Knowles makes final speech as governor to AFN

Posted: Friday, October 25, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Alaska Native people will remember Gov. Tony Knowles for something he didn't do, the co-chairman of the Alaska Federation of Natives said Thursday.

Introducing Knowles to delegates at the AFN annual convention Thursday, state Rep. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, said the governor will be remembered for not appealing the Katie John lawsuit, named for an Athabascan elder who successfully sued to put a subsistence fish wheel on the Copper River.

In his eighth and final speech as governor to the convention, the largest annual gathering of Native people in the state, Knowles himself listed the decision among his accomplishments.

''Eight years ago, state government was fighting the efforts of an Athabascan great-grandmother whose supposed crime was trying to provide subsistence for her family as she and her ancestors had done for centuries,'' Knowles said.

''I said, 'No longer. No more.' I vowed that Alaska would never again fight Katie John and thousands like her who know the strength, the care, and value that subsistence provides to rural and Alaska Native families.''

The decision extended federal oversight of subsistence to most of Alaska's waterways and followed a federal takeover of subsistence hunting on federal land. Critics said the decision was a blow to states' rights.

The federal takeover came after the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution guarantees equal access to fish and game, while the federal Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act requires a rural preference for subsistence.

Despite five special legislative sessions, Knowles could not convince legislators to put before voters a proposed constitutional amendment giving rural residents a subsistence hunting and fishing privilege.

Knowles also noted his disappointment with the Legislature's refusal to pass hate crime legislation, offered after three teenagers carrying a paintball gun targeted Alaska Natives in January 2001.

Among his successes, Knowles noted the spending of nearly a billion dollars for repair or construction of schools, including 21 in rural Alaska.

He said the state put $180 million into sanitation or water projects. Along with federal money secured by the congressional delegation, the effort will connect 84 percent of rural Alaska homes to water and sewer systems.

Knowles noted the ''Millennium Agreement'' signed two years ago with 84 Alaska tribes. The agreement spells out principles, such as the right of the tribes to self-governance and self-determination.

Knowles said an order signed earlier this month will require certain state departments to pay the prevailing urban wage in its construction projects. Agencies will have several years to phase in the new wage scale.

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