What others say

Federal board correct: Peninsula is not rural

Posted: Tuesday, July 17, 2001

Alaska villagers say the Bush is a state of mind.

Indeed it is. It's easy enough to determine where the Bush ends: in those far-flung corners of our state where access may be nothing short of a miracle and public services are few.

But where does the Bush begin? The whole state might seem like a backwater outpost if you're a Lower 48'er used to city-ridden highways.

But for residents in places like Unalaska, a good 800-mile flight from Anchorage, small highway communities such as Seward or Homer might as well be Los Angeles.

In turn, villagers from Nikolski are only half-joking when they say they're headed to New York City as they leave the gravel runway on Umnak Island for the 50-mile flight to Unalaska, with its fancy grocery stores and paved roads.

But while everyone has a different perspective on the Bush, no Alaskan should argue the recent decision by the Federal Subsistence Board.

The board correctly determined ... that the Kenai Peninsula is nonrural. Thus, on federal lands, subsistence users do not get a priority over sportfishing.

The decision is sound. By Alaska standards, the peninsula is in no way rural. To classify as such, which the board mistakenly did last year, is to insult Alaskans who regularly empty honey buckets or travel in blizzards to wait hours for a plane that may never come. The peninsula boasts 50,000 residents with ample shopping outlets and dependable roads and airports.

The Kenaitze Tribe requested rural status to allow a subsistence priority for its 1,400 members. The decision would continue an age-old tradition and way of life.

The tribe's pursuits are worthy, but its population is too small to justify a peninsula-wide designation.

The real problem is with federal law, which does not consider whether users are Native American or not.

The Anchorage-based Native American Rights Fund, which may sue, should seek an amendment to the federal law that allows waivers for Alaska Natives. The Alaska Federation of Natives would be wise to make the effort a part of its convention this fall.

Subsistence should be granted only to those who need it for spiritual or physical sustenance.

-- Alaska Newspapers Inc.

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