Gov. Tony Knowles has reportedly made a new promise in the Katie John case.
Knowles spent a day with the Athabascan elder at her fish camp late last month, where Tanada Creek empties into the Copper River.
After a long conversation in search of common ground, Knowles leaned close to John and told her the state will no longer fight her.
The statement was reported by Bill Hess, editor of Alaska's Village Voices, a bimonthly newspaper published by Rural Alaska Community Action Program Inc. and distributed statewide by Alaska Newspapers Inc.
Hess, and RurAL CAP are strong advocates for the Native people. It's possible that his interpretation was colored by his role.
But the statement isn't hard to believe. Knowles has made several decisions recently that portend good things for Alaska Natives and their desire to have first rights to fish and game.
Prior to meeting with Katie John, Knowles proposed a conditional appeal, only if the Legislature put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to bring the state into compliance with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. Faced with widespread opposition, Knowles dropped the plan.
Now he has a new plan. Despite strong pressure to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court -- Republican legislators and hunting and fishing organizations worry that a subsistence priority will mean less fish for commercial activity and sportfishing -- Knowles managed to delay the appeal deadline for two months, until Oct. 4.
He is also calling for a leadership summit to solve the subsistence dilemma. The panel, planned for mid-August, will consist largely of Native groups, hunting and fishing organizations and legislators.
Moreover, the governor has said that a state victory in the Katie John case will not solve the conflict between state and federal subsistence law. If that's the case, there's no reason to appeal.
We hope Knowles feels the same way. We also hope the summit finds an appropriate way to ensure state sovereignty while giving Alaska Natives subsistence priority.
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