good enough to equip them to improve their world, even as we were attempting to improve our world.

We wanted to enable our people to provide themselves with the basic needs of health and sanitation; to eliminate the source of periodic epidemics which have troubled us over the years; and to abolish the bases for sub-standard living conditions so debilitating to our people.

We wanted to plan and prepare for the future so as to guarantee the finest environment possible to conserve for our children those things which we had enjoyed, including the resources and the wildlife. It is worth noting that our people have always practiced conservation, that the seals, the whales and even the polar bear have never been threatened with extinction through our efforts.

We wanted all these things, but most of all, we wanted to determine for ourselves the nature of our destiny and then, act to fulfill that destiny to the best of our ability. We believed the right of self determination was inherent within the constitutional provision for a “maximum of local government.” That is why we established our North Slope Borough.

Today, we are faced with the possibility that we shall once again be returned to a subservient position. The proposed legislation which would remove our power to levy taxes on oil properties, would have the net effect of removing a vast amount of the present and future tax base of our North Slope Borough. It would immediately devastate and destroy our ability to bond for public improvements.

We could not and would not be able to bond for the public schools needed by our children.

We would have no opportunity to sell the bonds to provide our people with the base necessities essential to their health and sanitation.

True, we would be able to plan, but our plans would be empty dreams. Dreams incapable of being realized and capable of increasing our overwhelming frustrations.

We cannot accept the proposed “$1,000.00 per capita.” We consider this a sop offered the heavily populated areas in exchange for the votes of their representatives. As further support for this claim, we direct your attention to the five million dollars proposed for those same areas as “impact money.”

We cannot accept this sop as being a reasonable facsimile of the right to determine our own future. Instead, we demand the identical rights given other Alaskans in other boroughs. We will settle for no less.

And we further charge that far from being “for the good of Alaska,” this entire concept is wrong, in the strongest moral sense.

If it be right, then let us apply it to the “fish properties” in Southeastern and Kodiak, the “timber properties” throughout the state, the “wholesale distribution properties” in Anchorage and Fairbanks, the “aircraft properties” wherever they may be. Let us remove these from the local tax base. Better yet, let us apply it to all property. Let us destroy all local bases for taxation and apply this tax to ALL properties. then let us all share the revenue brought in.

It is wrong, obviously wrong in principle because it destroys the “maximum local government” guaranteed by the Constitution and nothing which is wrong in principle can become right in practice.


The North Slope Borough came into being after eight years of organizing, in June 1972. The ratifying vote of the people was the most overwhelming acceptance given any borough in the state of Alaska.

It is the largest borough in area and the smallest in population within the state. Within its borders are vast known and uncharted mineral deposits, particularly petroleum fields.

The people of the borough are predominantly Eskimo, the descendants of those who inhabited the area for more than 8,000 years. Before the building of the DEW Line (1950) and White Alice Systems (1954), these people lived by a subsistence economy. The caribou and the whales formed the base of their existence. This was supplemented by trapping, plus aid from various federal agencies, chiefly the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

During the building of the DEW Line and White Alice Systems, cash became a part of their way of life. With the completion of the sites, they were introduced to a new way of life, as well as a new economy. They were not part of that way of life, but they were exposed for the first time to dwellings heated by oil and running water that was not thawed from the blue ice. There were even indoor toilets.

Following the discovery of oil on the Kenai Peninsula (1957) active oil exploration began within the region now the North Slope Borough * (*The Navy had explored for oil during World War II and had set aside Petroleum Reserve IV after their exploration. Nothing had been done since that time.) This search intensified during the early 1960s and was culminated in 1969 with the largest lease sale ever held, following the discoveries at Prudhoe Bay.

Work on the North Slope borough began in 1964 and paralleled the oil exploration, both in intensity and effort. With the announcement of the discovery it moved into high gear and reached its goal in the ratifying election on 22 JUNE 1972.

This borough came into being with nothing more than the three powers granted by law. The schools within the area were operated under the Johnson-O’Malley Act by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. There was no high school within the Borough area. All students attending high school were transported to other areas, sometimes to the Lower 48 states.

There was not, nor had there ever been, anything remotely connected with planning or zoning within the entire area — unless Petroleum Reserve IV and the Wilderness Area of the Brooks Range are looked upon as such.

There weren’t even tax rolls because there had never been any ad valorem taxes levied within the area.

Starting from this point of absolute zero, the people elected their Chairman and their Assembly and went to work on governing themselves.

In the period of sixteen months, they have achieved the following:

1. Established a tax base of $766 million and levied on same.

2. Elected a five member school board and taken over schools in Anaktuvuk Pass and Point Hope, plus negotiating for schools in Barter Island, Barrow and Wainwright. Initial planning is underway for the building of a high school in the borough area.

3. Established a Planning Commission and almost completed the data gathering process for developing a comprehensive plan for the entire borough area. Note: This Planning Commission is jointly composed of representatives from the various communities and a like number from the industries within the area.

4. Elected a Charter Commission which now has some nine months work completed on the creation of a charter, the key element in creating a “home rule borough.” Hopefully, this charter will go to the people for adoption by April 1974.

5. Through the department of Administration and Finance, began the steps essential to the selling of bonds necessary for public improvements such as the high school and the basic utilities essential to minimum health standards.

To the majority, accustomed to basic and sophisticated services from their local government, this progress may seem small. To the North Slope borough, less than a year and a half old and born without tax records or tax rolls, they loom as proof of the ability of these people to govern themselves.