They’re “not a bunch of kooks like the Montana Freemen” and are not interested in armed revolt against the current authority of Washington, D.C., but most of the 20,000-plus members of the Alaskan Independence Party nonetheless want eventual independence from the United States in some form or another.
At a bare minimum, party officials say, members want what they say would be a “legal vote” to decide the state’s future — something they insist never happened when Alaska formally became a state in 1958. And, in some districts anyway, the party has ample support to perhaps someday achieve its goal; in some precincts, AIP members comprise nearly 25 percent of total registered voters.
Out of a small headquarters office in Fairbanks, leaders of the party — which began as a movement with founder Joe Vogler in the early 1970s but became recognized as a political party in 1984 — advocate a smaller-government approach with little interference from either a national or state government.
Advocating an “Alaska First” policy focused around the land and resource development, the AIP has since emerged as one of the most significant state-level third parties operating in the late 20th century, according to the California Political Science Encyclopedia.
Vogler, who ran for governor three times between 1974 and 1986, formed Alaskans for Independence in 1978 in order to promote the idea of an “Independent Nation of Alaska.” He received 4,770 votes and 5 percent of the electorate as an independent in the 1974 election — a race ultimately decided by less than 300 votes.
Since Alaskans for Independence was non-partisan and instead more oriented towards issue advocacy, Vogler later transformed the organization into the AIP so it could support the more political and campaign-related aspects of the Alaskan independence movement and his candidacies for governor.
In 1986, his candidacy managed to secure more than 10,000 votes — or 5.6 percent of the total votes cast — thus enabling AIP to retain “official party” status in Alaska alongside the traditional Democrat and Republican parties.
Vogler, a former gold miner and non-practicing attorney, served as the party’s chairman from its 1986 birth until his death in 1993. The party’s current chairman is Mark Chryson of Wasilla.
“The party is advocating a legal and legitimate plebiscite” — or vote — Chryson told WorldNetDaily, because “in 1958, there was a statehood vote,” but the question asked of voters was not in line with U.S. treaties with the United Nations and international law.
“The question, basically, was, ‘Shall the statehood act be adopted, yes or no?'” Chryson said. “But the 1947 United Nations charter — and I’m no fan of the United Nations, however, that is a treaty the U.S. signed — states that Alaska is a non-self-governing land.”
As such, he said, “we were entitled to have a vote on self-government.” Those choices “include independence, territorial status, remain a state or become a separate, independent nation. The 1958 vote had just two choices, not the four.”
That vote was “also a violation of international law, because U.S. military personnel” stationed in Alaska at the time “were permitted to vote, encouraged to vote and told how to vote.” Under the law, Chryson said, “since they were not local residents, they shouldn’t have been allowed.”
Ironically, he said, in Latvia and Lithuania, when those nations were allowed to vote for independence following the breakup of the former Soviet Union, “they followed international law and the occupational [Soviet] forces were not allowed to vote.”
Also, most Alaskan natives, or indigenous peoples, in 1958 did not speak English, and “under law, elections are supposed to be held in the native tongue of the people living in a region,” Chryson said. “The 1958 vote, however, was in English only. And, many of the indigenous peoples could neither read the ballots nor were permitted to vote at all” — a fact he said he has verified with several indigenous persons who were of legal voting age then and are still living in Alaska today.
Most history books say that in 1867, the U.S. purchased the 367 million acres of “Russian America” from Russia for $7.2 million, or less than 2 cents per acre. The deal was negotiated by Secretary of State William H. Seward on behalf of President Andrew Johnson’s administration.
But Alaskan Independence Party members say when the U.S. “bought” the territory from Russia, Washington purchased “trading rights only” from the Russian czar.
“When the government ratified the treaty between both nations,” Chyrson said, “it was made more as a way to pay Russia a debt Washington owed for the czar’s stationing of Russian navy ships off the coasts of San Francisco and New York to prevent the British” from taking advantage of the U.S. while it was bogged down in a bloody civil war. “But the only thing sold was the trading rights,” Chryson noted, despite Washington’s management of the territory practically since the treaty was signed.
For many years afterward, “Alaska was basically unclaimed and ungoverned,” he said.
History of occasional government
Maj. Gen. Jefferson C. Davis, U.S. Army, assumed command of the “Department of Alaska,” and a decade of military rule began. U.S. troops were withdrawn from Alaska in 1877.
In 1880, Juneau was founded by Joe Juneau and Richard Harris after gold was discovered on the Gastineau Channel. By 1884, the U.S. government began a long, steady influence over Alaska when Congress passed the First Organic Act, which appropriated $15,000 to educate native Alaskan children. In 1887, Congress created the Indian Reservation of Metlakatla on Annette Island.
By 1890, the first oil claims were staked, drawing more people from the lower U.S. states and surrounding Canadian lands to the future state. Also, large corporate salmon canneries began to appear.
In 1893, gold was discovered near Birch Creek and Circle City was founded. By 1896, the famous “Klondike Gold Rush” began in earnest. That discovery was followed by another substantial gold find in 1898 by the Libby Partners, who made their first major gold strike on Melsing and Ophir Creeks, leading to the Nome Gold Rush.
The capital of the territory was moved from Sitka to Juneau in 1900, and major railroad construction projects were completed. Oil production began in 1902, and that same year more gold was discovered near Fairbanks. Also that year, President Theodore Roosevelt established the Tongass National Forest.
The following year, the Alaska-Canada border was finalized and, in 1904, the Washington Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System began to lay submarine cable between Seattle, Sitka and Valdez, thus linking the territory to the “outside world.”
In 1906 — the same year the Antiquities Act used by President Clinton to designate millions of acres of U.S. land as “monuments” was passed — Congress also passed the Native Allotment Act, which provided the first opportunity for natives to obtain land under restricted title.
In 1913, the first Alaska Territorial Legislature convened and its first law passed granted women voting rights. By 1920, Anchorage had formed an official city government. In 1923, President Warren G. Harding drove a golden spike near Nenana, completing the Alaska Railroad, and the U.S. Navy established Petroleum Reserve No. 4 in the territory.
The next year, Congress extended citizenship to all American Indians, and two years later, in 1926, Congress passed the Alaska Native Townsite Act, which allowed natives to obtain restricted deeds to village lots.
Also that year, the design for the Alaska flag was selected in a contest of Alaska students in grades seven through 12. The winning design, submitted by 13-year-old Benny Benson, consisted of eight gold stars on a field of blue, representing the Big Dipper and the North Star. In 1927, the Alaska Legislature adopted Benson’s flag, which later became the official state flag.
With war clouds looming, Washington sent the U.S. military to Alaska in 1940 to establish Fort Richardson and to begin work on Elmendorf Air Force Base. In 1942, Japanese forces bombed Dutch Harbor and began an invasion of the Aleutian Islands. American troops retook the islands in 1943. The Alaska Command was established in 1947 — the first unified command of the U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy.
By 1955, Alaskans were already considering the issue of statehood and met for a so-called constitutional convention at the University of Alaska in Anchorage.
Within a few years — in 1958 — Congress passed the Alaska Statehood Act, conveying ownership of 104 million acres. In 1959, Alaska was admitted to the union as the 49th state, and William A. Egan became its first governor.
Chryson said he believes if Alaskans were allowed “a proper vote,” most would support some form of separation from Washington, D.C.
The state has 470,000 registered voters, he says, and statistically speaking, the AIP is the “largest third party in the nation” because AIP claims “more than 5 percent of voters in the entire state” — a fact he said was “verified by the University of California-Berkeley” in a recent study.
But, he said, absent accurate voter registration rolls, it was unclear how many more voters registered as Democrats or Republicans or who are not registered at all would support a different, more independent form of Alaskan government.
When asked what form any new government would take, Chryson said party members would most likely base it on “the original Constitution” – including the Bill of Rights — “with inclusions of equal rights for everyone, not just specific groups, as was the case when the U.S. Constitution was ratified.”
Chryson, who says he personally supports independence, said the party grew during the Clinton administration, “as more people up here became more upset with” the former president’s actions and policies.
“There are similar movements in California, Texas, Idaho and Hawaii,” as well as the original states “of the Confederacy,” he said, noting that his party is in contact with those groups.
“Also, there are movements in to do this in Canada,” he said. He predicted that “when Quebec votes to separate come fall, Canada will cease to exist,” because movements to secede from Canada are strong in Quebec and other provinces, such as Alberta and British Columbia.
“These people are telling me that, if the vote were held today, there would be 60 percent voting for separation,” he said, though he admitted not having any hard statistical data to back up what he’d been told.
“They have the data, they tell me, but I don’t know where they’re getting it from,” he added.