Subsistence lawsuit progresses

Request for dismissal of Soldotna man's claim denied by court

Posted: Thursday, February 14, 2002

Dale Bondurant's fight against the federal government goes on.

Last week, a United States District Court refused to dismiss Bondurant's case against the U.S. Department of the Interior. Bondurant alleges that the federal government has violated both federal and state law in its application of subsistence management policies in Alaska.

Bondurant, of Soldotna, is president of the Alaska Constitutional Legal Defense Fund Inc., the organization that brought the lawsuit. His claim alleges, in part, that the federal government's application of Title VIII of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act violates constitutional law.

Bondurant's lawsuit claims that the continuing application of ANILCA is in violation of the U.S. Constitution under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. He believes that the federal government does not have the right to establish preferences for fish and wildlife user groups within the state of Alaska.

Lawyers for the federal government had argued that ACLDCF's claim should be dismissed on several grounds. The government argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed because the statute of limitations for challenges to ANILCA had run out. The court ruled that since the alleged violations occurred within the past six years, Bondurant's claim was valid.

The ruling allows the case to continue in U.S. District Court.

Bondurant alleges that he has been denied his constitutionally guaranteed rights to Alaska's shared fish and wildlife resources. According to the Alaska Constitution, fish, wildlife and waters are reserved for the people for common use. Bondurant claims that granting a rural priority for subsistence users violates this statute.

The court also ruled that Bondurant is in good standing to continue his case. The government had argued that Bondurant should be dismissed from the case because he had no right to bring his argument as a private individual based on the fact that an earlier lawsuit already settled the state of Alaska's claims against ANILCA. The court disagreed, saying no challenge had been made under the equal protection clause, so Bondurant was not bound by the previous ruling.

The court's ruling allows Bondurant to continue a long legal fight against the federal government's management of subsistence and land rights in Alaska.

"I started (fighting the federal government) in 1977 to get equal access to lands," he said.

Since then, he's fought to limit federal authority where he believes it interferes with the rights of Alaskans.

Bondurant said he believes the state neglected its obligation to residents by failing to appeal the recent Katie John ruling.

"(Gov. Tony Knowles) waited until the last minute on Katie John before not appealing. It sets a bad precedent. Knowles violated his responsibility to the people," said Bondurant.

He pointed out that his fight isn't against the United States, just against unfair and unconstitutional practices.

"I tell people I've been a United States citizen for 77 years, and an Alaskan for 55. I put my citizenship first."

However, patriotism only carries so far, especially when a citizen believes his rights are being violated. And Bondurant believes the citizens of Alaska are getting a raw deal on subsistence.

"You can't give up. I'll give up when my toes are pointing in the air," he said.

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