Among the dozens of resolutions to be considered at this week’s Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention in Anchorage, one stands out as particularly divisive in Alaska: The Native group wants Natives in rural Alaska to have subsistence rights that no one else can have.
The issue is complicated but the resolution is clear in its implications: Whites, Filipinos, Blacks, or Hispanics living in rural Alaska would not be entitled to subsistence priority, as they are now under law. A white man married to a Native woman would not be able to subsistence hunt, but his wife could. Essentially, hunting rights would become race-based in Alaska. An Alaska Native living in a Seattle high-rise would have subsistence rights, while a Latino living in a cabin in Chefonak would not be able to hunt subsistence.
The resolution asks Alaska’s congressional delegation to push for a revisit of Title VII of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) to permanently protect Natives as priority users. It’s unclear where the delegation stands on a matter that would create race-based hunting and fishing laws.
The AFN’s 57th convention starts Thursday at the Dena’ina Convention Center, with thousands of Natives attending from around the state. The vote on the proposals is expected on Saturday, the same day Rep. Mary Peltola has been allotted 20 minutes on the agenda to give an address to the crowd.
The resolution brings up an old subject of much contention: the Katie John decision, a much-litigated court case that pits the rights of Natives against all other users of fish and game resources in Alaska. Alaska law has a rural preference for subsistence, not exclusively a Native preference.
According to the resolution, AFN thinks that the State’s management system is an attack on Natives:
“The State of Alaska has nonetheless chosen, for decades, to continue to attack the federal subsistence fisheries protections enshrined in Title VIII of ANILCA and the Katie John cases despite the fact that commercial fisheries harvest over 95% of fish stocks, subsistence and sports fishing is less than 5%.; and The State of Alaska has escalated its attacks in recent years and has undertaken a series of new, aggressive litigation aimed at actively undermining Alaska Natives’ right to subsistence; and In one of those cases, United States v. Alaska, the State of Alaska now attempts to rewrite longstanding law and erase the Katie John decisions; andA decision from the United States Supreme Court could mean the elimination of all remaining federally-protected subsistence fishing rights for Alaska Native people at a time of immediate critical need for the rural subsistence priority in times of shortage…”
The Federal government transferred the authority to manage fish and wildlife in Alaska to the new State government in 1960, and the State law has a rural preference. State subsistence law has a priority for rural subsistence use over all other uses of fish and wildlife, but does not define subsistence users as specifically Native.
The resolution is supported by the AFN board and the Association of Village Council Presidents.