May 9, 2001

For Further Information Contact: Heather Kendall-Miller, (907) 276-0680

 

ALASKA NATIVE SUBSISTENCE RIGHTS UPHELD IN KATIE JOHN CASE

ANCHORAGE, AK – Katie John, an 83-year-old Ahtna elder, celebrated on Monday another major victory in her Alaska subsistence hunting and fishing rights lawsuit filed against the United States. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion in favor of protecting Alaska Native subsistence rights. The court held that "the [1995] judgment rendered by the prior panel and adopted by the district court should not be disturbed or altered by the en banc court."

This decision is one of a series started in 1991 when Katie John filed a lawsuit against the State of Alaska when her Copper River fishing site was closed to subsistence fisheries by state managers.

The case received its first favorable ruling in 1995 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals whose interim decision held that the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act's priority for subsistence use extends to fisheries in federally reserved waters-some 60% of Alaska's inland navigable waters. The U.S. Supreme Court declined review and the case went back to the Alaska federal district court for final proceedings.

In July 2000, the State of Alaska was granted rehearing by the full panel of Ninth Circuit judges following entry of final judgment in the Alaska federal district court.

NARF staff attorney Heather Kendall-Miller and co-counsel William E. Caldwell argued the case on December 20, 2000. Three of the 11 judges who heard the en banc appeal concurred and would have adopted the district court's more expansive reasoning and extended the priority for subsistence fisheries to all navigable waters in Alaska. Three other judges would have reversed the prior decision and upheld State jurisdiction over all navigable waters in the State.

John Echohawk, the Executive Director of the Native American Rights Fund, is pleased with the Ninth Circuit's decision. John said, "it states clearly in ANILCA that the federal government would step in to protect subsistence fishing as traditionally practiced by rural Alaskans." This is the impetus of NARF's involvement to see that justice is afforded the Alaska Native people.

Meanwhile, the Native American Rights Fund is celebrating the victory but preparing for the next round of litigation. The State of Alaska had 90 days to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.