11 NOVEMBER 1977
on Government Relations
to the 1977 AFN Convention, Anchorage
The relationship between the United States, the State of Alaska and Local government in rural Alaska must be understood now in the light of the failure of the United States to file an objection to the International Whaling Commission bowhead subsistence whaling moratorium. This failure betrayed all Americans, not just Native Americans, not just Inupiat. What’s happening here is that the Carter Administration, applying rigid standards of ethnic purity, and upheld by the Federal appeals courts through to the Supreme Court, failed to repudiate an illegal conspiracy within the Department of Commerce to use international intrigue to violate the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens.
Well, I use the word “conspiracy” with reservation. Stupidity resembles conspiracy, and the common theme throughout the bowhead whaling crisis has been the total ignorance of the facts on the part of the government about either the bowhead whale or its legal trust responsibilities to protect our Inupiat whaling rights. The notable exception to this was the strong support we received from both Assistant Secretary Forrest Gerard, under Secretary Joseph and Secretary Andrus of Interior. that the Secretary of Interior’s advice in this matter was not followed by President Carter should bother all of us.
However, I believe our Federal government is still committed to meeting our nation’s Native trust responsibilities. I am inclined to view the bowhead controversy as undetected leftover politics from the Nixon administration, coupled with the political honeymoon between President Carter and the Washington, D.C. conservationist lobby. You will recall that this same lobby goaded the government to try to enforce the spring hunting ban on migratory birds during the honeymoon months of the Kennedy administration in 1960. The conservationist lobby learned a great deal from this failure to stop us from hunting ducks and geese, and we have learned that the negotiations to ban our whaling were begun as long as seven years ago, in 1970. For seven years, in violation of the law, both the Departments of Commerce and State negotiated away the rights of U.S. citizens along Alaska’s Arctic coast.
And, while this was going on, State game biologists worked hard to ban our caribou hunting, in much the same way as the Department of Commerce used the International Whaling Commission, building a case based upon the same false lore of wasteful hunting practices that were used to justify going to war against Native Americans in the early Colonial days. The process begins by making us poachers on our own land, and then policemen and game wardens behave toward us as poachers.
And, indeed, the drought in the West and the industrial depression in the East have contributed toward a general kind of surliness toward Native entitlement that contributed to the bowhead ban. There can be no denying that difficult times are ahead. We will have to work hard just to keep what we have won. But, we will win this fight, and our Native land claims movement will grow in international respect and esteem and will have great moral influence in the United States.
Last week, Jacob Adams, Arnold Brower and I met in the White House with Vice President Mondale, Secretary Andrus and Under Secretary Joseph. We agreed that the government would do what it can to get itself out of trouble with the International Whaling Commission. This means Federal recognition of Native offshore jurisdiction in endangered species management. This is an important concession to the development of the doctrine of aboriginal offshore jurisdiction as a necessary aboriginal subsistence hunting right. This right exists because of the migratory nature of the water fowl, sea mammals and caribou upon which we subsist.
Before all else, we were migratory people and, to a great extent, we still are. We are the experts when it comes to migratory species, and this expertise is conceded and recognized with the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission. Like the North Pacific Fisheries Commission, the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission will be seen as an important political development in Native local subsistence self-regulation and game management throughout rural Alaska.
Tied together with subsistence management is the entire D-2 issue. We must stop the nonsense of allowing Washington, D.C. bureaucrats to break up our land into a bunch of little Federal territories. HR 39 is a step backwards into the tyranny of territorial administration. All of the D-2 legislation lacks any sign of recognition of our traditional regional administration of the land, and none are committed to the needs of inter-regional management of migratory subsistence game species. Up on the Slope, we would like to see the AFN try to get all of the regions to develop a common D-2 position aimed at the protection of subsistence as the highest and ultimate use of the land. We have much work to do in Washington, and less than a year in which to do it.
As we hunger for more local control, we must take care not to settle for something less than true local government. For this reason, I have told Senator Gravel’s staff that the North Slope Borough opposes S-2046, (and just to be sure I am not giving any special consideration to anyone, Ted, this message is for you, too). Like HR 39, S-2046, which would designate regional non-profit Native associations to operate as tribal regional governments, must be seen as a set back into Territorial times.
I fear that this legislation would hinder the development of strong local government in rural Alaska. No real local government is possible if it is totally dependent on Federal government contracts and funding. Reliable local government, the kind strong enough to depend upon to defend subsistence hunting rights, must be chartered by the State of Alaska and is now possible. Strong local government gets its strength from its legal ability to cooperate with State and Local government on its own terms.
The state constitution provision for local government is more than adequate. S-2046 would provide a very poor alternative to strong local government presently authorized.
While I think S-2046 falls short, I sympathize with the intention of this legislation. We need legislation that will secure both our rights to local government, as well as our rights of Native entitlement. In this connection, we need to build on Section 4 of the state constitution which leaves out what Alaska surrendered to gain statehood. Alaska surrendered jurisdiction over our land to the Federal government, and this includes jurisdiction over subsistence game management, the central case of Native entitlement. We need to approach questions of native entitlement cooperatively. Cooperative land and game management must characterize government relations in local Alaska in the future.
Once the concept of cooperative subsistence resource management is accepted, all kinds of creative work is possible. The North Slope Borough joined with land claims movements in Canada and Greenland to organize the Inuit Circumpolar Conference to facilitate natural regional and inter-regional cooperation in circumpolar Arctic coastal zone management. This organizational work has given us the opportunity to get close to our people of Greenland and Canada. We have discovered how much all Native people in Alaska have at stake in the Canadian land and the Greenland home rule charter negotiations. We have discovered that both the Canadian and Danish governments have long ago conceded to our people in Canada and Greenland the same rights to local subsistence self-regulation that we seek in Alaska.
We feel that rights we enjoy in Canada and Greenland should also be enjoyed in Alaska, for there should be a single standard of justice and democratic self-determination all across the Arctic. Greenland is reaching out for the strength of North American democratic tradition as she becomes a nation that can anchor economic cooperation between the European Economic Community and the North American economic community. Greenland’s political leadership has been very helpful in securing Danish support of our Inupiat subsistence whaling rights, and I look for the Inuit Circumpolar Conference to become an important international land claims influence because of its ability to enlist international support for locally endangered Native rights.
The relationship between the Federal, State and Local governments in rural Alaska will not be satisfactory until it is finally anchored upon respect for our superior expertise and natural relationship with our land and our animals. Home rule in rural Alaska must be seen as essential to the environmental security of the great national wealth of our land.
We meet here today at a time when our Federal government is faltering and showing signs of carelessness and an unsteady hand. We must be all the more careful and steady. We know who we are, and this knowledge will guide us safely through the challenges of ignorance that endanger our land and our people. Those who do not share our knowledge of the land are feeling fear, and we must have compassion for them and teach them to trust our land; to quiet their fears, to follow our lead and to survive the cold that is making Americans shiver.