Alaska, Legal State or Sovereign Nation
By Dexter and Lynette Clark
BIO - Dexter Clark and his wife Lynette have been involved in the Alaskan Independence movement since 1980. They co-authored "On Golden Ground" a collection of their gold mining adventures in the Alaskan bush country.
History, a subject which is on the required learning list starting in elementary school, is mostly written and edited by those in power. The textbooks are selected using government guidelines. It is no secret that these texts often contain mistakes. Oral histories have recently found favor, or at least qualify for graduate student projects. Until now, if it wasn't written down, it didn't happen.
Our study whether or not Alaska is a valid, permanent member of the Union of States, is limited to treaties and information available in books or other publications. Video tapes and official internet sites are also referenced. The authors have first-hand knowledge of the formation of the Alaskan Independence Party because they were there.
A reveiw of history will give a portrait of America's role in Alaska's becoming a member of the Union.
Some proponents of Nation Status for Alaska go back to the questionable sale of Alaska, by Russia in 1867. By what principles were they in a position to sell? The right of discovery overlooks the indigenous native population. Besides, explorers from other countries actually "discovered" more of Alaska than the Russians. Right of conquest? It is safe to say that 99% of Alaska's aboriginal Indians and Eskimos never saw a Russian let alone somehow lost their birthright to one. Russia's strongest legal claim to Alaska was based on the ownership of several five acre parcels ceded to the Russian Orthodox Church for missions by local tribes along the coast in Southeastern Alaska. Some of these outposts became the towns of Sitka, Kodiak, and Wrangell.
Most Americans were not convinced that the purchase of such remote real estate was a good idea. Hence the terms; Seward's folly or Seward's icebox, William H. Seward being the Secretary of State who negotiated the deal. Until then, all other territorial acquisitions were contiguous lands with open expectations of ultimate statehood. Thus began the era of colonialism for the U.S. setting a precedent for the taking of Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, Virgin Islands and other possessions.
As soon as the Treaty of Secession was signed and even before Congress appropriated the $7.2 million purchase price, a military government was set up in Sitka. Many years of virtually total neglect followed. It was a lawless territory. There was no legal title to land. Violent criminals often went unpunished. The Army imposed order on native and white civilians, but only within the proximity of their six forts. The Natives were often exploited by the underpaid soldiers who were so far from home.
Foreshadowing the impact of the discovery and development of Prudhoe Bay petroleum, the world's whalers whacked the whale population to extract their oil a hundred years before crude oil replaced it. They brought guns, alchohol and contagious diseases to the Natives along the coast. Like wise, the fur seal population was decimated by California business concerns and the Seattle fishing industry laid claim to the richest salmon fishery in the world.
The much publicized discovery of gold during the 1890's prompted another rush to Alaska. The Army now provided valuable protection to the stampeders and began to explore the land. By 1905, their Engineers began to pioneer trails which eventually became roads. As Army Rule followed these roads, conflict was inevitable.
More mineral activity, near the Copper River at McCarthy, resulted in the government's un-explained denial of coal mining rights. The frustrated local residents, in what became known as the "Cordova Tea Party", shoveled imported Canadian coal into the bay on May 4, 1911.
Law was slow in coming. In 1912 the Congress granted Organized Territory status to Alaska, appointed a Governor and provided for an elected Territorial Legislature. A non-voting "observer" delegate to Congress was authorized.
The nature of this relationship was very onerous to the citizens of the new territory. American citizens pointed to the U.S. Constitution and the rights guaranteed there-in. The ominous parallels of the grievences that led to the Revolutionary War became more obvious with time.
The federal government's policy towards native populations had changed drastically after the end of the Indian Wars. Since the Department of War no was longer needed to battle the Indians into submission, the Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, was called upon to "assimilate" or indoctrinate them. All native children were required to go to schools where they were forbidden by federal law to speak their native language. The failure of this doctrine became evident when only a very small percentage of Natives were able to fulfill the Statehood voting requirement of being able to read and write English.
Statehood was debated for decades before becoming a reality. The residents of the territory thought maybe statehood would result in self-determination. The election was held August 26th, 1958 and on January 3rd, 1959, Alaska was officially a state.
In less than 15 years many Alaskans were thinking statehood might have been a grave mistake. They felt cheated by the broken promises of statehood. "We thought we would be masters in our own house." summed up their complaints.
The Alaska Independence movement can be traced back to the federal government's incidental or intentional changing of one half of a word. In the early 1970's, the US Congress was struggling to pass the legislation necessary to clear title for the rights-of-way required to build the Trans-Alaska-Pipeline System (TAPS). But because the Arab oil embargo had America in the throes of an energy crisis, the necessary laws were fast-tracked and passed. The pipeline project was also granted defense priority status to speed things up.
At about the same time, Alaskan gold miners Joe Vogler and Fred Wilkinson were utilizing their off-season to repair mining equipment in the warmth of Joe Vogler's shop near Fairbanks. Fred Wilkinson is a third generation Alaskan, born and raised in the gold fields. Joe Vogler, who was educated as a lawyer, had passed the bar in Kansas before moving to Alaska in the early forties. Having lived in Alaska longer as a territory than as a state, their conversations were often more about the politics of the fledgling state than their quest for, or the price of, gold.
Both men were charter members of the local "Cuss & Discuss" club which met informally over lunch several times a week. Maybe five today, fifteen tomorrow, of this last frontier's founders gathered like family, mostly during the cold, dark, winter months. Starting with coffee and the weather, more serious issues like politics were saved for dessert. These rugged individualists were beginning to feel the squeeze of the state and federal land grabbing authorized by the Statehood Act.
On the morning history will call the beginning of the Alaskan Independence Party, Joe Vogler and Fred Wilkinson revived the overnight coals in the shop wood stove, and reviewed the morning news waiting for the shop to warm up. Joe Vogler's curiosity about the TAPS defense priority and further careful reading of the pipeline right-of-way revealed that the language normally used in such a transaction was altered ever so slightly. Normal and customary rights-of-way are described as being so many feet "...either side of the center line." The right-of-way for TAPS reads; so many "...feet, either side of the pipeline..." The TAPS pipeline is four feet wide and almost 800 miles long.
In January 1973, as the final challenges and disputes were settled by the judicial sustem, TAPS got the green light with the unusual rights-of-way wording intact. The outright theft of these 400 odd acres was the last straw for Joe Vogler and his friends. These federal government actions divided Alaska politically, like the pipeline divided Alaska, physically, simply by changing half of a word,
When Joe Vogler shared his thoughts with the lunch bunch, they felt like the fabled "last straw" had just been dropped on their backs. This was not a bunch of wild-eyed radicals, but mostly conservative businees people educated in, and believing in, the much studied and often quoted American Declaration of Independence. Many of the abuses by King George that the colonists listed as the "long train of usurpations" were being felt daily by these citizens. The reaction of the small group was to formalize their organization and Alaskans For Independence was born.
AFI held regular public meetings. Officers were chosen. Joe Vogler was elected chairman. Committees dug into the mountain of paper generated by Alaska's transition from territory to state. Investigation of the statehood vote found more irregularities than the 2000 Florida primary. Ensuing research revealed some interesting history.
Ever since the acceptance of the United Nations Charter by the U.S. Senate and its Proclamation by President Harry S. Truman, May 29, 1945, the United States was obligated to, and had been been dutifully reporting, under Article 73, that Alaska was one of many "non-self-governing territories" under their rule. The final report for Alaska had been sent in 1959.
Why hadn't any Alaskans ever been contacted by the numerous U.N. commissions that were responsible for the oversight of Alaska Statehood status? Was the U.S. involved in a deliberate collusion to keep Alaskans in the dark about the proper procedures. Which government had jurisdiction? The scant documents available locally raised as many questions as they were able to answer.
So Joe Vogler and his wife, Doris, headed for New York and the U.N. Dag Hammerskjold Library. Digging for gold had become Joe Vogler's passion, now his legal training helped them dig through another mountain. This one spawned by bureaucratic newspeak.
Here's what they found: First in Resolution 742 VIII of the General Assembly (11/27/53) and then again in Resolution 1469 XIV(12/12/59) "...the documentation and the explanations provided..." (by the U.S.) to these committees determines that the people of Alaska were deemed to have effectively "exercised their right to self-determination" and have "freely chosen" their present status.
They chased down the obscured guidelines for these determinations. Every pertinent resolution laid down certain conditions to insure that colonial governments didn't just impose their rule on their territories and report to the U.N. that the specifications had been met. One pivotal point remains in the AIP platform to this day. General Assembly Resolution 742 (11/27/53) and the attendant committee reports prescribes that the inhabitants of non-self-governing territories be given three of four choices: 1) Remain a Territory. 2) Become a separate and Independent Nation. 3) Accept Commonwealth status. 4) Become a State. The ballot on April 24, 1956 had offered statehood, yes or no?
The Voglers' conclusion was certain and the question they asked was, "Did the United States deliberately avoid their U.N. obligations in order to direct Alaska away from any course except to statehood?"
Back in Alaska, AFI committees had found some other questionable procedures involving the vote.
The ballots were printed in English which excluded many of the aboriginals.
The election was held in August which is at the height of a very short season for miners, farmers and fisherman.
Illegal electors, the 77,000 military and their dependents, were allowed by act of Congress to vote as residents without losing their established overseas status with all its benefits. The miltary prescence in Alaska had never decreased after WWII. There were educational meetings about the vote on every base. In an article in the Fairbanks Daily News Miner of 4 August 1958, the military personnel in Alaska were given as 41,000 with 36,000 dependents. One can hardly imagine any active service personnel or their spouse voting against the wishes of the United States. The final vote was 40,452 'yes', 8010 'no' on admission into the Union.
At every turn the people's right to "freely choose" their political affiliation was stymied. Timing was not considered. The indiginous population was not properly represented. The electors were not fully informed of the election terms, were denied the right to consider any questions except yes or no on the statehood ballot, and were kept completely ignorant of any rights under the U.N. Charter as inhabitants of a non-self-governing territory.
Once the group had the evidence to prove that the statehood vote was probably illegal, the next step was obvious. Set about to right the wrong. How to proceed? Peaceful and lawful means were the only acceptable rules of engagement. Despite awareness of H.L. Mencken's famous saying, "If voting really worked, it would be made illegal.", the ballot box was chosen over the bullet box.
Since Joe Vogler was a Jeffersonian Democrat and many of the clubs members were loyal Republicans, AFI was non-partisan at first. Their common ground: All believed strongly in the Constitution, Bill of Rights and the principles of our Founding Fathers. The rights promised in those documents were slipping away. In reference to those signers of the Constitution, Joe Vogler once said; "Those men, if there's any awareness of the excesses of the federal government in the retention of federal lands, the fires of hell will be cool breezes compared to the torment in their minds as to what has happened to their handiwork."
With donations from 1500 card carrying members, AFI placed a full page advertisement in the May 9, 1978, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner with this banner headline: A VOICE IN THE LAND. ALASKA INDEPENDENCE PARTY. The article announced candidates for Governor and Lt. Governor, the arrival of the end of the two party system in Alaska, and possibly, the beginning of the independent Nation of Alaska. It would be six years before the state recognized this organization as "The Alaskan Independence Party".
In the 1982 election, the AIP ticket was headed by Mr. Vogler. The results of that election and a challenge by Mr. Vogler to state election requirements brought a 1984 court decision that placed the AIP on the ballot and lowered the percentage of votes required for state recognition of politcial entities.
With State's Rights as the main issue, Joe Vogler carried the party banner again in 1986. Because their candidate received almost 6% of the vote statewide and nearly 20% in the Fairbanks area, AIP continued their Recognized Party status.
Even before the spring of 1990, Joe Vogler had declined the AIP nomination to run again. The dream was kept alive when a politically savvy Walter Hickel (Interior Secretary under Nixon) accepted the party's nomination with Jack Coghill as the Lt. Governor candidate. Running a campaign based on the AIP's platform of Alaska First, the pair were elected.
At the January 1991 inaugural, the AIP faithful were jubilant. Now we had the state's top office in our control, or did we? Although both former Republicans had hastily changed their voter registration cards, all of their people who were experienced at running a political machine were of the "Grand Old Party" mind-set.
The Johnny-Come-Lately rank and file members wanted to play the politics as usual game, even if this meant blackmail or dirty tricks.
When asked by Governor Hickel what "he wanted", Joe Vogler replied, "I only ask that you run Alaska as an Alaskan."
Lawsuits alleging violations of the Statehood Compact were filed. A few AIP members were given commisioners positions and the rest were asked to give the new administration time.
After two years, Joe Vogler was curious enough about Wally Hickel's interpretaion of his wishes to travel to the capital at Juneau for a face to face meeting. An eye witness reported that the meeting grew confrontational and ended with the Governor chasing Joe Vogler out of his office brandishing the office stapler like a club.
In mid April, hundreds of his friends gathered near Fairbanks to celebrate Joe Vogler's 80th birthday. For most of them it was the last time they saw the guest of honor alive.
Joe Vogler had lived alone with his four dogs and a watch goose since his wife's death a year earlier. Sometime during the Memorial Day weekend, Joe Vogler disappeared. That Monday, it was discovered that his dogs had been locked in the house for several days. There was no trace of Joe Vogler.
Not satisfied with the authorities who insisted that Joe Vogler had wandered off into the woods grieving for his wife, some friends of Joe Vogler immediately organized a Search Committe, raised money and hired a private investigator.
It took five days of mass call-ins to the governor's office before Joe Vogler's house was finally declared a crime scene. Still no trace of Joe Vogler.
It was eighteen months before Joe Vogler's body was found in a shallow grave near Fairbanks. A "wannabee biker" named Fred West revealed the grave site and took the fall in a plea bargain.
Joe Vogler's disapearance and subsequent murder were investigated by the A&E network's City Confidential program entitled "Mining For Murder" which originally aired in September, 1999.
There are many theories as to what really transpired that day in May, most involve conspiracy and government participation before or after the fact. We may never know, for sure what did happen, but no one in Fairbanks believes the official story of a burglary gone bad.
The big question, would Joe Vogler's death end the Independence movement. The simple answer is: NO.
Countless civilizations have risen and fallen on this planet for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes a natural disaster, more often than not, its war. Remember Russia sold remote Alaska to boost a war ravaged treasury. In our own country's history, when the far-off colonists broke away, Mother England was busy with the French.
"History repeats itself." has been observed so many times, its uncertain who said it first. Alaska's history is just getted started. It is the natural destiny of Alaska to one day be a separate country. The chain of events that take us to that day have already begun. Only the timeline is uncertain.
Already foreign owned businesses are extracting the lion's share of resources from Alaska. British Petroleum controls Prudhoe Bay and the Pipeline. Internationally registered cruise ships dominate the tour business on land as well as at sea. Recently opened world class mines are operating under the auspices of world-wide mining companies. The salmon fishery has been so depleted by offshore catchment that the village subsistence users have had to fly in commercial dog food to feed their dog teams.
Alaskans will only take the abuse of their natural resources by the international mega corporations for so long.
Alaskans could and should be running our state as an independnet country before officially separating from the Union.
Alaska has already developed a national identity. The Alaska Railroad is state-owned, yet runs as a "for profit" corporation. Its a natural step to create the Alaska Oil Company and begin the transition to the "owner state" depicted in our state constitution.
The people of the state have the financial resources to do it also. The $24 Billion Permanent Fund would be better invested in Alaska's destiny than in the stock market. The Native Corporations created by Congress have grown into successful ventures with assets in the billions of dollars.
What about protection from foreign invaders?
Military defense bases can and would be leased to the U.S. military with approval of the area residents. Remember how they responded in Kuwait?
To some the thought of Alaska's future as an independent country is scary, to others it is thrilling.
In the meantime, the thought of us "taking our star off the flag" should shake up Washington, D.C.