April 25, 2002 Alaska Newspapers Inc. urges lawmakers to heed vote on subsistence

Posted: Monday, April 29, 2002

The Legislature should no longer ignore the voices clamoring for a subsistence solution.

With loud and unflinching clarity, the public has long demanded that its representatives in Juneau begin closing the rural-urban divide by placing a subsistence amendment on the November ballot.

The latest statement was made early last month when 72 percent of Anchorage voters said they want the amendment. The advisory vote was hardly a mandate, but it is a strong indication that residsents statewide are ready to bring an end to the decade-long debate.

Legislators hoping to win public approval in the next election would be wise to listen up. If such an overwheming majority of voters in the state's most urban area want a vote, what does that say about the rest of the state?

When you get right down to it, the issue is simple. Allowing the public the option to vote goes to the heart democracy: Let the people decide.

It's also a moral imperative that should be supported by religious organzations across the state. Bishops in the Catholic church justly took on the cause two weeks ago, when they sent a pastoral letter framing the debate in Catholic values to about 20,000 households statewide.

Without telling Catholics what to do, the letter raises points that support the right of rural residents -- primarily Native -- to have first access to the state's fish and game.

It states that equal access to resources may be impossible to achieve, given the starkly unequal conditions between rural and urban residents. Five to 10 percent of the people in urban Alaska live below the poverty line vs. as much as 39 percent in some communities in rural Alaska.

The letter rightly adds that this is the duty of the forunate to care for the less fortunate, and concludes that subsistence opportunities for the poor should be maintained whenver possible.

''This commitment should be viewed not as charity, but as justice,'' the report said.

Gov. Tony Knowles understands the value of a rural priority and has called for a special session in May, the sixth one on subsistence so far.

Let's hope that this time the Legislature lets the people be heard.

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