August 29, 2001

For Further Information Contact: Heather Kendall-Miller, (907) 276-0680

 

THE STATE OF ALASKA WILL NOT APPEAL THE KATIE JOHN SUBSISTENCE LAWSUIT TO THE U.S. SUPREME COURT

ANCHORAGE, AK – Alaska Governor Tony Knowles announced at a press conference in Anchorage that the State of Alaska will not appeal the Katie John subsistence lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Governor Knowles said the lawsuit has been a costly battle in which the State has lost its argument five times, including three appeals pursued by his administration, one to the Supreme Court.

This decision ends a 10-year court battle with Katie John, an 83-year-old Ahtna elder who has fought to retain subsistence hunting and fishing rights for all Native Alaskans. In a recent conversation with Governor Knowles, John said that although she was tired, she would never give up on subsistence.

NARF staff attorney Heather Kendall-Miller and co-counsel William E. Caldwell of Alaska Legal Services have been assisting Katie John through the lawsuit. On notification of the Governor'S decision, Heather Kendall-Miller stated that

". . the Governor has recognized that the State has to meet its obligation to protect subsistence . . . It can hide behind the argument of state's rights any longer."

In May 2001, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion in favor of protecting Alaska Native subsistence rights. The court held that the [1995] judgment rendered by the prior panel and adopted by the district court should not be disturbed or altered by the court.

The case received a favorable ruling in 1995 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals whose interim decision held that the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act's priority for subsistence use extends to fisheries in federally reserved waters-some 60% of Alaska's inland navigable waters. The U.S. Supreme Court declined review and the case went back to the Alaska federal district court for final proceedings.

Following the May decision, the State of Alaska had 90 days to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. On August 6, 2001, one day before the deadline, the State received a 60-day extension to the U.S. Supreme Court. Governor Knowles requested the extension to allow time to organize a summit to bring key leaders together to form recommendations on the best course of action to accomplish three goals that he set out: to regain state management of fish and game on federal lands; protect subsistence; and unite urban and rural Alaskans.

As a result of the summit, a declaration was issued that ". . . subsistence is integral to the lives and essential to the survival of Alaska Native peoples and communities. The subsistence way of life for Alaska Natives and rural Alaskans is a unique and important Alaska value that must be protected by our state government. The Legislature shall adopt a constitutional amendment guaranteeing a rural subsistence priority for use of Alaska's fish and game resources."

Katie John, more than any other subsistence case currently pending before State or Federal court in Alaska, exemplifies the contentious battle being waged between federal, tribal and state interests about Native fishing rights. NARF has been at the forefront of this battle for 17 years now.