JUNEAU -- State Sen. Albert Kookesh believes Alaska Natives may be forced to file a class action lawsuit against the federal government to restore subsistence rights secured under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
The Angoon Democrat is facing trial over a $500 state subsistence fishing citation. He gave a video statement Friday to the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood 97th Grand Camp Convention in which he criticized the state for its handling of subsistence rights.
Kookesh was in Washington, D.C., for much of the five-day convention.
Alaska Natives own 45.5 million acres of land and should not be subject to state law because of the federal government's commitment through the ANCSA agreement, Kookesh said.
"We need to get away from the state as much as we can," he said. "They are not our friend. They've proven that time and time again. Let's make the federal government responsible and sue them if we have to."
The majority of Friday was spent discussing subsistence issues, something Grand Camp leaders said has not been a focus at the convention for a while. The delegates passed numerous resolutions at the end of the day related to subsistence and Native rights.
Kookesh said he is fervently fighting for subsistence rights and federal rights to be recognized, not just because he got cited for overfishing.
"We have to band together to get our subsistence rights back," he said. "We've lost it somewhere along the way."
Kookesh, Stanley D. Johnson, Rocky L. Estrada Sr., and Scott T. Hunter were cited for illegally harvesting 73 sockeye on July 12 in Kanalku Bay near Angoon.
There are as many as 3,000 to 5,000 citations in Alaska out there right now against people just because they were trying to subsist, Kookesh said.