by Diana Haecker ~ October 23rd, 2009
FEDERAL PROMISE— Kim Elton, director for Alaskan affairs under the Secretary of the Interior, announced a sweeping federal review of subsistence rules. Photo by Diana Haecker
The 2009 Alaska Federation of Natives Convention continued Friday with high-level politicians addressing at least 1,000 delegates gathered at the Anchorage Dena’ina Center. Senator Lisa Murkowski addressed AFN delegates with a wide range of topics and said she is pleased that President Barack Obama is going to meet tribal leaders from across the nation for a first presidential – tribal summit to take place in the White House on November 5.
The main theme of the day, if not the entire convention, is subsistence. In the hallways and in closed room meetings, subsistence rights were debated as many feel that subsistence as an Alaskan way of life is misunderstood. A draft resolution put forth by the AFN states that the current federal subsistence board lacks an appreciation of traditional subsistence use and has improperly sought to balance the needs of commercial, sport and pleasure anglers and hunters with subsistence users.
The big question is whether the state of Alaska or the federal government would do a better job at managing subsistence harvests. The debate has been going on for more than 30 years as Natives have given up subsistence hunting and fishing rights when the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was passed in 1971. With the passing of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation law in 1980, Congress established a priority for rural subsistence users on federal lands. Currently, subsistence harvests are managed by the State of Alaska and Native leaders are not happy they way the state goes about it in the light of thousands of citations Fish and Game wrote for salmon fishing violations this summer. State senator and AFN co-chair Albert Kookesh of Angoon sounded a loud call for federal management of subsistence. Kookesh, who was also awarded the AFN Citizen of the year Award, is one of many who were cited by the State for illegal fishing when they subsistence fished this summer. Alaska Department of Fish and Game curtailed fishing when salmon did not return in sufficient numbers.
On the federal level, the problem is heard. Kim Elton, a former State senator and now advisor of Alaskan affairs to the Obama administration, addressed the AFN and brought video messages from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Undersecretary Larry Echohawk. Salazar announced a sweeping federal review of the subsistence management. He said the current system is broken and needs a complete review. He promised that changes would be conducted from the bottom up and based on recommendations from Alaskan subsistence users.
Consensus is also that the federal board of subsistence needs to be stocked with subsistence users rather than department heads who lack knowledge about subsisting off the Alaskan land and waters.
The sweeping federal review is slated to be complete by early 2010.