16 OCT 1976
The Influence of the State Constitution
and the Development of Local Government
in Rural Alaska
Delivered to the Members
of the Constitutional Convention
Gathered at the University of Alaska
I am happy to be able to be here to point out publicly the great contribution you who wrote our State Constitution made to democratic self-determination in America. I suppose that democratic freedom is always difficult to define to everybody’s satisfaction, but it is like a continually developing doctrine. Few realize, I suspect, how important your work was to the development of the doctrine of local government.
Because of the foundations laid in our State Constitution, we Inupiat of the Arctic Slope will probably be able to survive the Arctic oil boom intact, and as a strong people able to defend the values of our land, and to assure that the critical ecological balances of the Arctic will be respected and maintained.
We enjoy home rule through the North Slope Borough because of the constitutional foundations that you laid, and it has been my work over the past decade to build upon these foundations our regional municipal government that, covering an area of 88,000 square miles, is the largest in the world.
Only in America, where local government is the most important level of government, would it be possible for 4,000 Native people to organize a government like the North Slope Borough. And it could not happen even in America had it not been for the foresight that you displayed, and the imagination that you used, in drafting Article X of our State Constitution.
Recently, I sent one of my staff assistants to Yellow Knife to deliver for me my testimony before the Berger Commission, a Royal Commission to inquire into the likely social and economic impacts of oil and gas development in the Canadian Arctic and the Mackenzie River Valley. Each of you have been provided a copy of this testimony. As you can see, I credited our ability to deal effectively with oil and gas development on the Arctic Slope to our State Constitution, and the State Municipal Code that implemented Article X.
In the years since you adopted this local government article, there has been talk of how you did not dot enough “i’s” or cross enough “t’s”, causing the legislature too much trouble in implementing your borough scheme. Take it from me, it was worth the trouble. The foundations you laid will support strong local government in rural Alaska, and you should be proud of your work.
I know that you realized when you wrote our Constitution that it would take extensive development of natural resources in rural Alaska to enable strong local government in the bush. You knew that there would be a necessary connection between resource development and local government in rural Alaska. I would like to comment here on some problems that I see developing in this relationship between resource development and local democratic self-determination in rural Alaska.
The problem is that our taxpayers are not citizens. This is causing an awkward, democratically unhealthy relationship to develop between our citizens and the corporations that pay most of the taxes collected by the North Slope Borough. In almost every other community I have heard of, the citizens of local government own most of the tax base. But this will probably never be true for local government in rural Alaska.
In our Borough, oil corporations own our tax base, and these corporations do not vote, and have none of the responsibilities of citizenship. Even the employees of our oil corporations are not citizens of the North Slope Borough.
Because oil corporations operating in the North Slope Borough have none of the traditional democratic ideological bearing that has marked American citizenship, we have an awkward situation developing that should be dealt with if local government and borough organization is going to be able to continue in rural Alaska.
The oil corporations feel that they are suffering taxation without representation, yet I note that they are always well represented by well-paid lawyers. Lawyers are the only interface between our borough government and the oil industry as the relationship between local government and corporation taxpayers becomes increasingly unfriendly.
The single concern of our corporate taxpayers is tax avoidance, with no compensating ideological concern for the growth and health of local government in rural Alaska. Corporations are not people, and apparently oil corporations are not owned by people so much as they are owned by other corporations.
Thus, the North Slope Borough has been in and out of court to defend its right to exist, and its revenue authority. This year, our multi-million dollar Capital Improvements Program ground to an expensive halt because of litigation that prevented us from selling municipal bonds to continue the construction of our schools, utilities, and other villages facilities that we have needed for a long time.
I am fearful that tax avoidance will continue to motivate resource developers to fight the organization of rural regional borough governments, and to campaign against their success in court and in Juneau as they have done in our case.
Fortunately, I feel that Borough home rule may have given us the tools to deal with this problem. My hope for the future is that the constitutional development of local government in rural Alaska will include strong participation in the management of all resource development.
The North Slope Borough plans to become heavily involved, for instance, in the State’s Coastal Zone Management Program. I am hoping that over time both the Federal and State governments will act through local government in rural Alaska in the management of all coastal zone resources, including offshore oil and gas reserves, and fish and game.
Our position is that our local government is also a political subdivision of the State, and that State responsibilities within our Borough can be carried out by our Borough government through cooperative delegation agreements. I see the Coastal Zone Management Program as a good opportunity to develop our doctrine of local government to the point that home rule means home rule over resource development management and regulation.
In summary, let me say that I think that the North Slope Borough has become a living laboratory within which the work started by the Constitutional Convention will continue. What happens in the North Slope Borough will influence the direction of local government throughout our State. Our laboratory of local government exists because of those of you here today.
What we do with the North Slope Borough will influence the Canadian land claims settlement and the Greenland Home Rule Movement, and freedom for Inupiat people all across the North American Arctic.
On behalf of my people, and on behalf of all Alaskans, I thank you for the constitutional foundations that you laid for strong local government in the Arctic, and for Alaska.