My Turn: Being equal under state and federal laws

Posted: Thursday, September 06, 2001

I have lived in Alaska long enough to have my children and grandchildren born and grow up here. I watched the Alaska Land Claims Settlement Act pass into law. I participated in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). I wholeheartedly agreed that the native of Alaska deserved land and monetary compensation for their claims to the state of Alaska. I view ANILCA as absolute infringement on the rights of the sovereign state of Alaska by the U.S. government.

In the late 1960s the proposed Native land claims settlement held the right-of-way for the construction of the trans-Alaska pipeline hostage. Good for Alaska Natives. They used this leverage and settled their aboriginal claims to the state of Alaska for 44 million acres of land and nearly $1 billion. For this compensation, the Alaska Natives relinquished their priority claims to the fish and wildlife resources of the state.

Once the Native Land Claims Settlement Act was signed into law the federal government rescinded the state of Alaska's statehood entitlement land selections until the Alaska Natives selected their 44 million acres. (As a sideline, the state of Alaska, under the Statehood Act, was allowed to select 102 million acres of land from the public domain to help establish an economic base for the new state.)

In the late 1970s when the Native land had been selected, instead of allowing the state to resume selection of its statehood entitlement, the federal government drafted ANILCA and in 1980 President Carter signed this legislation into law. This locked up an additional 156 million acres of the state of Alaska, again precluding state selection of its statehood land entitlement.

One of the interesting things about ANILCA was that it re-established the Native priority that had been relinquished under the Native Land Claims Settlement Act. Even the federal government realized that a Native priority would not stand a constitutional test and the wording, "rural residents" was substituted in the final legislation.

The constitution of the state of Alaska, ratified by the U.S. Congress, states that the fish and game resources of the state of Alaska are common property belonging to all the citizens of Alaska equally and cannot be reserved for individuals or groups.

By virtue of ANILCA, the citizens of Alaska who reside in Ketchikan, Juneau, Anchorage and Fairbanks are not eligible for the rural priority established in this federal law. Everybody who lives in these four cities is disenfranchised by ANILCA and is denied equal opportunity afforded under the constitution of the state of Alaska. This includes approximately 50 percent of the Native population of the state who live in these four cities. A Native who is a resident of Ketchikan, Juneau, Anchorage or Fairbanks cannot go to a rural area and exercise priority rights to fish and game; their priority rights do not exist. Talk about equal rights, they are equally denied equal opportunity. The remaining 50 percent of the Native population has exclusive use of the 44 million acres of land they own and the federal government insists that rural residents be given priority use on the rest of the land in the state.

Some may consider my observations to be racist. When all else fails, pull the "R" card. I am not a racist and I firmly believe that the 50 percent of the Native population of Alaska who reside in Ketchikan, Juneau, Anchorage or Fairbanks should retain their equal opportunity privileges under the state constitution as should I as well as my children who were born here and grew up living on the fish and game resources of Alaska.

Gov. Knowles swore to uphold the Alaska Constitution; not to uphold the constitution when it was politically expedient or whether or not he agreed with it. I wonder what part of the U.S. Constitution Gov. Knowles won't recognize given the opportunity. Maybe the first amendment, the second amendment, or maybe the 19th amendment? Our only hope for equal rights for all Alaskans is for our state constitution to prevail. Alaska is the only state that the federal government has interfered with its sovereign right to manage its own fish and game. Alaska must appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to settle this divisive issue once and for all.


Michael Millar is an urban sportsman who has lived in Juneau for 37 years.

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