Gov. Tony Knowles today appointed a group of 38 Alaska leaders to make a recommendation on how to resolve the subsistence controversy.
Saying the group will have "the moral authority" to change minds on the issue, Knowles named leaders from business, religion, Native groups, hunting and fishing groups, and politics, and he said additional appointments are possible within the next few days.
Headed by retired Superior Court Judge Tom Stewart of Juneau, the secretary to Alaska's constitutional convention, the group will meet in a "subsistence leadership summit" Aug. 15-16 in the Egan Convention and Visitors Center in Anchorage.
The result of the summit will be a recommendation on how to achieve three goals cited by Knowles: Regaining exclusive state management of fish and game resources, protecting the subsistence way of life in rural areas and uniting Alaskans, who now face an ever-worsening "urban-rural divide," according to the governor.
"The purpose of the summit is simple but I know achieving it will be anything but," Knowles said during a news conference at the Capitol this morning.
Knowles announced the summit last month, while asking the U.S. Supreme Court for a 60-day extension of the deadline to appeal the subsistence case concerning Katie John, an Athabascan elder who sued the federal government seeking enforcement of the rural subsistence priority in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
In May, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in John's favor, and Knowles has been under pressure from conservative Republican legislators to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Native groups have said an appeal would mean an irreversible break with Knowles. Having won the extension, the governor now has until early October to make a decision.
Knowles said he is not looking to the summit for a recommendation on whether to appeal. But the looming deadline helps give focus to the issue of subsistence, he said.
Among those who will meet in Anchorage are AFL-CIO President Mano Frey, former Alaska Permanent Fund Executive Director Byron Mallott, Territorial Sportsmen board member Ron Somerville, former attorneys general Av Gross and Charlie Cole, retired
Roman Catholic Archbishop Francis Hurley, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. CEO David Wight, Juneau fisherman David Bedford and former state Sen. Al Adams of Kotzebue. Brian Rogers, a Fairbanks business consultant, will serve as facilitator.
The Alaska Federation of Natives - whose president, Julie Kitka, will be a participant in the summit - is supporting the governor's attempt at finding a consensus solution, said Albert Kookesh, AFN co-chairman and a Democratic representative from Angoon.
"I think that's a good list of names, and I think the process is an important one," Kookesh said. "Obviously, we have the right to object to a final result. But if we're not at the table, we're part of the problem."
He said he's hoping for a change of heart from some of the senators who blocked a proposed constitutional amendment in 1999 that would have brought the state into compliance with ANILCA and prevented the federal takeover of fisheries management on navigable waters.
"How could they claim victory when the federal government is here and it looks like they're here to stay?" Kookesh asked. "They entrench themselves more every day."
But Republicans who have opposed the constitutional amendment show little sign of relenting. Rep. Scott Ogan of Wasilla, in a recent news release, accused Knowles of "political doublespeak" for saying that the Katie John case is not primarily about state sovereignty. He cited past news articles in which Knowles was quoted as saying he had a duty to defend state sovereignty.
Stewart said he expects to break the summit into small groups on the first day and then try to reach a consensus recommendation on the second. He said he doesn't know if there will be an attempt to draft language for a constitutional amendment. Knowles said it's premature to talk about a special legislative session.
Bill McAllister can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.