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Supreme Court rules in ‘Katie John case’

By Heather Hintze 7:41 PM March 31, 2014

Denies the state's request to review a previous decision regarding the federal government's control over rural waterways


“I just want to say thank you,” said Kathryn Martin as she choked back tears. “Thank you to everyone. I thank the Lord for this day.”

Martin’s grandmother, Katie John, fought for decades for subsistence rights for Alaska Natives.

Monday morning the U.S. Supreme Court denied the State of Alaska’s request to review the initial ruling.

“This is also a victory for Alaska Natives and other rural Alaskans who depend on subsistence to feed their families,” said Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) Co-Chair Tara Sweeney. “And it’s also a victory for Alaskans who seek a prosperous, fair and equitable society. This really is a good day for the Alaska Native community.”

John initially took up the cause in the 1980s when the state closed fishing water she and her ancestors had used for generations.

By giving the federal government control over the land and the water, it would also allow Alaska Natives to continue to fish those waters.

Gov. Sean Parnell asked the court to overturn the federal rules regarding water rights that were promulgated in 1999. The case —  State of Alaska v. Sally Jewell, Secretary of the United States Department of Interior et al — which came to be known as the “Katie John case,” sought to keep the federal control.

“The state’s rural residents harvest about 22,000 tons of wild food each year, an average of 375 pounds per person, said AFN President Julie Kitka. “Fish makes up nearly 60 percent of the harvest by subsistence users each year. Nowhere else in the United States is there such a heavy reliance on fish and game to feed families.”

John’s family said they’re proud of the legacy she left behind and knows she’d be happy with the decision as well.

The Alaska Attorney General’s Office responded to the decision in a written statement:

The State is disappointed today by the news that the Supreme Court has denied hearing the case between the State of Alaska and the Department of Interior and will not move forward to clarify the lines of management authority between the state and federal subsistence programs in Alaska. Until this ambiguity can be removed and a clear definition of jurisdiction can be drawn, the dual management program will continue to lead to litigation and further uncertainty to the detriment of the Alaskan people as a whole.

John’s family said they’re proud of her legacy and know she’d be happy with the decision as well.

“She would be relieved. I can hear her saying, ‘Good, finally done.’ ‘No more,’” laughed Martin.

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