Tribal groups question state’s lawsuit over pandemic hunting requests

Youth work in a dark room with light coming in from the far window. In the middle is a table with a carcass of a dear, which the youth are cutting up .
Kake Youth Conservation Corps help butcher one of five deer obtained under the emergency season. (Photo courtesy of the Organized Village of Kake)

Alaska tribal governments and organizations are asking the State of Alaska to withdraw a lawsuit filed recently in federal court. The lawsuit alleges the federal Office of Subsistence Management overstepped its authority when it granted the Organized Village of Kake a special hunting action during the pandemic. 

Richard Peterson, the President of Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, says he wasn’t surprised by the state’s lawsuit, but he was disappointed. 

“I think our state should have better things to do right now than sue its own people and communities during a time of the pandemic,” he said.

Over the summer, the federal Office of Subsistence Management granted Kake’s request. The community was able to harvest up to two moose and five male Sitka black-tailed deer. But the Alaska Department of Fish & Game Commissioner didn’t think that was warranted. A state emergency command unit deemed there wasn’t a food security issue. However, Kake’s Tribal President maintained it wasn’t just about food scarcity. It was about the health of village Elders and having access to culturally nourishing food during the pandemic. 

The joint-statement issued by President Peterson and other tribal leaders calls the state’s lawsuit “a disgraceful continuation of outdated, exclusionary, racist management practices.” 

“They should be working with us,” Peterson said. “They should’ve been applauding a community, a tribe providing for a community during this time.”

In an emailed statement, the Alaska Fish & Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang said, “The State of Alaska is not opposed to the indigenous way of life of native Alaskans.” The agency will continue to pursue the lawsuit because they believe recent decisions are illegal under federal policy.

According to the federal Office of Subsistence Management, 12 special action hunting or fishing requests have been made across Alaska since the start of the pandemic. 

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