New challenges face Alaska after subsistence settled

Posted: Friday, August 31, 2001

If there ever was an issue in which all sides appear to be right, subsistence is the one.

Consider the following:

After two days of meetings earlier this month, Gov. Tony Knowles subsistence summit ended with the panel of approximately 40 statewide leaders calling for the Legis-lature to put a constitutional amendment guaranteeing a rural subsistence priority before Alaska voters.

Over the past decade, a multitude of polls have shown most Alaskans favor such a priority in times of shortage. Poll after poll also has shown most Alaskans support a constitutional amendment to bring this debate to an end, preserving state sovereignty and the lifestyle of rural Alaska in the process. The position is common sense: Who would deny a fellow Alaskan in rural Alaska food in time of need?

On the other hand, opponents of a rural priority stake their position on the principle that all people are equal. Period. A rural preference for subsistence sets up different classes of citizens, which is wrong, they argue. No matter what side of the fence you are on in this issue, its difficult to debate that point; after all, the United States has its foundation on that very premise.

The years-long subsistence debate has played a huge role in Alaskas ever-widening urban-rural divide. At last, it looks like there will be movement on the issue.

It can only be hoped Knowles decision earlier this week not to appeal the Katie John subsistence case to the U.S. Supreme Court will force the Legislature to follow the advice of the subsistence panel (and a majority of Alaskans) and do what should have been done a long time ago: put a constitutional amendment before voters.

Unfortunately, events of this month have done little to change peoples minds on this divisive issue. Some legislators even talked of impeaching Knowles for his failure to defend state sovereignty by continuing the appeals of the Katie John case. Some believe the only way the issue will ever be settled is through the nations highest court. Legislators who have blocked a constitutional amendment in the past have not suddenly seen the light and changed their position.

Some see the governor as a hero for ending the appeals of the Katie John case; others see him as a coward.

The subsistence issue is fraught with emotion and elements of right. What else could explain the states stalemate on being able to reach a solution?

The only way to move forward on the issue is with a constitutional amendment. Alaskans, then, will have their say at the polls, and the state can begin the even tougher work of balancing urban-rural needs.

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