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Katie John ruling wins Native leaders' approval

Posted: March 31, 2014 - 11:02pm

An Alaska Native group is heralding a U.S. Supreme Court decision to not review a legal case about subsistence fishing and hunting rights.

The high court on Monday declined to hear the state’s petition in the lawsuit State of Alaska v. Sally Jewell, known widely as one of the Katie John cases.

“We are very pleased with the Supreme Court’s wise decision to uphold the rulings of the lower courts,” The Alaska Federation of Natives Co-Chair Tara Sweeney said in a statement. “This is not only a victory for Katie John and her family, for Alaska Natives and other rural Alaskans who depend on subsistence to feed their families, but for all Alaskans who seek a prosperous, fair and equitable society.”

Citing state rights, Gov. Sean Parnell rekindled a long-standing subsistence battle last year by asking the Supreme Court to review the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that gives the federal government control over hunting and fishing on navigable waters on state-owned land that’s adjacent to federal land. The federal rules provide a subsistence priority during times of shortage for rural Alaskans.

The AFN viewed the lawsuit as an assault on subsistence rights.

“The Parnell administration’s lawsuit was an assault upon the people of Alaska who depend upon hunting, fishing and gathering to feed their families,” AFN Co-Chair Ana Hoffman said. “We are very glad that we can put that behind us and work together toward a lasting and fair solution to our state’s subsistence management problem.”

AFN President Julie Kitka said the organization also has the support from the Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and top Department of Justice Officials representing the federal government, who was also party to the case, and the Native American Rights Fund.

Parnell’s office could not be reached for comment on Monday. He told the Empire earlier this year that he disagreed with former Gov. Tony Knowles’ decision not to pursue the case in 2001.

“This last court just said because of the kind of questionable precedent of the past, we have to make this up as we go; we have to have a case-by-case look. What that means is that for every river, for every stream that touches or crosses federal lands for decades to come, there will be litigation on this issue because there’s been no certainty or clarity in the law from the court,” Parnell said. “I’m not talking about certainty on whether subsistence exists or not. I acknowledge that is a part of our people here. What I’m talking about is legal certainty of what the boundaries are for all parties and as long as there’s an opportunity to fight over those boundaries, there will be division among the races. That is not something I can abide by. That is not something I can live with. In order to get that legal certainty on what the boundaries are for everybody involved we did appeal, and that’s why I took that approach.”

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Art Petersen
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Art Petersen 04/01/14 - 07:14 am
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This is a welcome and affirming victory

for Alaska Native subsistence. This is also a just defeat of Alaska state overreach. Governor Parnell claims the decision creates legal uncertainty, and "That is not something I can abide by." When understood and acknowledged that subsistence is about much more than food stuffs, clarity and certainty may follow.

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