AFN press briefing, with (l to r) Carol Daniel, Julie Kitka, Tara Sweeney, Katherine Martin.

AFN March 31 press briefing, with (l to r) Carol Daniel, Julie Kitka, Tara Sweeney, Kathryn Martin.

 ANCHORAGE, AK – On March 31st the Supreme Court of the United States decided to reject the State of Alaska’s petition in the legal case State of Alaska v Sally Jewell, Secretary of the United States Department of Interior et al, widely known as one of the Katie John Cases.

AFN President Julie Kitka said,  “This should end 19 years of litigation.  We are hopeful that this opens a new and better chapter in our relationship with the State of Alaska.  The people of Alaska overwhelmingly support subsistence and we are hopeful that we can all move forward.”

“We are very pleased with the Supreme Court’s wise decision to uphold the rulings of the lower courts,” said AFN Co-Chair Tara Sweeney.  “This is not only a victory for the late Katie John and her extended family, for Alaska Natives and other rural Alaskans who depend on subsistence to feed their families, but for all Alaskans who seek a prosperous, fair and equitable society.”

Governor Parnell’s lawsuit asked the Court to overturn the federal rules promulgated in 1999 that include waters subject to the federal reserved water rights doctrine in the definition of public lands in Title VIII of ANILCA.  The federal rules provide a subsistence priority during times of shortage for rural Alaskans.

Kitka said, “The State has already had two bites at the same apple and wanted a third.”  She pointed out that the State asserted that Alaskans sought statehood because of concerns over a federal management scheme that was diverting much of the benefit of Alaska’s fisheries to non-Alaskan interests.  The State left out the second part of the story in which the new state then took numerous actions to deprive Alaska Natives of their time-honored rights to utilize those fisheries for subsistence purposes.

AFN Co-Chair Ana Hoffman added, “The Parnell administration’s lawsuit was an assault upon the people of Alaska who depend upon hunting, fishing and gathering to feed their families.  We are very glad that we can put that behind us and work together toward a lasting and fair solution to our state’s subsistence management problem.”

“AFN is grateful for the full support of Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and top Department of Justice officials, representing the federal government, who is also a party to this case, as well as the Native American Rights Fund,” said Julie Kitka, AFN President. “We still have work to do.  We still struggle under a highly complex federal-state dual management system, which needs reform.”

Several recent polls show that more than two-thirds of Alaskans support a rural subsistence priority.  The people of Alaska support AFN’s efforts to protect our people, who depend on fishing and hunting to feed their families.

Dr. Rosita Worl, Co-chair of AFN’s Subsistence Committee, said, “AFN and the Native leadership recommits to double our efforts to protect our peoples’ rights.  We will focus on what we can do for ourselves without regard to federal and state action.  We will continue to build the internal capacity of the Native community.  We will continue to explore state legislative actions and further Congressional actions.  Lastly, we will call upon President Obama and his Cabinet Secretaries Sally Jewell and Tom Vilsack to utilize all their Executive and Administrative authority to protect the people dependent on subsistence fishing to feed their families.  There will be no slow down of our efforts.”