Federal Judge Allows AFN to Intervene in Case Challenging Katie John

For Immediate Release

October 12, 2023

Anchorage, AK—Today, the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska granted the Alaska Federation of Natives’ motion to intervene in U.S. v. Alaska, the latest case challenging Katie John.

‘This is a welcomed ruling,’ said AFN President Julie Kitka, ‘AFN has a special place in this litigation—dating all the way back to ANCSA and ANILCA—and culminating most recently in Sturgeon. We’ll defend the legal rights of Alaska Natives to engage in subsistence hunting and fishing anytime our ways of life are threatened.’

U.S. v. Alaska began in 2021 when the State of Alaska refused to honor U.S. Fish and Wildlife subsistence management decisions on the Kuskokwim River. It escalated in 2022 when the State again, did the same.

Specifically, the State refused to abide by federal closures regarding salmon fishing along certain parts of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta based on low escapement numbers. USFWS had simultaneously permitted qualified federal subsistence users (rural Alaska residents) to participate in limited openings.

AFN expects that U.S. v. Alaska will eventually make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Whether the justices will uphold or strike down the federal subsistence priority is uncertain. What is clear at this juncture is that Alaska Natives are once again pulled into a conflict between the federal and state governments.  

“The rural priority is a necessity, not a luxury. Those of us who live in rural Alaska continue to do so because of the direct proximity to fish and wildlife,” said AFN Co-Chair Ana Hoffman. “This federal protection for rural Alaskans, secured by Alaska Native leaders decades ago, is the source of our nourishment physically, emotionally, culturally, and spiritually. This is our way of life; it is our existence.”   

Title VIII of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conversation Act provides a priority for rural Alaska residents in the taking of fish and wildlife on federal public lands in times of shortage. The Alaska State Constitution forbids such a primacy. As such, the federal government manages subsistence hunting and fishing on federal public lands and will continue to do so unless, and until, the state law comes into compliance with federal law.  

“The Alaska Native community is very diverse, but we are of one mind when it comes to protecting our way of life,” said AFN Co-Chair Joe Nelson. “Prioritizing local access to local foods is common sense.”