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History and Culture

Home  >  History and Culture  >  Ancsa at 30  >  Lecture Series
Lecture Series, Number Two  -  Page 5
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Tom Richards: One of the other panelists suggested that in light of the current debate over subsistence in Alaska, who would have imagined 30 years ago that we would even have a debate on subsistence or that we would have a Republican legislature that is so anti-Native that it even has anti-Native Natives in it. But I want to read a statement out of a book that another experienced attorney in Native affairs, Dave Case, wrote in 1984. In his book Alaska Natives and American Laws, he wrote about the possibility of restoration of a Native preference in subsistence. Dave wrote, “Although the state may have obtained management authority over all subsistence taking of marine mammals, state management of Native subsistence is still subject to federal oversight and an exclusive Native exemption can be reinstituted if the state regime falls out of compliance with the federally approved subsistence protections.” I think you addressed that issue in the Federal Field Committee. What do you think of the issue today?

Esther Wunnicke: Well, I haven’t talked about the proposal. I think John mentioned it or perhaps you did, Tom, that in addition to providing what I call a foundation document for the Alaska Natives Claims Settlement Act -- I used to jokingly say this is a document that a Congressman can put his hand on and say, “Gentlemen, I have the facts,” and then proceed to enter a political decision -- the Federal Field Committee had made some initial recommendations. They gave a great deal of recognition to the subsistence needs of people in rural Alaska. Although the amount of land to go into fee simple ownership was much less than what actually was enacted in the final ANCSA that Alaska Federation of Natives approved except for the Arctic Slope, where there were 60 million acres that were recommended for subsistence use by the Federal Field Committee. There was always recognition of how important it was.

My observation at the time was that the State of Alaska did not have a subsistence law on the books, for the management of the resources. The State de facto practiced a preference for subsistence activities. In those areas where people were most dependent on the animals and the fish, they had longer seasons, bigger bag limits, a de facto practice of that preference. As I mentioned earlier, I came out of the state of New Mexico where water is to New Mexico what fish and game are to Alaska. It is the most emotional, heated kind of thing you can talk about. I was always familiar with the pecking order in terms of water; there the first priority was domestic use, the next priority was municipal use, then agriculture use, for irrigation and the last priority was industrial use. In times of shortage industrial use had to give to the next, and the next one had to give to the next, and ultimately the remaining one was that first priority. The Federal Field Committee was certainly supportive of subsistence rights if you will.

I was looking at something that we said in the final report of the Federal State Land Use Planning Commission and there again there was support and recognition of the need to give the rural people of Alaska subsistence preference. It was documented in ANILCA in Section 8. It was called not Native subsistence, but rural subsistence, and I think therein lies a lot of the problem that we’ve been facing. Again this is my personal observation. I would have agreed with Jay Rabinowitz in the McDowell Decision, and I guess personally I regret very much that other members of the court did not join him. Because of the McDowell Decision, which took away the one state statue that gave a subsistence priority, we have had ten years of agony and a continually widening gap between urban and rural Alaska or between non-Native and Native Alaska. I think it’s unconscionable that a few members of the legislature should hold hostage something like subsistence preference, that, given the right to vote on it, the majority of people in Alaska would vote for.

Tom Richards: Wonderful insight, Ester. We’ll have a chance to get together a little bit later on. The organizers and speakers had a breakfast meeting this morning, and like John was saying -- sometimes the ladies have more influence on the lives of men then the men would like to let on. Before the breakfast meeting I had coffee with my mother and I was telling Mom about all the panelists that were going to be here today and she said, “They’re all Democrats.” I said, “Well, we can have some earnest discussion then.”

Thank you Esther, we’ll have a chance to get together a little bit later. Our next speaker is a Democrat, I think. John Havelock has served as attorney general for Governor Bill Egan. He’s been in private practice and involved in public affairs for many, many years and he played a pivotal role in as architect for the State of Alaska’s strategy for Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Please welcome John Havelock.

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