FAIRBANKS — The village-city of Saxman and rural subsistence priority became talking points for Alaska Native leaders and Alaska’s senators during the Alaska Federation of Natives convention.
Saxman has about 400 people and is located just a few miles down the road from Ketchikan.
In 2006, the Federal Subsistence Board stripped Saxman of its rural status, which meant its residents wouldn’t have priority over commercial and sport hunters and fishermen. The board eventually allowed Saxman to keep its rural status while the issue was reconsidered. At the same time, Kodiak’s rural status was under review, but the board decided to leave the city of over 6,000 people alone. Fast forward seven years, and Saxman’s status is still under review, though a decision is expected to be made by spring.
During her Saturday address to the convention, Sen. Lisa Murkowski called on the Federal Subsistence Board to review its procedures for determining rural status.
“The standards of the Federal Subsistence Board are ridiculous,” Murkowski said. “In Alaska, rural is not determined by population – it is determined by the character of life in a place. And the character of life in a traditional community doesn’t change based upon whether that community gains or loses a few hundred people.”
She said the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act doesn’t require periodic review of rural status and that the subsistence board could make changes to its policy administratively, meaning it wouldn’t require legislative action.
Tlingit-Haida Central Council President Ed Thomas said in an interview that he believes Saxman is a rural community and that the subsistence board’s process for determining rural status is flawed.
“We are, and have been from day one, advocating that Saxman should retain its rural status,” Thomas said. “The rules that apply really don’t make too much sense for that community, because its comparable to any other rural community in terms of its size, its challenges and the makeup of its citizenry.”
Getting the subsistence board to be effective and relevant to subsistence users means funding it sufficiently, Thomas said.
“It’s gotta be at least as much as the state spends and it’s not there. I think it was $4 million one year,” Thomas said. “Most of those dollars are used just to bring the subsistence committees together and you can’t manage resources that way, so it becomes a shallow promise.”
Sen. Mark Begich focused on subsistence for part of his Friday address to the convention.
“Everywhere I went this year, from the (Yukon-Kuskokwim) Delta, to villages along the Yukon and the Copper rivers and the North Slope, everyone was concerned about their ability to hunt and fish for their families,” Begich said. “Another year of poor king runs on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers made the situation worse.”
Begich also hosted a Senate Indian Affairs hearing on food security and a Magnuson-Stevens Act listening session on Saturday at the convention. The Magnuson-Stevens Act is a law governing marine fisheries management in the U.S.
Alaska Federation of Natives delegates passed five resolutions on Saturday related to subsistence issues. One resolution called for the subsistence board, when determining rural status, to limit the input of non-subsistence users and to “preclude opportunistic abuse by sport, recreational, commercial or other personal use interests.” The resolution stated that AFN will continue to address the issue with Alaska’s congressional delegation until it is resolved.