Local reaction mixed on Katie John decision

Posted: Tuesday, August 28, 2001

Local reaction was mixed on Gov. Tony Knowles' decision Monday to not appeal the Katie John subsistence lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I'm very happy about it, it's been long overdue," said Rosalie Tepp, chair of the Kenaitze Indian Tribal Council in Kenai. "He shouldn't appeal anyway, because he made promises to Katie John that he wouldn't, and he's kept his word. That impresses me."

Tepp, reached at home Monday afternoon, had not spoken to other tribal council members, but said she expected them to be as pleased as she was.

"I was hoping he wouldn't appeal, but I was kind of borderline," she added. "I imagine all his lawyers advised him, and he looked at all the different avenues."

At a news conference in Anchorage, the governor said, "We must stop a losing legal strategy that threatens to make a permanent divide among Alaskans.''

Others disagreed.

"The only way this is ever going to be settled is to take this to the U.S. Supreme Court," said activist Dale Bondurant of Funny River. "The U.S. Supreme Court will straighten this out, but that's what the governor doesn't want to do."

Knowles also called for a meeting of Alaska leaders to draw up a constitutional amendment to bring Alaska's subsistence law in compliance with federal law. The federal government requires a subsistence priority for rural Alaskans, while the state constitution guarantees all Alaskans equal access to the state's resources.

The deadlock forced the takeover of subsistence fishing by the federal government in fresh water adjoining federal land. The feds had previously taken over subsistence hunting on federal land.

Sen. Jerry Ward, R-Nikiski, said he wished Knowles had continued his appeal -- and another against then-Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt three years ago.

"It would have been over by now," Ward said. "Subsistence is a God-given priority. People should have the right to live off the land."

Ward said if a special meeting to draw up a constitutional amendment is held, it should address the main problem he sees with the current debate: the use of the word "rural."

"There is no definition of the word 'rural,'" he said. "If we change the word from rural to just 'subsistence,' everyone would have it. Or to 'local,' because we can define local."

He said he suspects such a change would be palatable to other conservative senators who blocked the last subsistence amendment. He also said he thought current U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton would not be opposed to such language.

Rep. Ken Lancaster, R-Soldotna, said he has not gone down the list of his fellow representatives and made a count, but thinks a similar resolution would pass the House in the upcoming session.

"It's probably a good idea to have a meeting so we can have some input what we can change it to," Lancaster said. "We have to have something to discuss before going out before the people. We'll just have to wait and see what shakes out."

Bondurant was not convinced.

"He's not going to get this passed in the Legislature. They didn't pass it before, why would they pass it now?" he said.

Tepp said she is open to hear what a constitutional amendment might be.

"If it solves the issues, if it doesn't hurt any subsistence laws, we'd be for it," she said. "If it's kind of mediocre, then no. We would want a strong amendment, not a wishy-washy one."

Ward said a public round table meeting of Knowles, Senate President Rick Halford, House Speaker Brian Porter, Sens. Frank Murkowski and Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young would produce a solution.

"If Gov. Knowles calls the same people back, he would be wrong in doing that," Ward said, referring to the subsistence summit recently held. "Put them in front of the public and the media and let them discuss subsistence. They're the principals."

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