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The U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene Monday in a case over Alaska’s authority to regulate off-reservation fishing. The legal fight centered on a Metlakatla man charged with illegally fishing in waters just outside the reservation’s marine boundaries. But as KRBD’s Eric Stone reports, it’s not the end of the line for the tribe’s legal efforts to exempt Metlakatla fishermen from state regulations.
Metlakatla tribal member John Scudero Jr. was fishing for coho salmon near his home on Annette Island south of Ketchikan when he was picked up by the Coast Guard. He was charged with illegal fishing. Scudero didn’t have a permit to fish in state waters outside the boundaries of Alaska’s only Native reservation. He was convicted and fined $20,000.
Scudero took his case to the Alaska Supreme Court. He argued that the state didn’t have the authority to prevent him from fishing in traditional territory of his tribe. It’s part of a long-running dispute between Metlakatla tribal members and state authorities.
“We’ve been a fishing tribe for the last 120 years, and we continue to fish.”
The 1891 law that created the Annette Islands Reserve guaranteed the tribe a self-sustaining home, and Metlakatla Indian Community members like Scudero argue that the tribe can’t sustain itself without fishing in areas near Ketchikan and Prince of Wales Island outside the reservation’s boundaries. Michigan State University law professor Matthew Fletcher says Scudero’s case is far from the last word. The tribe itself, Metlakatla Indian Community, has a similar case pending in the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which challenges the state’s right to regulate tribal members fishing outside the reservation.
“I’d say, as a general matter, it is very much a better vehicle to review these questions.”
State attorneys argued late last year that holding Metlakatla tribal members to the state’s fishing permit system is essential to maintaining sustainable wild salmon runs. Fletcher says that case could have far-reaching consequences for tribes in Alaska, and up and down the West Coast under the court’s jurisdiction. A decision in the tribe’s Ninth Circuit case is expected later this year.
Wisconsin has become the latest state to create an Office of Environmental Justice. Chuck Quirmbach of station WUWM reports on what that might mean for Native communities.
About 15 states have set up an office or commission focused on ways to protect overburdened communities, or communities that face disproportionate exposure to environmental hazards. Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers has just signed an executive order creating an environmental justice office to advise him, after Republican legislators failed to go along with the idea.
Following a signing ceremony at the Indian Community School near Milwaukee, Evers said floods and other problems along waterways have harmed Wisconsin tribes. He says some tribal leaders have responded by creating wetlands and other controls. But Evers says the state has a role, too.
“We need to help them make sure their infrastructure is sound and we can help them keep it that way.”
Jason Dropik is Head of School at the Indian Community School and member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe. He says it’s good that governors are promising to hear from more diverse voices.
“As both a tribal member and someone who grew up in an urban American Indian population, we just know that often those perspectives are just left out.”
Dropik says he’s also glad his students got to hear that a state leader is promising to think about future generations. He says he’ll believe the promises, as long as he sees work to support environmental justice.
The Indian Health Service announced Monday it received $5 million in federal funding to work to eliminate HIV and hepatitis C in Indian Country.
American Indians and Alaska Natives have the largest percentage of persons with undiagnosed HIV infection, according to the IHS.
The funding will support training, infrastructure and media campaigns.
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Chuck Wanner says
I hit listen and there was no sound.
Seems like your format changed again.