The state's largest Alaska Native organization will consider a slew of proposals on hunting and fishing rights this week in Anchorage, including a plan that would allow Native elders to fish for food when and wherever they want.
That proposal, authored by the Bethel-based Association of Village Council Presidents, is among 43 resolutions to be considered as the Alaska Federation of Natives convention resumes Friday.
Each year, AFN delegates vote on dozens of resolutions meant to signal the collective political will of Alaska's Native people. Villagers from across the state are reviewing proposals to expand low-cost Internet access in the Bush, demand more federal funding and launch term-limits for AFN leaders. A vote is planned for Saturday afternoon.
Criminal charges and illegal fishing citations levied against Lower Kuskokwim River subsistence fishermen in June are the talk of the convention.
"This was a tough year, especially for king salmon runs," Gov. Sean Parnell told a crowd of hundreds Thursday morning. "I've been very concerned about how some of you, how some of our neighbors, how many Alaskans are going to struggle through this winter."
Parnell said the state was pursuing federal disaster funding for communities hammered by low salmon runs and urged convention-goers to attend a symposium next week on the science of king salmon returns.
After the governor's speech, AVCP President Myron Naneng said he urged Parnell to drop all charges against the Kuskokwim River subsistence fishermen.
Facing fines and in some case criminal misdemeanors, more than 20 of the defendants have refused to plead guilty. Some said in interviews that they fished in protest of the summer ban on king salmon fishing, believing it to be unfair to village families.
"We're going to keep the court system busy," Naneng said he told the governor.
U.S. Rep. Don Young told the crowd that representatives of Yukon River villages ought to be the ones who manage king salmon on that river. "You're the only one that loses anything" when the salmon returns are low, Young said.
"Whatever you do when it comes to subsistence, don't say, 'Well, let the federal government do it,' " he told the crowd. "You'll lose all your rights. If you want to manage game, ask to manage it on your own lands."
AFN resolutions are non-binding. As an expression of the convention, they generally call for action or policy changes on the part of the state or federal government. Other proposals on hunting and fishing rights being considered by convention delegates this week would:
• Amend the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act to exempt elders from subsistence fishing bans. The rule would apply to members of federally recognized tribes who are 65 years old and older. Fishing closures make Alaska Native elders depressed, violate their aboriginal rights and even put their lives at risk, Naneng's association argued in the proposal.
• Urge Alaska Natives to vote in favor of convening a constitutional convention on the Nov. 6 ballot. This resolution, proposed by the AFN board, is aimed at amending the state constitution to provide a fishing and hunting priority for Alaska Natives and expand the number of state legislators to ensure more Natives and rural Alaskans win seats in Juneau.
• Call for Congressional oversight hearings on Alaska Native hunting and fishing rights.
• Revise the U.S.-Canada salmon treaty that ensures a minimum number of kings make it up the Yukon River and reach spawning grounds in Canada.
• Urge the state to pay for research on "disastrously declining salmon stocks."
Yet another resolution at this year's AFN convention strikes at long-simmering tension over how the federation is organized and who holds the power.
A proposal submitted by Glennallen-based Ahtna Inc. calls for two-year term limits for AFN co-chairs. It follows a resolution passed in 2009 that sought a reorganization of the federation by 2011.
In September, regional corporation Doyon Limited posted an item on its company Facebook page saying it and other organizations might withhold their AFN dues if the calls to restructure the federation were not addressed, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported at the time. The Facebook post was later deleted, the newspaper said.
In his convention speech, Young urged AFN delegates to keep infighting private.
"Stay together. ... That's what got the Alaska Native land claims passed," Young said. "If you have a problem, don't go public, work it out."
Bernice Joseph, Vice Chancellor for Rural, Community and Native Education at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, won the AFN Citizen of the Year award Thursday. Joseph is originally from Nulato, said federation co-chairman Al Kookesh.
Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, a retiring Democrat who is a featured speaker at this year's convention, won the Denali award for service to Alaska by a non-Alaska Native. (Akaka is a Hawaiian Native.) Gov. Parnell awarded Mary Jane Fate, an Athabascan born in Rampart, with the Shirley Demientieff Award for advocacy on behalf of Alaska Native women and children.
By KYLE HOPKINS