(Thanks to Suzan Harjo for this. She says,"I had a very tiny hand in it, but it's best to say that it was written by Alaska Native people. I did fact-checking and cite-checking, and can verify its accuracy.")
1. Palin has attacked Alaska Native Subsistence Fishing
Perhaps no issue is of greater importance to Alaska Native peoples as the right to hunt
and fish according to ancient customary and traditional practices, and to carry on the subsistence
way of life for future generations.
Governor Sarah Palin has consistently opposed those rights.
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 &
The goal of Palin’s law suit is to invalidate all the subsistence fishing regulations the
federal government has issued to date to protect Native fishing, and to force the courts instead to
take over the roll of setting subsistence regulations. Palin’s law suit seeks to diminish
subsistence fishing rights in order to expand sport and commercial fishing.
In May 2007, the federal court rejected the State’s main challenge, holding that Congress
in 1980 had expressly granted the U.S. Interior and Agriculture Departments the authority to
regulate and protect Native and rural subsistence fishing activities in Alaska. (Decision entered
May 15, 2007 (Dkt. No. 110).)
Notwithstanding this ruling, 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, in favor of sport and commercial fishing. Palin opposes subsistence
protections in marine waters, on many of the lands that Natives selected under their 1971 land
claims settlement with the state and federal governments, and in many of the rivers where Alaska
Natives customarily fish. (Alaska Complaint at 15-18.) Palin also opposes subsistence fishing
protections on Alaska Native federal allotments that were deeded to individuals purposely to
foster Native subsistence activities. All these issues are now pending before the federal district
2. Palin has attacked Alaska Native Subsistence Hunting
Palin has also sought to invalidate critical determinations the Federal Subsistence Board
has made regarding customary and traditional uses of game, specifically to take hunting
opportunities away from Native subsistence villagers and thereby enhance sport hunting.
Palin’s attack here on subsistence has focused on the Ahtna Indian people in Chistochina.
Although the federal district court has rejected Palin’s challenge, she has carried on an appeal
that was argued in August 2008. (State of Alaska v. Fleagle, No. 07-35723 (9th Cir.).)
In both hunting and fishing matters, Palin has continued uninterrupted the policies
initiated by the former Governor Frank Murkowski Administration, challenging hunting and
fishing protections that Native people depend upon for their subsistence way of life in order to
enhance sport fishing and hunting opportunities. Palin’s lawsuits are a direct attack on the core
way of life of Native Tribes in rural Alaska.
3. Palin has attacked Alaska Tribal Sovereignty
Governor Palin opposes Alaska tribal sovereignty.
Given past court rulings affirming the federally recognized tribal status of Alaska Native
villages, Palin does not technically challenge that status. But Palin argues that Alaska Tribes
have no authority to act as sovereigns, despite their recognition.
So extreme is Palin on tribal sovereignty issues that she has sought to block tribes from
exercising any authority whatsoever even over the welfare of Native children, adhering to a 2004
legal opinion issued by the former Murkowski Administration that no such jurisdiction exists
(except when a state court transfers a matter to a tribal court).
Both the state courts and the federal courts have struck down Palin’s policy of refusing to
recognize the sovereign authority of Alaska Tribes to address issues involving Alaska Native
children. Native Village of Tanana v. State of Alaska, 3AN-04-12194 CI (judgment entered
Aug. 26, 2008) (Ak. Super. Ct.); Native Kaltag Tribal Council v. DHHS, No. 3:06-cv-00211-
TMB (D. Ak.), pending on appeal No 08-35343 (9th Cir.)). Nonetheless, Palin’s policy of
refusing to recognize Alaska tribal sovereignty remains unchanged.
4. Palin has attacked Alaska Native Languages
Palin has refused to accord proper respect to Alaska Native languages and voters by
refusing to provide language assistance to Yup'ik speaking Alaska Native voters. As a result,
Palin was just ordered by a special three-judge panel of federal judges to provide various forms
of voter assistance to Yup'ik voters residing in southwest Alaska. Nick v. Bethel, No. 3:07-cv-
0098-TMB (D. Ak.) (Order entered July 30, 2008). Citing years of State neglect, Palin was
ordered to provide trained poll workers who are bilingual in English and Yup'ik; sample ballots
in written Yup'ik; a written Yup'ik glossary of election terms; consultation with local Tribes to
ensure the accuracy of Yup'ik translations; a Yup'ik language coordinator; and pre-election and
post-election reports to the court to track the State's efforts.
In sum, measured against some the rights that are most fundamental to Alaska Native Tribes –
the subsistence way of life, tribal sovereignty and voting rights – Palin’s record is a failure.