Should Alaska Native elders be exempt from fishing bans?

Kyle Hopkins

The state's largest Alaska Native organization will consider a slew of hunting-and-fishing related proposals 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 at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention that resumes Thursday.

Each year, AFN delegates vote on dozens of resolutions meant to signal the collective will of Alaska’s Native people. Villagers from across the state today are reviewing proposals to expand hunting and fishing rights, demand more federal funding and launch term-limits for AFN leaders. A vote on the resolutions 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 this morning. “I’ve been very concerned about how some of you, how some of our neighbors, how many Alaskans are going to struggle 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 Parnell finished his speech, AVCP President Myron Naneng said he urged the governor to drop all charges against the Kuskokwim River subsistence fishermen.

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.

Rep. Don Young told the crowd that Yukon River villages ought to be the ones who manage kings salmon on that river. “You’re the only one that loses anything” when the salmon runs 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.”

Several of the draft proposals to be voted on by AFN delegates would renew requests to overhaul state and federal subsistence oversight.

Fishing bans make Alaska Native elders depressed, violate their aboriginal rights and even put their lives at risk, Naneng's association argued in one proposal. “These elders from the federally recognized tribes heavily depend on salmon resources to feed their families," AVCP says.

AFN resolutions are non-binding, meaning they do not automatically change laws or government policies. Other proposals on hunting and fishing rights being considered by convention delegates this week would:

-- Pursue federal funding for disaster declarations in areas hit by king salmon shortages such as the Kuskokwim River, Cook Inlet and Kodiak.

-- Call for Congressional oversight hearings on Alaska Native hunting and fishing rights

-- Revise the U.S.-Canada salmon treaty the 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.”

By Kyle Hopkins
Anchorage Daily News
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