A recent web article is worthy of some review and discussion in regards to Governor Palin’s “Record on Alaska Native and Tribal Issues”. It is good when substantive policy issues are referenced in the discussion of Palin. A lot of people are unaware of the importance of indigenous issues in Alaska. In the 2000 Census, 15.6% of the Alaska population listed themselves as Alaskan native or American Indian. “While over 40% of the residents live in the largest city of Anchorage, most of the rest of the state is sparsely populated or uninhabited with communities separated by vast distances. 52.3% of the state population lives in frontier areas.” This makes for a significant percentage of the population in rural regions. There are also well-established tribal governments in Alaska. “There are 562 tribal governments in the United States with 225 of them located in Alaska,” explains Paul G. Moorhead, a Federal Indian law and policy attorney with the Indian Tribal Governments Practice Group at Gardner, Carton & Douglas in Washington, D.C.”
The most significant act in recent history that impacted indigenous and Native Alaskan peoples was “in 1971, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was signed into law by the U.S. President, under which the Natives relinquished aboriginal claims to their lands. In return, they received access to 44 million acres (180,000 km²) of land and were paid $963 million. The land and money were divided among regional, urban, and village corporations.”
Criticism from a former Chief of the Neetsaii Gwich’in tribe from Arctic Village, Alaska and the current Executive Director of Native Movement points out: “The same piece of unilateral federal legislation, known as the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971, that extinguished our hunting and fishing rights, also extinguished all federal Alaska Native land claims and my Tribe’s reservation status. In the continental United States, this sort of legislation is referred to as ‘termination legislation’ because it takes the rights of self-government away from Tribes.”
In the article the former Chief stated: “Governor Palin maintains that tribes were federally recognized but that they do not have the same rights as the tribes in the continental United States to sovereignty and self-governance, even to the extent of legally challenging our Tribes rights pursuant to the Indian Child Welfare Act.” Given the Federal interface required for indigenous claims it should be said that the state’s role in determining policies is strictly defined by litigation and federal statute. Much of the jurisdiction over subsistence hunting and fishing rights within Alaska has been federalized. “The secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior are legally bound to manage fish and wildlife for the rural subsistence priority on federal land and water because the State of Alaska is not able to do so under the provisions of the [Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act] ANILCA.” This is the substance of the court decision of May 2007 referred to in the article SARAH PALIN’S RECORD ON ALASKA NATIVE AND TRIBAL ISSUES .
A more comprehensive examination of the subsistence policy is available. This history indicates that the ongoing dispute is one in which a resolution has not yet been found in the courts or in the state legislature. As a result of the Katie John case a declaration was issued that ". . . subsistence is integral to the lives and essential to the survival of Alaska Native peoples and communities. The subsistence way of life for Alaska Natives and rural Alaskans is a unique and important Alaska value that must be protected by our state government. The Legislature shall adopt a constitutional amendment guaranteeing a rural subsistence priority for use of Alaska's fish and game resources." There has been no such adoption of a state Constitutional amendment to date.
This keeps the issue alive in state and Federal courts. Gov. Palin has NOT sought to pass a state Constitutional amendment that would address the matter of rural subsistence rights and is working in opposition to the efforts of most Alaskans to resolve it in this way. She stands isolated in this regard. “Prior to 2002, three governors, the Alaska congressional delegation, and a majority of State legislators supported a state constitutional amendment to resolve the conflict. “Although a majority of Alaskan citizens also appeared to support amending the constitution to allow for a rural priority for subsistence, this amendment was not able to achieve the required two-thirds majority in both houses of the state legislature and was not passed. No legislative or judicial solution is expected in the foreseeable future that would allow the State of Alaska to comply with ANILCA provisions and to manage subsistence hunting and fishing on federal public lands and waters.”
Even the majority of the court in the Katie John case declared: “If we were to adopt Katie John's position, that public lands include all navigable waters, we would give federal agencies control over all such waters in Alaska. ANILCA does not support such a complete assertion of federal control and the federal agencies do not ask to have that control. The issue raised by the parties cries out for a legislative, not a judicial, solution. If the Alaska Legislature were to amend the state constitution or otherwise comply with ANILCA's rural subsistence priority, the state could resume management of subsistence uses on public lands including navigable waters. Neither the heavy administrative burden nor the complicated regulatory scheme that may result from our decision would be necessary. If Congress were to amend ANILCA, it could clarify both the definition of public lands and its intent. Only legislative action by Alaska or Congress will truly resolve the problem.”
In fact, a website, addressing candidate policy positions, quotes specifically indicates Governor Palin’s opposition to just such a Constitutional amendment. This makes her MORE than just an observer on this matter. “Palin opposes a constitutional amendment, saying equality provisions should not be tampered with. She says the state should work toward another resolution that protects subsistence for those who need it most.” Alaskan Republicans have consistently opposed an amendment. Opposition to a state Constitutional amendment is also the position taken by the Alaskan Independence Party that sought to negate aboriginal rights in Alaska at its 2000 state convention in Wasilla, Governor Palin’s hometown.
In 2008, Governor Palin sent an official video welcome to the state convention of the Alaskan Independence Party. The article SARAH PALIN’S RECORD ON ALASKA NATIVE AND TRIBAL ISSUES presents the case that only Governor Palin stands between subsistence rights and indigenous peoples. “Palin continues to argue in the litigation that the federal subsistence protections are too broad, and should be narrowed to exclude vast areas from subsistence fishing”.
The fact is that there is a general recognition that the Federal jurisdiction in Alaska greatly exceeds its reach. In addition to the view of the Court of Appeals expressed above in the majority opinion, the dissenting opinion of the Court of Appeals in the Katie John case indicated a concern regarding the Federal authority in Alaska: “I do not think it is for us to decide, on the basis of these two factors, that Congress intended "interest" to be defined so broadly so as to bring all of Alaska's navigable waters under ANILCA. Such a drastic change in the amount of control exercised by the federal government over all navigable waters in Alaska can only come from Congress.” Judge Hall dissenting.
Governor Palin supports oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). “Caribou from the Porcupine Herd, for which the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge is critically-important habitat, is the key subsistence food resource for the Gwich’in Nation. There are about nine thousand Gwich’in people who live in fifteen small villages along the migration route of the Porcupine Caribou Herd in Northern Alaska and Canada… Since the beginnings of the political battle over the biological heart of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Gwich’in people have spoke in a unified voice in opposition to drilling on the Coastal Plain.”
“ANWR is 19.5 million acre refuge in the northeastern Alaska. Within those borders, there is a 1.5 million acre section called “1002.” …It is the lands within the 1002 area that would be opened for exploration and drilling. The Native-owned Arctic Slope Regional Corporation owns 92,000 acres of subsurface land and the Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation, also Native-owned, owns 92,000 surface acres of land within the 1002 area.” Many Inupiat people, perhaps a majority, who live in this region support oil drilling. Their view is expressed by former Mayor Benjamin P. Nageak: “ANWR holds resources that can be extracted safely with care and concern for the entire eco-system it encompasses. The Inupiat people, working through the North Slope Borough, will act in the same careful, caring and cautious manner we always have when dealing with our lands and the seas.”
“The Inupiat from Point Hope, Alaska recently passed resolutions recognizing that drilling in ANWR would allow resource exploitation in other wilderness areas. The Inupiat, Gwitch'in, and other tribes are calling for sustainable energy practices and policies. The Tanana Chiefs Conference representing 42 Alaska Native villages from 37 tribes oppose drilling, as do at least 90 Native American tribes. The National Congress of American Indians representing 250 tribes and the Native American Rights Fund as well as some Canadian tribes and International Tribal Organiza-tions also oppose drilling in the 1002 area.”
In reviewing the feedback of Native Americans on the nomination of Sarah Palin, there has been a diversity of views expressed. INDIAN COUNTRY TODAY reported differing opinions regarding Gov. Palin’s policies and actions as Governor. The article contains various statements by Gov. Palin and various people in the state of Alaska reviewing her positions. The article states: “Despite strong Indian support at the convention, Palin has drawn concern from some Alaska Natives, especially on issues surrounding an initiative to stop development of the Pebble Mine adjacent to the Bristol Bay fishing grounds, which is a prime area for both commercial and subsistence salmon fishing.”
“Pebble Mine is not just a mine. It is to be the world’s largest open pit mine, situated immediately up-gradient of this renowned, salmon fishery that bolsters a $300 million economy on its renewable resource, and has been the livelihood and lifeblood of thousands of native Alaskans for centuries, and still is today.” “Northern Dynasty and its partners [mining giants Rio Tinto and Anglo American based in London- MZ] are continuing with efforts to assess the size of the deposits of copper, gold, and molybdenum. “The proposed Pebble Mine, which would be the first of many, would include the largest dam in the world, larger than Three Gorges Dam in China, and made of earth not concrete, to hold back the toxic waste created in the mining process.” Opposition has come from the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council.
“[Supporters of the mine- MZ] have been greatly helped by Gov. Sarah Palin — the Republican candidate for vice president — who, despite a constitutional ban [I have not found anything in reading through Alaska’s state constitution to confirm this- MZ] on state officials becoming involved in ballot initiatives, publicly expressed her “personal” opposition to the measure. Many say the popular governor’s stance was decisive. Before her comments, polls suggested that citizens supported the referendum. Afterward — and following the use of her picture in advertisements opposing the tough mining initiative — the measure was voted down on Aug. 26, with 57 percent against and 43 percent in favor.” See http://www.ktuu.com/Global/story.asp?S=8885438
Recently forces opposed to the Pebble Mine responded to the NO vote in the state referendum. In an Opinion piece by Verner Wilson in the Bristol Bay Times, Governor Palin and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (Department of Natural Resources) were criticized for their role in defeating Ballot Measure 4, the Clean Water Initiative. “Before meddling in our livelihoods again with their powerful and inappropriate remarks, I hope Palin and DNR heed the facts that show the very poor and disturbing environmental compliance records and relationships that Anglo- American and Rio Tinto have or have had with indigenous peoples in the United States and around the world with many of their mines. I also urge Alaska leaders and anyone who voted “no” on Ballot Measure 4 to read a scientific article that shows Alaska does not have the capacity and proper regulations to protect drinking water and wild salmon from a large mine like Pebble, found at http://www.fish4thefuture.com/pdfs/ALR25P1.pdf .” Local opposition in the Bristol Bay mine region ranges from 70-80%.
On another issue impacting resource management, in February Governor Palin issued an Executive Order to transfer biologists from the Department of Natural Resources to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “Some of Pebble project's biggest opponents in the Bristol Bay region recently began collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to force the state to return the biologists to Fish and Game -- an initiative that now may be moot. One of its sponsors, Bobby Andrew of Dillingham, said he is grateful to Palin for her decision but he will wait to see her executive order before deciding how to proceed.”
This step by Governor Palin stands on the record as an action by the Executive of the state that was supportive of concerns for ecological preservation. “Five years ago, [then Governor- MZ] Murkowski ordered the transfer of the habitat biologists to DNR -- which issues development permits -- claiming they had thrown up too many barriers to industrial projects such as logging and dam-building. Murkowski's decision prompted an outcry from five former Fish and Game commissioners, Democratic legislators and environmental groups, who said putting the biologists in the state's development agency violated the balance between resource protection and development.” There is no question of Governor Palin’s familial ties and her personal lifestyle. An article in INDIAN COUNTRY TODAY addresses Governor Palin’s personal views as the wife of a man who is mixed blood Yup’ik. “Palin has talked positively of her husband and children's heritage in the past. When running for governor in October 2006, she wrote a letter addressed to rural voters, saying she ''so very much appreciates Alaska's First People, their proud heritage and diverse cultures so abundant in the communities throughout our state.'' The article continues: ''I personally feel the language, stories, and traditions of Alaska Native cultures are a national treasure to be nourished and held close to our hearts,'' Palin added. ''It is our rural lifestyle and diverse cultural heritage that distinguishes Alaska from the rest of the world and makes it our wonderful home.''
The article SARAH PALIN’S RECORD ON ALASKA NATIVE AND TRIBAL ISSUES inquires as to the propriety of Governor Palin appointing an outside counsel for “Once in office, Governor Palin decided to continue litigation that seeks to overturn every subsistence fishing determination the federal government has ever made in Alaska. (State of Alaska v. Norton, 3:05-cv-0158-HRH (D. Ak).) In pressing this case, Palin decided against using the Attorney General (which usually handles State litigation) and instead continued contracting with Senator Ted Stevens' brother-in-law's law firm (Birch, Horton, Bittner & Cherot).” It is difficult to point to the role of the Governor in NOT assigning a case to the state Attorney General as evidence of corruption by itself, as alleged in , unless the case is made before a court. It is worth asking why this decision was made and why it was felt inappropriate for the State Attorney General to litigate the case. The case referenced in the article above in the article SARAH PALIN’S RECORD ON ALASKA NATIVE AND TRIBAL ISSUES regarding the use of the Yu’pik language on ballots was decided in a court case in which it was decided: “A Federal Judge has ruled that Yup’ik is not an historically written language. The ruling resulted from a lawsuit brought on by Yup’ik elders and tribes against the State of Alaska and the City of Bethel. The ruling by Judge Timothy Burgess did limit the kind of language assistance the state is required to provide.” The ruling did establish means for poll workers to increase ballot access for Native Yu’pik speakers.
An article in an Alaskan newspaper reported: “A federal judge in the suit ruled plaintiffs would suffer immediate and irreparable injury,” if not provided assistance to fulfill their right to vote in primary elections. He ordered the state on July 29 to remedy the situation in time for the primaries. The requirements included the placement of Yup’ik-English bilingual poll workers in every polling place with a significant number of Yup’ik voters – large portions of Western Alaska which are historically Yup’ik lands – and a standardized written Yup’ik translation of the ballots for poll workers to read aloud.
In testimony before the court, the state counsel for Alaska in July 2008 argued “the state of Alaska recently hired a Yup’ik translator to coordinate statewide assistance to Yup’ik speaking voters and that it now plans to provide a translator in all 38 voting precincts in the Bethel census area in time for the primary and general elections.”
The Bethel lawsuit was filed by the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) on behalf of four traditional elders and four tribal councils representing 1,000 people. The area affected was characterized by a NARF attorney, who represented the plaintiffs, as being one of only three census areas in the US which is not a majority English or Spanish-speaking area. Sixty-eight percent of the population speaks Yu’pik at home. There is an illiteracy rate of 21% and 89% of those over 55 have no high school diploma. The decision could also impact on Inupiaq speaking peoples in the Arctic Circle of Alaska. The report summarizing the state’s steps to provide support for Yu’pik speakers at the polling places for the primary election will be submitted to the court on September 26.
Some of the matters raised are still undetermined because of the failures of previous state legislatures and Governors in Alaska, as well as Governor Palin’s positions. Nothing in her record indicates that she will support indigenous subsistence rights in Alaska. The subsistence issues that remain unresolved present her with the opportunity to act decisively and affirmatively for Alaska’s future. The dependence of many in Alaska on hunting and fishing for subsistence and food supplies for the year are distinct characteristics of 60% of the state’s population that are NOT familiar to many in the lower 48. There appears to be a particular disregard by Governor Palin on defending the particular subsistence rights of indigenous peoples in Alaska that are protected under Federal law.
There are clearly constitutional and legal issues in Alaska that have yet to be addressed to the satisfaction of Native Alaskans and tribal peoples of Alaska. Clearly, Governor Palin has opposed any action that supports a state Constitutional amendment on rural and subsistence hunting. The state of Alaska will present a report to the U.S. District Court regarding the implementation of the court’s decision requiring assistance to Yu’pik speaking voters in the primary election. Governor Palin not only supports oil drilling in ANWR to increase the economic growth of Alaska, but looks to changing Senator McCain’s views on it as well. Governor Palin is on record denying that global warming is human caused. As global warming increasingly impacts on the Arctic icepack and the survival of polar bears, Governor Palin has opposed including the polar bear on the list of endangered species.
In elections, everyone makes choices regarding what’s important to them. Candidates are often chosen by their actions in one particular area, while other shortcomings are disregarded. There are NO issues in which there are NOT disagreements within communities, ethnic groups, states and nations. Some decide it is sufficient to vote for a candidate if a person is supportive of Second Amendment rights. Many prioritize land use and management issues in their decision. Others see ecological preservation as a significant consideration. And still others see tribal sovereignty as the singular issue. Governor Palin has taken action that has NOT furthered the rights of subsistence hunters or Native Alaskans. She has taken actions that could potentially damage the preservation of Bristol Bay and could endanger salmon hatcheries and wildlife in the region. She continues to feel compelled to give away Alaskan land rights to outside corporate interests in the ANWR.
Much has been made about how Alaska is simply a wilderness crying out for exploitation. This is reminiscent of the attitude in Brazil towards the interior rainforests. One should take note of the deforestation, forced displacements of indigenous peoples and the threats to native species that accompanied Brazil’s growth strategy before one looks to duplicate it in Alaska. Governor Palin has NOT shown herself up to the task of Governor and has failed to focus on defending Alaska’s natural resources, preserving its unique environment or protecting and enhancing the democratic rights of Native Alaskans. Most of the problems have NOT been of her making, but neither has she demonstrated the ability to “think outside the box” of the powerful economic interests seeking to come into the state for their own short-term profits. -->