Natives and urban representatives clash over a subsistence co-management system

Posted: Thursday, August 16, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Offering words given to her by her adoptive Tlingit Indian family, Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer urged a panel seeking a fix to the state's subsistence dilemma to work as a team and row the canoe together.

''Yehgyachguuh,'' Ulmer said, which translates to, dig deeper, keep going.

But shortly after her encouragement, Alaska leaders' attempt to find a compromise on the state's most divisive issue continued to flounder.

Native representatives clashed over whether aboriginal groups should co-manage subsistence resources under a state system similar to the federal system which provides for regional councils.

Julie Kitka, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, said aboriginal groups aren't willing to give up benefits they already have under a federal system.

''We can survive under a federal-controlled system. We're trying to help the state regain management,'' Kitka said.

About 40 members of Gov. Tony Knowles Subsistence Leadership Summit met for a second day on Thursday in Anchorage groping for common ground to how to regain state control of all hunting and fishing.

The federal government regulates subsistence on federal land -- which represent two thirds of the state -- sine the state came out of compliance with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

The act granted a preference for hunting and fishing to rural residents. It was a Congressional compromise intended to grant Natives the right to follow their traditional existence after they surrendered aboriginal rights under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

But the state Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that granting a rural preference violates the state constitution.

Since then, several attempts by the legislature to pass a state constitutional amendment to grant a rural preference and comply with ANILCA have failed.

Alaska residents living in urban and rural areas have been deeply divided over the issue. Rural residents -- of which Natives make up about 51 percent -- argue they depend on fish and wildlife for survival, their economy and cultural traditions.

Some outdoorsmen and urban residents want to preserve the state's guarantee of equal access to wildlife for all in the state.

Kitka said many Natives are angered that the AFN is attending the summit, saying the state has a poor record of protecting aboriginal rights. Kitka said the state has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting court cases that ultimately erode aboriginal rights to hunting and fishing.

''There's an awful lot of people who don't want us to be here,'' Kitka said.

The clash came as the group was trying to agree on an overall set of values that all Alaskans would agree to in reference to the urban and rural divide over subsistence.

It was part of Knowles charge that the group find a way to preserve the rural subsistence life, regain state management of fish and game and to bridge the divide between urban and rural interests in the debate.

The push brought a strong opposition by those who represent urban outdoors groups who must compete for fish and game with rural residents.

''I think there would be significant opposition to that type of structure,'' said Ron Somerville, adding that the group would have to provide more specifics on how aboriginal groups would co-manage subsistence.

The group is expected to make recommendations to the governor on Thursday for a long-term solution to the debate.

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