Bristol Bay Natives, like others throughout Alaska, were involved in the land claims struggle for years prior to passage of ANCSA. 41 years ago the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANSCA) formally recognized the struggles of Native people for economic and social justice. Our elders worked aggressively for ANCSA’s passage, which settled Native Land Claims, created the Native corporations and set the stage for participation by our people in the modern economy.
The land claims movement brought together leaders from 15 villages scattered throughout Bristol Bay who organized the region’s first Native Association in 1966 to negotiate the land claims settlement. The association’s membership would double before the Bristol Bay Native Association was formally incorporated in 1973. After ANCSA, BBNA turned it’s attention to addressing the social and economic problems facing Native people in the region. The change was partly in response to increasing requests for social and economic services directed to BBNC, the for-profit corporation formed pursuant to ANCSA, but largely in response to the need for increased social services traditionally delivered by distant state and federal agencies with no knowledge of the people, culture and living conditions in the most politically and culturally diverse region in Alaska.
Although BBNA’s roots predated ANCSA, the association we know today as BBNA was formally incorporated as a non-profit in 1973, the same year as the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation.
BBNA’s early work focused on Head Start, and on jobs and on training funded through the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA). Later reforms allowing tribes to compact directly with the Department of Interior-rather than waiting for services to “trickle down” through the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ bureaucracy-accelerated tribal self-determination. In 1975, the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act opened the door for tribal organizations to assume responsibility for delivering federally funded services to Native people.
BBNA and our member tribes have been expanding and improving their services ever since. Job placement and training remains an important part of our work, and the Head Start program is expanded to three communities. Today we also offer Land Management Services, Indian Child Welfare, Natural Resources, Economic and Workforce Development, Vocational Rehabilitation, Higher Education, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Tribal Energy programs. Our budget has grown 10-fold in the last 16 years, and collectively employment at BBNA and other tribal entities is the region’s largest employer and fastest growing segment of the Bristol Bay economy, according to the Alaska Department of Labor statistics.