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Alaska: 25 and counting.

As a boy in Indianapolis 50 years ago, I certainly wouldn't have predicted that I would someday represent Alaska in the U.S. Senate. Alaska wasn't even a state then; in our geography and history classes, we learned about a vast territory with little chance of becoming a state. Alaska was as remote to me then as the struggle for statehood is now to the generation that has grown up since the 49th star was added to the flag.

The excitement and celebration the day statehood was assured in Alaska have never quite been duplicated, although a special vitality remains. It's apparent in the attitudes of most Alaskans today--that anything can be accomplished.

The years leading up to the signing of the statehood act began in 1916. Alaskans repeatedly petitioned Congress for statehood status, but the requests never made it through the legislative process.

Yet some Alaskans kept plugging. Their names are in the Alaskan history books, and every fourth-grade student in Alaska reads of their struggle.

Congressional delegates James Wickersham, A.J. Dimond and Bob Bartlett, later senator, continued to push for statehood. But Alaska's lone, nonvoting delegate to Congress wasn't given much more consideration than the proverbial poor relative.

Many of the arguments against statehood centered on the territory's small population. Why should so few people have the same representation in Congress as states with many times more citizens?

Another argument was Alaska's distance from the contiguous 48 states. It's too far from the nation's capital, opponents said.

Even the people of Alaska were regarded by at least one critic as a detriment to statehood. "I do not believe that the people of remote areas, such as Alaska, can be expected to come to grips with the weighty problems which we constantly confront in the modern United States. I think it would be expecting too much of those people to suggest that they could understand our problems as well as they are understood by those who live in the United States," he said.

You can bet that statement did not sit well with Alaskans. But Alaskans continued coming to Washington, D.C., to present their case. They wrote to the President, to Congress, to their relatives in other states and tried to awaken them to their cause.

Those Alaskans, many of whom are still living, finally found some champions during the Eisenhower administration. Some members of Congress began to think a statehood bill might succeed. The real push was on.

As an assistant to Secretary of the Interior Fred seaton, I was caught up in the statehood battle. My interest was not only in the line of duty. Before coming to Washington, D.C., I had been a U.S. attorney in Fairbanks. Alaska had become my home.

The first hurdle for the statehood bill, passage in the House of Representatives, was cleared on May 28, 1958. Support for Alaska's cause came from all corners of the nation. We found more friends in the administration, in Congress; in the press and among major organizations who joined in the "statehood now" chorus.

Then the spotlight turned to the Senate. Those of us working in Washington, D.C., knew that the Senate would have to pass the House bill without amendment. If the Senate altered the bill, it would have to go back to the House for approval, giving the House Rules Committee the opportunity to kill the bill as it had in previous years.

Opponents of statehood in the Senate tried to attach controversial and often unrelated amendments, but Alaska's friend and neighbor, the late Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson of the state of Washington, led bipartisan support for the statehood bill on the Senate floor and successfully fended off efforts to change the bill.

On June 30, 1958, the Senate passed the bill by a 64-20 vote. The battle for statehood was won.

The Senate erupted with cheers, and the gallery, filled with Alaskans and statehood supporters, went against all the rules and clapped and cheered as well.

Within minutes, Alaskans across the state received the news, and pandemonium was the order of the day. People poured into the streets to shake hands and slap one another on the back. The people of Fairbanks tried to dye the Chena River gold and floated a 30-foot star bearing the numeral 49 over the downtown area.

Anchorage citizens lit a huge bonfire using oen ton of wood for each of the 49 states and an additional ton for Hawaii, whose cause for statehood Alaskans well understood. The Anchorage Times took up half its front page with the headline "WE'RE IN!"

A few days after Senate approval, President Eisenhower signed the bill and made the official date of entry into the Union January 3, 1959. We had realized our first goal. No longer would Alaskans travel to "the States" when they went to the Lower 48. They were a state; they would merely travel "outside."

Today's young Alaskans, those of that new generation, have some different goals and concerns from those held by the men and women who fought for statehood. They also share some of the problems still to be solved after 25 years.

With statehood, Alaskans won a voice in their state's destiny, and we've been a vociferous group ever since. We have worked to extend the benefits of education and communication throughout our state and have begun development of our great natural resources without reducing our commitment to protecting Alaska's natural wonders. Current assesments show that fewer than 200,000 of our 375 million acres have been touched by man, either through settlement or resource development. Our population has more than doubled since statehood, and this year we reached the half-million mark, census estimates say. Senate. Those of us working in Washington, D.C., knew that the Senate would have to pass the House bill without amendment. If the Senate altered the bill, it would have to go back to the House for approval, giving the House Rules Committee the opportunity to kill the bill as it had in previous years.

Opponents of statehood in the Senate tried to attach controversial and often unrelated amendments, but Alaska's friend and neighbor, the late Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson of the state of Washington, led bipartisan support for the statehood bill on the Senate floor and successfully fended off efforts to change the bill.

On June 30, 1958, the Senate passed the bill by a 64-20 vote. The battle for statehood was won.

The Senate erupted with cheers, and the gallery, filled with Alaskans and statehood supporters, went against all the rules and clapped and cheered as well.

within minutes, Alaskans across the state received the news, and pandemonium was the order of the day. People poured into the streets to shake hands and slap one another on the back. The people of Fairbanks tried to dye the Chena River gold and floated a 30-foot star bearing the numeral 49 over the downtown area.

Anchorage citizens lit a huge bonfire using one ton of wood for each of the 49 states and an additional ton for Hawaii, whose cause for statehood alaskans well understood. The Anchorage Times took up half its front page with the headline "WE'RE IN!"

a few days after Senate approval, President Eisenhower signed the bill and made the official date of entry into the Union January 3, 1959. We had realized our first goal. No longer would Alaskans travel to "the States" when they went to the Lower 48. They were a state; they would merely travel "outside."

today's young Alaskans, those of that new generation, have some different goals and concerns from those held by the men and women who fought for statehood. They also share some of the problems still to be solved after 25 years.

With statehood, Alaskans won a voice in their statehs destiny, and we've been a vociferous group ever since. We have worked to extend the benefits of education and communication throughout our state and have begun development of our great natural resources without reducing our commitment to protecting Alaska's natural wonders. Current assesments show that fewer than 200,000 of our 375 million acres have been touched by man, either through settlement or resource development. Our population has more than doubled since statehood, and this year we reached the half-million mark, census estimates say.

Alaskans have dealt with some major issues since their entry to the Union, land--conveyed to the state or to the native corporations--remains of prime concern.

It must be remembered that all of Alaska was federal land, purchased by the federal government from Russia in 1867. although mineral-rights legislation was enacted as gold, coal and other minerals were disovered in the 19th century, the rights of the natives to their traditional lands were never addressed.

Hornesteaders pioneered, fishing operations and canneries began and the railroads opened up parts of the interior from ports that had begun to thrive. All that activity was obviously paying the way for private ownership of some of the federal land.

After statehood, following the discovery of major oil and gas deposits on the North Slope of the Brooks Range, if was even more apparent that the ownership of land in alaska had to be defined.

The first major issue to catch the world's attention after statehood was the discovery of oil on Alaska's North Slope in 1968. Alaska's first exploratory oil well was drilled in 1898 on the Kenal Pernnsula south of Anchorage, but it was Prudhoe Bay, its recoverable reserves estimated at more than one-quarter of the known pertoleum reserves in the United States, that awakened much of the world ot Alaska's potential.

Alaskans were, once again, caught up in a battle as they sought authorization for a pipeline to carry the oil. Care would be the byword as the 800-mile pipeline was constructed.

The alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971 was the second major legislative issue concerning Alaska to capture national attention.

More than 80,000 Alaskans were certified as natives under the act, which provided that they might select 44 million acres and receive $1 billion. Thirteen regional native corporations were set up under ANCSA to administer the terms of the act in the best interests of the Eskimos, Aleuts and Indians in each region.

Some of those corporations are among alaska's most prominent business enterprises today.

Then, in November 1973, President Nixon approved construction of the pipeline. The building of the haul road, now the Dalton Highway, began the next spring and was completed by fall. The first pipe was installed in March 1975, and on June 20, 1977, the first oil left Prudhoe Bay for the terminal in Valdez.

In 1980, Alaska's lands were once again in the nation's headlines. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), often called the d-2 Lands Bill, affected some 131 million acres of Alaskan land. A compromise bill enacted after seven years of debate, it created new conservation units after President Jimmy Carter had withdrawn 114 million acres from possible selection and consideration as part of the state's land.

Implementation of the d-2 bill continues today. For now, say the word "d-2" in a group of a dozen Alaskans, and you'll get a dozen points of view. But we're trying to understand and resolve our differences while assuring that lands of truly national significance are left for all Americans to enjoy in what Alaskans call the Great Land and what the nation knows as our last frontier.

Those scenic wonders are what make tourism alaska's third-largest industry today. But how many people know that Alaska's commercial fish production is greater in value than that on any other state, or that Alaska's 47,000 miles of tidal shoreline provide some of the finest sport fishing in the world, as well?

How many know that Alaska is the center of a growing trade with the Pacific-rim nations? U.S. shipping restrictions hamper the growth of that trade, but Alaskans are working on those problems, too.

along with its people and its scenery and its natural resources, Alaska offers much in the way of unique native arts and crafts, a source of pride to all its citizens. Music is a very special part of most Alaskan's lives. Music festivals throughout the state draw enthusiastic fans.

alaskan's commitment to sports is beginning to be recognized outside its borders. Last winter, the World Cup cross-country ski races moved to Fairbanks on two weeks' notice when the planned site on the East Coast failed to come up with enough snow.

The 1,049-mile Iditarod dog-sled race is scrutinized by national and international news teams each March, and top basketball teams from colleges across the nation participate in the Great alaskan Shootout every winter.

Needless to say, hockey has participants and fans of every age in Alaska. And would you believe there are 350 softball teams in Anchorage alone? That means 6,500 players, men and women, wearing team uniforms and running the bases on ballfields from dawn to dusk.

Before the snow is off the ground, tennis buffs are clearing the courts. Skiers can ski almost year-round at Alyeska, Alaska's largest resort, a bustling Alpine village one hour from Anchorage.

High-school basketball and track teams routinely fly hundreds of miles to participate in tournaments.

check the rosters of any major-league baseball team in the american or National Leagues. You'll likely find that at least one of their stars played in the Alaska League during his college summers.

People, natural resources, sports, art, mountains, rivers, fjords, commerce, trade, crisp air, eagles and other wildlife--they're all part of Alaska. Alaskan's specific challenge today is to plan carefully for the next quarter century and to use their collective voice to work toward being stewards of the state's unique resources while fulfilling their responsibilities as a member of the Union.

In the year 2009 nothing would please me, the framers of our constitution or all Alaskans more than attaining our goals as successfully as we have during our first 25 years.
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Stevens, Ted
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1984
Words:2342
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