by Andrew Guy
This is a letter to Governor Dunleavy from the Calista Corporation dated August 26, 2020.
Dear Governor Dunleavy:
On August 10, the State of Alaska filed suit against the Federal Subsistence Board (FSB) seeking an order barring the FSB from closing federal lands to non-federally qualified hunters and from allowing certain special hunts for Alaska Native Tribes in need. The Calista Corporation writes to you to express our profound disappointment and frustration with the State’s decision to file this misguided lawsuit.
In April, during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the FSB authorized local federal field managers to open federal lands in their respective jurisdictions to fishing and hunting to safeguard communities from experiencing food insecurities. The authority to open lands by emergency order or temporary regulation came at the request of Alaska Native rural and remote tribal villages that were critically impacted by food shortages resulting from supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic. The special hunts that were authorized were in rural, remote locations populated primarily by Alaska Native residents.
Only a small fraction, under 2%, of the fish and game take in Alaska is for subsistence purposes. It is unreasonable to believe that opening a limited remote hunt to prevent a small isolated Alaska Tribe from experiencing food shortages during a global pandemic could in any way threaten the health and sustainability of fish and game harvests or jeopardize the state’s subsistence management regime.
The federal government’s trust relationship and fiduciary obligations to Alaska Native Tribes, as a political class, are well settled federal law and policy. As you know, the legislative history of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) is clear that Congress intended the Department of Interior and the State of Alaska to “take any action necessary to protect the subsistence needs of the Natives.” (1) While the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), failed, in express terms, to acknowledge the hunting and fishing rights of Alaska Natives, neither ANCSA nor ANILCA diminished any obligation of the United States or the State of Alaska to protect and promote the rights and welfare of Alaska Native people. Your Administration may need to be reminded that the law states the opportunity for subsistence is essential to Native physical, economic, traditional, and cultural existence. It is well within the scope of federal authority, as delegated to agencies by Congress, to allow flexibility in federal subsistence regulation as it pertains to ensuring food security for Native people during a critical public health crisis such as the situation we face with COVID-19.
With shortages of buildings to quarantine COVID patients, shortages of food and other merchandise needed for subsistence activities on store shelves, often non-existent water and sewer infrastructure, roadless communities with restricted travel and limited postal service, compounded by inadequate village healthcare facilities and few health providers, it is clear that our rural tribal communities are the most vulnerable populations in Alaska, just as they were during the last major pandemic.
Now is a time for the people of Alaska to come together and for our elected leaders to support our citizens, especially the most vulnerable. Commencing a meritless lawsuit that will strain relations and cause potential harm to already vulnerable Alaskan populations does exactly the opposite. Suing the FSB is short-sighted and does nothing but cause further divide and waste taxpayer money. The State should instead be at the forefront to restore the hunting and fishing rights of its Native and rural residents.
Calista respectfully requests that your Administration immediately drop its meritless court challenge to the FSB’s decision to allow special limited hunts by tribal citizens who are in need. We look forward to communicating to our more than 32,000 shareholders that your Administration has done the right thing in dropping this suit and recognizes and supports the deep connection Alaska Native people have to our lands, traditional cultures, and subsistence ways of life.
Andrew Guy is the President & CEO for the Calista Corporation.
(1) S.Rep. No. 581, 92nd Cong., 1st Session 37 (1971).