A worthy protest, but in the wrong place

Posted: Thursday, March 02, 2000

Civil disobedience has long been a hallmark of American democracy. The Civil Rights marches and protests against the Vietnam War are only two such episodes in recent memory. In fact, one could argue our very nation was founded on civil disobedience - remember the Boston Tea Party?

And now Juneau has its own version, with four Native women sentenced Tuesday for illegal fishing. Wanda Culp, Desa Jacobsson, Jackie McLean and Tracey Gonzalez were each fined $25 by Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins for using nets to catch five sockeye salmon Aug. 28 near the Mendenhall Glacier.

The women said they knew they were breaking the law by fishing at the pond, part of the drainage of Steep Creek, but went ahead anyway as an ``act of civil disobedience'' to bring light to Native subsistence rights.

Whatever one's view on the subsistence debate, these women should be noted for their willingness to take a stand for their beliefs. And that they had the support of other Natives, who lined up Tuesday to pay the defendants' fines, says something.

We also admire Judge Collins for going ahead and fining the defendants. They did break the law and penalties should always be associated with that - and that's part of the cost of civil disobedience.

Our only real problem is with the location of this act. The area in question has been closed to salmon fishing since 1962 and to all fishing since 1971.

Second, it's in an urban area and the continued debate over a constitutional amendment to allow for a federally-mandated rural preference for subsistence fishing wouldn't apply here. Even Fish and Game officials said fishing in Steep Creek would be against the law whether or not lawmakers ever solve the state's subsistence dilemma.

If these women are willing to break the law, it should be done in an area where it would have an impact with the subsistence debate. Instead, it appears to be a hollow victory of sorts.

Regardless, this act, and others we are sure to see, highlight the fact that our state government must do something about subsistence. It's their job and it's what we pay them to do.

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