AFN requests United Nations help on subsistence rights

Posted: Sunday, October 22, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Alaska Federation of Natives and the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council requested Friday that the United Nations investigate the issue of subsistence rights for Native Alaskans.

Native Alaskans are afraid the state is trying to take away subsistence rights ensured in federal law.

Mike Williams, chairman of the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, said an international appeal was being made because Natives depend on subsistence for survival.

The request was presented to a United Nations official who is attending the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention in downtown Anchorage. Several thousand Natives have gathered for the annual event.

The two Native groups are seeking help from the United Nations because they say efforts to establish strong state protections have failed.

Natives are angry over the state's decision to appeal the Katie John ruling, which Natives see as an important federal court victory for subsistence rights.

Gov. Tony Knowles has said Alaska is appealing the decision not because the state is against subsistence rights for Natives, but because the state wants to manage its navigable waters.

The 1995 Katie John ruling, named for an Athabaskan elder denied a subsistence fish camp on the Copper River, established that the federal government had authority on most waters in Alaska to ensure subsistence rights for rural residents.

The case is scheduled for arguments before the Ninth Circuit on Dec. 20.

''If the state is successful in their legal challenge, if they accomplish what their goals are, they will have destroyed our only federal protections...,'' Julie Kitka, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, told KTUU-TV.

Attorney General Bruce Botelho has said the federal court decision was an unprecedented expansion of the doctrine of federal reserve water rights. The state fears if allowed to stand the ruling would be used in the future to extend federal jurisdiction beyond subsistence.



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