Some of the native corporations have been mismanaged, and there have been constant readjustments of the system, in which Stevens played a role. He kept in constant touch with native leaders and, while not always agreeing with their advocates, always treated them with respect.
He took the lead in obtaining jobs for natives on the North Slope oil fields and in defense contract work.
The result has been a system far superior to that of Indian reservations. The native corporations have mostly invested their income wisely and continue, even as North Slope oil production has tailed off, to provide an income supplement to native shareholders.
This allows natives to choose where they want to live on the spectrum from the native lifestyle, living in the Alaska Bush and participating in subsistence hunting and fishing, to the mainstream lifestyle, living in Anchorage or Wasilla or the Lower 48 and working in jobs of their choosing.
One of the blotches on America's history has been our treatment of aboriginal Americans. Thanks in very large part to Stevens, the Native Claims Act has provided a better life and a wider array of choices for Alaska natives than the reservation system.
For Stevens, there was not much of a political payoff. Most natives voted for him in the years when he was re-elected almost unanimously, when he didn't need their votes.
In 2008, when he faced a tough opponent and was convicted as a result of prosecutorial misconduct just weeks before the election, most natives voted Democratic, as they usually do. Stevens lost by 3,953 votes.
Rostenkowski and Stevens did not get much political reward for their good work on tax reform and Alaska natives. They just worked hard in what they thought was the public interest. They deserve to be remembered for that.
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