Alaska News

AFN roundup: Dozens of Alaska Natives call for increased tribal management to solve subsistence shortages

The second day of the Alaska Federation of Natives 2023 convention at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage saw a series of appearances from Biden administration officials, and an extended discussion on subsistence issues.

AFN members press for more tribal representation on fish and game boards

In a hearing on subsistence, climate change and the salmon crisis, dozens of Alaska Natives from around the state told the crowd at the Alaska Federation of Natives on Friday that they’re experiencing shortages of caribou, moose and fish.

Their testimony lasted more than two hours.

Many blamed mismanagement and inequitable distribution of the catch. They said Alaska Natives need much stronger representation on the state boards of Game and Fisheries, and on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

Some speakers said their subsistence rights for hunting and fishing are under attack by the state’s argument in a case brought by the federal government, USA vs. Alaska, over subsistence management authority on a portion of the Kuskokwim River in Southwest Alaska. The battle arose amid dwindling returns of chum and king salmon.

The state argues that a longstanding federal subsistence protection for fishing, which give rural residents who are typically Alaska Native priority for salmon in times of shortage, should no longer be the law of the land. The Alaska Federation of Natives has intervened in that lawsuit, on the side of the federal government.

“Our sovereignty is being undercut by the state of Alaska,” said Faye Ewan, an elder from Copper Center in the Copper River region, in a speech that generated rounds of applause from AFN members.


Many speakers said they’re experiencing difficulty getting food while sport hunters and fishermen from other regions walk away with large catches of fish and trophy antlers.

Some speakers said caribou herd numbers have dwindled, such as the Mulchatna herd in Southwest Alaska. Residents from villages in the Copper River region said they’re struggling to find moose to hunt.

Speakers also pointed to factory trawlers targeting pollock in the Bering Sea for scooping up bycatch fish including chum salmon that are wasted.

Some speakers said salmon traditions on the Yukon River have broken down after years of anemic runs.

“There’s no more salmon culture on the Yukon,” said Charlie Wright of Rampart. “We haven’t ate fish for four years.”

Serena Fitka, executive director of the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association, said state authorities have failed to meet salmon goals on the rivers. She held up an empty Ziploc bag that she said would normally contain smoked salmon.

“Our freezers are still empty,” she said.

[Alaska Native advocates and leaders call for expanded federal subsistence protection]

Interior secretary announces plans to bolster Federal Subsistence Board

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, speaking to the Alaska Federation of Natives on Friday, said she intends to pursue a plan to improve the Federal Subsistence Board’s administrative operations to ensure that Native voices are heard in the development of regulations.

Details of the proposal should be ready before year’s end. It will include a public comment period, she said.

Haaland, who wore a sky-blue kuspuk for her speech, said her department is working closely with the departments of Justice and Agriculture to develop a proposal.

She said subsistence has economic, cultural and spiritual significance for Native communities.

“By strengthening Indigenous representation on the Federal Subsistence Board, we will preserve these important traditions, and also fully recognize tribal sovereignty and ensure the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge for future subsistence-related planning,” Haaland said. “When Indigenous communities are at the table, everyone who enjoys a subsistence lifestyle has more opportunities to thrive.”

On Sunday, Haaland will hold a meeting in Anchorage for her “Road to Healing” tour, an effort by the U.S. Interior Department to raise awareness of the problematic history and legacy of Indian boarding school policies on Indigenous communities.

Feds announce pilot program to expand tribal criminal jurisdiction

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta on Friday announced to the Alaska Federation of Natives crowd that the Department of Justice is launching a pilot program that will allow Alaska Native tribes to pursue the ability to exercise special criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian offenders for certain crimes.

Those crimes include crimes of sexual and domestic violence, which occur at disproportionately high rates in Alaska Native communities.

As part of the program, Alaska Native tribes will have the chance to access technical assistance and other resources to help create or strengthen their criminal justice systems and strengthen public safety, Gupta said in announcing the program.


The program is authorized under the 2022 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

“The launch of this pilot program marks an important step forward in the Justice Department’s public safety partnership with Alaska Native communities,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement from the Justice Department on Friday.

Garland visited Alaska in August to hear from Alaska Native entities about justice issues.

Gupta said that in Alaska this week she has met with family advocates, law enforcement, and care providers in Anchorage and Nome to discuss the acute crisis of sexual and domestic violence in rural Alaska communities.

“The program was developed in close consultation with Alaska Native tribes and tribal organizations and represents our continued commitment to helping tribal communities meet the most urgent public safety challenges they are facing,” Garland said.

Any tribe in Alaska can take part in the program. Interested tribes can contact the department by email at

Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or