Native leaders ask Congress for Native hunting, fishing priority

Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2002

FAIRBANKS - Several Alaska Native leaders and a lawyer argued for a Native hunting and fishing priority and more wildlife management agreements with tribes at a congressional hearing Wednesday.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee took testimony on subsistence hunting and fishing issues as part of an oversight hearing.

Few witnesses expressed support for an amendment to the Alaska Constitution that would allow the state to match the federal law that mandates a rural priority.

Instead, those testifying mostly advocated maintaining federal management while seeking a Native preference and more tribal authority in management decisions.

Mike Williams of Akiak, chairman of the Alaska Inter-tribal Council, asked the committee to convince Congress to reverse its 1971 decision to extinguish aboriginal hunting and fishing rights for Alaska Natives.

Arthur Lake, president of the Bethel-based Association of Village Council Presidents, said the state constitutional amendment would move management back toward the state, which hasn't been as receptive to giving subsistence users a priority.

Rosita Worl, of the Sealaska Heritage Institute in Juneau, did endorse a constitutional amendment to bring the state into compliance with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. That law, passed by Congress in 1980, established the rural priority on federal lands.

But Worl, too, suggested that a priority based on race - an Alaska Native priority - was a legitimate alternative.

"It would be my hope that Congress will continue to support ANILCA as it is written, unless, in its wisdom, it should choose to adopt a Native subsistence priority," she said.

Sen. Frank Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, stopped by the committee briefly to say that he opposes any law that resolves the issue along racial or cultural lines.

Murkowski, who is running for Alaska governor, said he supports a rural preference that is "legally sound and fair to all Alaskans."

Robert Anderson, a law professor at the University of Washington, suggested that Congress could establish a Native or "Native and rural" preference on all federal, state and private lands in Alaska.

Anderson said authority to establish a Native preference comes from the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress power to "regulate commerce with ... the Indian tribes."

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