ANICA has been around long before Alaska statehood in 1959.
In the early 1900’s after the turn of the century Natives in Northwestern Alaska lived in small scattered communities. These communities had one family, or many times only a couple of families. These extended families migrated during the summer to pursue the harvest of the seas, rivers, and nearby mountains. The people who lived along Norton and Kotzebue sounds and the western tip of Seward Peninsula depended most on the spring hunts for seals, whales, and walrus and on fishing at other times of the year.
Inland people from the upper Kobuk River Valley, and along the Fish River on the Seward Peninsula, relied on taking caribou, smaller mammals, birds, and migrating salmon and other fish. Not only did these people adapt to reap the best harvest from sea and land, but they also exploited their geographic position to act as the principal traders between Alaskan Natives farther from the Bering Strait. They sometimes traded with Siberian Natives for Russian goods. Sheshalik, near modern Kotzebue, was the site for an annual trading fair that attracted more than two thousand Native people from throughout the region. Some of the people came from far away Asia. Their tradition of trading prepared the people to be aggressive bargainers with early Westerners and whalers entering the region. By the 1880s, the Bering Strait people had incorporated numerous Western goods into their daily lives.
To get these goods, Native people took jobs with the whalers and the few other Westerners who entered into the region. For several years in the late 1890s, perhaps as many as half of Alaska’s Native people north of the strait were seasonally involved in the whaling industry. The promise of Western goods drew people from the far upper parts of the Noatak and Kobuk valleys. Some Natives even became small entrepreneurs putting together their own whaling crews, and sometimes hired Westerners as their workers. This whaling activity practically wiped out the primary food source of the coastal Inupiat diet. It also exposed Native people to some negative aspects of American culture.
In 1890, to counter these developments, Sheldon Jackson, a Presbyterian missionary and head of the U.S. Bureau of Education in Alaska, recruited missionaries who would also serve as teachers for the three Native centers of Wales, Point Hope, and Barrow. By 1903 there were twenty-three Native Schools. The Bureau of Education launched an effort towards development of Native industries and marketing skills. The teachers were directed to educate the Native people of Alaska, but to do so while maintaining their Native cultural integrity. The bureau’s schools were popular. The schools became magnets for settlement. When the agency built schools along the Noatak, upper Kobuk, and Selawik rivers in 1907 and 1908, the people immediately followed and built permanent homes, creating villages that still survive today. The people viewed the schools as potential sources of trade and income. The teachers traded Western goods to obtain more suitable Native clothing and food. Teachers sometimes would require furs and food for their own survival, and assistance in bringing their annual allotments of personal goods and school equipment to the villages.
Today, ANICA elders remember when a BIA ship would bring the teachers and supplies to the villages each summer. The people could see personal merits in the teachers. The teachers cared deeply for the welfare of Native people. The people also benefited from the teachers’ small medicine chests. During the first year of school at Shungnak, the teacher’s wife gave medical care in over three hundred cases. In the Kuskokwim Delta, many of the region’s sick went to be treated by the first American missionaries who also served as government teachers. The Alaska Native Service, which later became the BIA, sent teachers to run the new schools.
The schools also had small Native stores with some basic goods available for the village people. In conjunction with their teaching responsibilities the teachers also helped the first Native store managers. Some of the Native stores were not stocked by the teachers for a period during World War II. Village leaders talked about the need for an organization to keep the stores stocked with goods that the people needed at competitive prices.
In the summer of 1947 a group of village leaders met in White Mountain and talked about forming a Cooperative. Roy Ashenfelter and Abraham Lincoln represented White Mountain, Simon Bekoalok represented Shaktoolik, Xavier Pete represented Stebbins, David Saccheus represented Elim, and Frank Degnan represented Unalakleet. These wise men are affectionately referred to as the ANICA Founding Fathers. They organized and founded the Alaska Native Industries Cooperative Association. Their goal was to supply the village stores independent of the BIA. The ANICA Founding Fathers had the wisdom to understand that as a group working together, they could succeed and prosper far more than as individual villages. They had the vision to learn the modern ways for the benefit of the village people they represented. The first village stores relied on the BIA Northstar to bring them basic grocery items such as coffee, sugar and flour each year when the BIA school teachers and supplies also arrived by boat.
Cooperatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, equality, and solidarity. In the tradition of the ANICA Founding Fathers, we at ANICA believe in the ethical values of honesty, social responsibility, and caring for others. Our responsibility is the advancement of ANICA Native stores.
Each day we begin by thinking about our history, and we do and perform all things necessary to fulfill the commitment made by our Founding Fathers over sixty years ago.