What’s happening with subsistence law in Alaska?

Waqaa friends and relatives –

Jackie or Arnaciar here with a quick update on a piece of legislation in our state that would drastically impact our traditional ways of life, also known as subsistence. But first a quick history:

In 1959, when Alaska became a state, sections of the Statehood Act affirmed that Alaska Natives have a right to traditional ways of life subsistence practice. The state was tasked with addressing Alaska Native land and resource access at a later date. The state received 120 million acres of land that were to be unoccupied. They were occupied. Later, in 1971, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) was passed to settle the conflicts of claims. ANCSA created 12 (later 13) regional corporations that were given surface and subsurface rights and extinguished any aboriginal rights for subsistence. In 1980, Congress recognized the need to act on rural subsistence and preservation of lands and created rural subsistence priority in Title VIII of ANILCA.

A quick glance at some dates (with a disclosure that there are many more and other lawsuits, but these are some highlights):

1959: Alaska became a state within the United States; traditional ways of life must be upheld for Alaska Natives
1971: The federal government passes ANCSA to settle the land claims dispute between the state and Alaska Natives
1978: State subsistence law creates a priority for subsistence over all other fish and wildlife uses but extends to all Alaskans
1980: The federal government passes ANILCA to address subsistence rights not addressed in ANCSA
1982: The state adopts regulations creating a rural subsistence preference in compliance with ANILCA 1989: The Alaska Supreme Court rules that rural priority violates the constitution
1990: The federal government begins managing subsistence hunting, trapping, and fishing on Alaska’s federal public lands with the creation of the Federal Subsistence Board or FSB
1992: Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) are created

All of this history, legislation, and the eventual lawsuits created the dual management system that exists today. The Federal Subsistence Board manages and upholds rural subsistence priority on federal lands, and the state manages state lands but does not provide for rural subsistence priority.

House Joint Resolution 22
Now, in 2024, there is a bill currently in the House Resources Committee that would drastically change how our traditional ways of life or subsistence is managed in the state. HJR 22 would end the dual management system, and the state would take over management of all subsistence management on lands in Alaska. What this looks like in reality: no more Regional Advisory Councils or Federal Subsistence Board – bodies and infrastructure that has been built up over the last 34 years. The FSB and RACs are comprised of public members, and rural subsistence users with no commercial or industry members on the board.

If HJR22 passes, this is a HUGE change and we at NPA do not support the resolution in its current form. We are following the legislation closely and would like the legislature to take its time when considering measures that overhaul management systems that uphold access to our ways of life. Every single word in the resolution counts and there are still outstanding questions. For example, in the current draft of the bill, the word “may” is used instead of “is” to create a rural subsistence priority. How will the state take over managing such a complex system without the infrastructure of the Regional Advisory Councils, the Federal Subsistence Board, the Federal Register, the Department of Interior, and no state subsistence division?

This piece of legislation still has a long process. It is currently in its first committee of referral, the House Resources Committee, and has to go to the House Judiciary Committee, then pass the House. It would then follow the same process in the Senate, then continue to the governor, and finally, a vote of the people on a ballot.

In light of all of the attention to this, NPA is hosting a series of webinars diving deeper into these management bodies and history. Yesterday, we heard from Heather Kendall-Miller, who gave an overview of subsistence history you can view the recording here.


This Friday, Heather Bauscher will talk about the Federal Subsistence Board and their process. You can sign up for that webinar here.

Be sure to keep an eye out for more special newsletters!

Quyana/Thank you,
Jackie Arnaciar Boyer

Gunalchéesh/Háw’aa/Quyana/Mahsi’/Baassee’/Maasee’/Dogedinh/Thank you,
Native Peoples Action & Native Peoples Action Community Fund Team

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