Murkowski pressured by Natives to vote ‘no’ on Kavanaugh


Richard Peterson, Tlingit Haida Central Council president


Native Alaskans are emerging as a pressure point on Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who may hold one of the key votes for the confirmation  of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Native activists have been seen filing into her Washington D.C. office the past two weeks. They told Huffington Post that climate change has already damaged the lives of Natives in Alaska and they’re concerned about Kavanaugh’s environmental record.

Specifically, one Alaska Native group has raised concerns about a major case pending before the Supreme Court: Sturgeon vs. Frost (National Park Service).

The court will take up the case of the non-Native moose hunter on Nov. 5, and Natives say that ruling in favor of public access to federal land would devastate their subsistence fishing.

In 2007, John Sturgeon was on his annual hunt on the Nations River in the Yukon-Charley National Preserve and was using a hovercraft to navigate the seasonally shallow waters when Park Service officials stopped him.

The Park Service maintains it has authority over the waterways that run through national parks, while outdoor advocates and the State of Alaska maintain that navigable waters are regulated by the State. Waterways in Alaska are considered transportation corridors all year long — by boat in summer and by snow machine in winter. Without access to waterways, most of Alaska would be inaccessible.

[Read: John Sturgeon case heading back to Supreme Court]

Heather Kendall-Miller, a Native rights attorney, said that a ruling in favor of Sturgeon and the State of Alaska’s rights, would be a “death knell” for Alaska Natives.

John Sturgeon moves his hovercraft downriver via skiff.

Kendall-Miller, who is with the Native Americans Rights Fund, also wrote that Kavanaugh would show no favor toward minority voters. In an op-ed in the Anchorage Daily News she wrote “American Indian and Alaska Native voters continue to encounter language barriers, enormous distances to polling places, purged voter rolls, and arbitrary changes in voter identification laws. Judge Kavanaugh’s track record shows little regard for minority voters.”

Alaska Natives were a key to Murkowski’s re-election, when she ran a successful write-in campaign against Joe Miller. There is little evidence that they encountered problems voting when they helped Murkowski become the first U.S. senator in more than 50 years to win an election with a write-in campaign. In fact, with Alaska’s absentee ballots, Permanent Fund automatic registration, and early voting locations, Alaska is a “no excuse” voting state.

Tlingit-Haida Central Council President Richard Peterson wrote to Murkowski and said that the 30,000 tribal members his organization represents would be endangered by Kavanaugh’s confirmation, “because of his erroneous views on indigenous rights and tribal sovereignty.

“We are concerned moving his nomination forward due to his unsound views and the potential injury that his misperceptions would wreak upon your Native Alaskan constituents, our Native Hawaiian friends and fellow indigenous peoples. I write to you, asking you to vote no, and oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination,” Peterson’s letter stated.

“We also write in support of Senator Tom Udall’s request for Judge Kavanaugh records on any Native American matters during his tenure at the White House. We hope, no beyond that, we implore that the Committee on the Judiciary will make available the entire record, so that the Senate can make an informed decision,” Peterson wrote.

Peterson said the Supreme Court has a disproportional impact on the lives of Native people and that his ruling on the Sturgeon case in support of states’ rights would be detrimental to Alaska Natives.

He used the same themes as Kendall-Miller, writing that voting rights, Natives, women, and the environment are threatened by Kavanaugh. Also, he raised concerns about the voting rights of people of color in South Carolina.

At least one person called into question who Tlingit-Haida Central Council was truly representing by jumping in the fray on the Kavanaugh nomination.

“CCTHITA has not represented Southeast (Alaska) for a very long time. Anchorage, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco out-vote the original Central Council by a long shot. … Civil Rights were jump started in Alaska in 1945, why is the ‘president’ of CCTHITA whining about ‘people of color’ in South Carolina? Why is CCTHITA arguing for ‘Obamacare’ ? Don’t understand. Are we as tribal members not covered under Indian Health Service? So I wonder, who is Richard actually ‘representing’?” wrote Randy Katzenmeyer, responding to the Peterson letter on Facebook.

Sen. Dan Sullivan has already announced he will vote in favor of Kavanaugh’s nomination, therefore the pressure to oppose the nominee has been focused nearly exclusively on Murkowski.


  1. Heather Kendall – Miller and the rest of her native separatists got lucky when (Phony) Tony Knowles withdrew from Katie John with prejudice. Their problem is that the Ninth Circus got cute in writing their opinion. And the Ninth Circus went back to that very same well with their Sturgeon opinion. This time, there is no (Phony) Tony around to bail them out again. Perhaps Mark or Bill will. Might be a good question to ask them. Cheers –

  2. Senator M is not stupid. She is fully aware of the fact that she is already vulnerable in the next election because of her vote on the affordable care act. If she votes against the SCOTUS nominee, she will have no chance of being re-elected in this bright red State.
    Once appointed to a lifetime judgeship judges owe nothing to anyone. Look at Robert’s vote which allowed Obama Care. Who would have ever thought he would cast the deciding vote after being appointed by a republican president.
    The Sturgeon case will be decided based on the law and not because of hysteria generated by a native rights leader or by a native rights lawyer.
    Senator M got elected, not because of the native vote, but because Joe Miller imploded when all his misrepresentations and lies became public. If she votes against this nominee many independent and most GOP voters will turn against her. Maybe she will pick up
    the native vote, but it will be insignificant compared to what she loses. And she will go down in history having made a terrible blunder that cost her the election.

  3. Sad that Alaska Natives believe they need the Federal Government to look after their subsistence rights by locking up Alaska’s lands. I agree we should work in Alaska to develop a better definition of “rural” to prioritize subsistance, which would help Alaska Native villagers and other rural residents, but to think the Federal Government will do it better is naive at best. The problems facing Alaska Native rural residents are exacerbated by the very liberal policies that Murkowski and her Democratic friends promote in Washington and in the liberal courts that take the law into their own hands.

  4. There you have it…
    “Kendall-Miller, who is with the Native Americans Rights Fund, also wrote that Kavanaugh would show no favor toward minority voters.”
    Those who appeared to have hired Senator Murkowski have spoken. Minority voters must be “favored”.
    Senator Murkowski has a dilemma: Vote against a judge who does not “favor” minority voters (or, thankfully, anybody else) and look forward to re-election, or vote for Judge Kavanaugh and risk dismissal by wrathful employers.
    Should be interesting either way.

  5. But it’s ok if a court is slanted in your favor like the 9th court of appeals? Are the Democrats ever going to do anything but resist?

    • Because of the feds running subsistence I once had a SHARC card that allowed me 10 halibut a day and lots of 2 kinds of crab.

  6. Lisa is toast if she doesn’t support this nominee. CCTHITA and their reps better do a little more homework on Udall too. What the heck are they doing? “unsound views and the potential injury that his misperceptions would wreak upon your Native Alaskan constituents, our Native Hawaiian friends and fellow indigenous peoples” and ” “because of his erroneous views on indigenous rights and tribal sovereignty”, Mr. Peterson implores Lisa to not vote for Kavanaugh? Someone, please tell me what this means? Mr. Peterson can just toss random phrases into a letter, send it to our Senator, that can’t seem to make a decision, and it supposed to be important? Come on. “Favor” minority voters? Excuse me Mr. Peterson, it is law, not favortism.

    Enough already Lisa. You don’t have to “sleep on it” anymore. You know darn good and well what kind of justice Kavanaugh is. Lets get moving. But, if you know something else – something that could be detrimental to ALL Alaskans, maybe you need to vote no and dust off your resume.

  7. We taxpayers have to stop throwing our money at these ethnic nonprofits. Just because it’s federal money doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to waste it. Two or three years ago I was buying a new computer at an office products store. The manager said he had moved to AK to take the job the previous December. He said he was amazed when on New Year’s eve, after he had sent most of his crew home, a huge guy from something called Tlingit-Haida came in and said he had to spend $185,000 by midnight. The huge guy did not need to take delivery but he needed to have spent the money that evening. That is taxpayer money. It would be just as bad if our delegation to Congress got lots of money for the Sons of Norway to waste on fiddles and accordions. Those damn Norwegians have a sense of entitlement, and there is no reasoning with them.

    • Haha! Now that’s funny. Good one. It always cracks me up when people say the Natives get “free health care” too. Not hardly. Tax payer money. Nothin’ is free!

  8. Nothing is free. As a long time Alaskan (30 years) I’m pretty tired of trying to politically dodge the culturally appropriate native buzz line. There are a great number of issues Petersen and his ilk taunt like they are owed something. Wouldn’t we all like equal access to the waterways? Wouldn’t we all like quality, affordable health care for which we receive no bill? Of course it isn’t free… the rest of us are paying for it. No one is buying me lunch so perhaps I’m a bit jaded but for once I would like the federal freebies to either go away and let the villages end up as they may or fizzle out and either give us all equitable care or charge for it across the board.
    Its time for us all to take care of business and stop subsiding the dying breed.

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