Protester continues to fast

Oral arguments held in urban subsistance fishing rights case

Posted: Thursday, February 03, 2000

In day 24 of her hunger strike, Desa Jacobsson sounded weak - but her spirit was still strong.

Jacobsson did not know how much weight she had lost, she said Wednesday, and she had not consulted a physician about her condition.

``I have never woken up feeling hungry,'' she said. ``It's been quite a journey.''

More than three weeks ago, Jacobsson, 51, began a fast in order to show her commitment to the cause of subsistence rights for Alaska Natives. She and four other women, known together as the Subsistence Five, staged a demonstration Aug. 28 by fishing in a closed pond near Mendenhall Lake that led to criminal charges. Since then, Jacobsson has been frustrated that the courts have not handed down a judgment on personal-use fishing without a permit.

``Care during a fast is basic - lots of water and lots of water,'' she said, coughing. She is trying to avoid stress by doing ``positive, neat things'' such as painting and ``watching something good on the Discovery Channel.''

Another diversion was a week-long trip to Bristol Bay where she lectured on domestic violence and sexual assault. She trains clergy, counselors, health aides, teachers and others in the dynamics and politics of violence, said Jacobsson, the 1998 Green Party candidate for governor.

On Monday, a hearing was held on the matter of the Subsistence Five. Defense counsel Tom Wagner said the hearing consisted of oral arguments and evidence.

``Some elders talked about why subsistence opportunities are important for their culture, and why it is important that the young people experience these cultural opportunities,'' Wagner said Wednesday.

State biologist Andy McGregor testified, focusing on Steep Creek, which flows into Dredge Lake, where the August demonstration was held. There is insufficient salmon escapement from the stream to allow harvest, McGregor said.

The state also argued that, if 30,000 people (the population of Juneau), tried to set nets for personal-use fishing, the fishery would not be orderly.

``We are challenging two things,'' Wagner said, ``equal protection under the law; and a regulation of Fish and Game that says there can be no personal use permits for streams that flow adjacent to or across roads in Juneau, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Wrangell and Sitka.''

The defense argues that the court should place more emphasis on equal protection analysis - which is different under federal law and state law.

``We are focusing on the right of people to receive and use and pass on their cultural activities,'' Wagner said. ``There are about 4,000 Native people in Juneau who have been cut off from part of their traditional way of life. If they have to travel to a subsistence stream, it's four hours to Sweetheart Creek or two hours to Taku - and you would need a boat. So they are cutting out a lot of people.''

Judge Patricia Collins, who presided at Monday's hearing, invited both sides to submit data on actual numbers of available fish in streams on the Juneau road system.

Collins is expected to rule on a defense motion to dismiss charges of fishing without a permit early next week, said prosecutor Lance Nelson.

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