Palin on Tribes

From Lloyd Miller & Heather Kendall Miller

Sarah Palin’s Record on Alaska Native and Tribal Issues

1. Palin has attacked Alaska Native Subsistence Fishing

Perhaps no issue is of greater importance to Alaska Native peoples as the right to hunt and fish according to ancient customary and traditional practices, and to carry on the subsistence way of life for future generations.

Governor Sarah Palin has consistently opposed those rights.

Once in office, Governor Palin decided to continue litigation that seeks to overturn every subsistence fishing determination the federal government has ever made in Alaska. (State of Alaska v. Norton, 3:05-cv-0158-HRH (D. Ak).) In pressing this case, Palin decided against using the Attorney General (which usually handles State litigation) and instead continued contracting with Senator Ted Stevens’ brother-in-law’s law firm (Birch, Horton, Bittner & Cherot).

The goal of Palin’s law suit is to invalidate all the subsistence fishing regulations the federal government has issued to date to protect Native fishing, and to force the courts instead to take over the role of setting subsistence regulations. Palin’s law suit seeks to diminish subsistence fishing rights in order to expand sport and commercial fishing.

In May 2007, the federal court rejected the State’s main challenge, holding that Congress in 1980 had expressly granted the U.S. Interior and Agriculture Departments the authority to regulate and protect Native and rural subsistence fishing activities in Alaska. (Decision entered May 15, 2007 (Dkt. No. 110).)

Notwithstanding this ruling, Palin continues to argue in the litigation that the federal subsistence protections are too broad, and should be narrowed to exclude vast areas from subsistence fishing, in favor of sport and commercial fishing. Palin opposes subsistence protections in marine waters, on many of the lands that Natives selected under their 1971 land claims settlement with the state and federal governments, and in many of the rivers where Alaska Natives customarily fish. (Alaska Complaint at 15-18.) Palin also opposes subsistence fishing protections on Alaska Native federal allotments that were deeded to individuals purposely to foster Native subsistence activities. All these issues are now pending before the federal district court.

2. Palin has attacked Alaska Native Subsistence Hunting

Palin has also sought to invalidate critical determinations the Federal Subsistence Board has made regarding customary and traditional uses of game, specifically to take hunting opportunities away from Native subsistence villagers and thereby enhance sport hunting.

Palin’s attack here on subsistence has focused on the Ahtna Indian people in Chistochina.

Although the federal district court has rejected Palin’s challenge, she has carried on an appeal that was argued in August 2008. (State of Alaska v. Fleagle, No. 07-35723 (9th Cir.).)

In both hunting and fishing matters, Palin has continued uninterrupted the policies initiated by the former Governor Frank Murkowski Administration, challenging hunting and fishing protections that Native people depend upon for their subsistence way of life in order to enhance sport fishing and hunting opportunities. Palin’s lawsuits are a direct attack on the core way of life of Native Tribes in rural Alaska.

3. Palin has attacked Alaska Tribal Sovereignty

Governor Palin opposes Alaska tribal sovereignty.

Given past court rulings affirming the federally recognized tribal status of Alaska Native villages, Palin does not technically challenge that status. But Palin argues that Alaska Tribes have no authority to act as sovereigns, despite their recognition.

So extreme is Palin on tribal sovereignty issues that she has sought to block tribes from exercising any authority whatsoever even over the welfare of Native children, adhering to a 2004 legal opinion issued by the former Murkowski Administration that no such jurisdiction exist (except when a state court transfers a matter to a tribal court).

Both the state courts and the federal courts have struck down Palin’s policy of refusing to recognize the sovereign authority of Alaska Tribes to address issues involving Alaska Native children. Native Village of Tanana v. State of Alaska, 3AN-04-12194 CI (judgment entered Aug. 26, 2008) (Ak. Super. Ct.); Kaltag Tribal Council v. DHHS, No. 3:06-cv-00211-TMB (D. Ak.), pending on appeal No 08-35343 (9th Cir.)). Nonetheless, Palin’s policy of refusing to recognize Alaska tribal sovereignty remains unchanged.

4. Palin has attacked Alaska Native Languages

Palin has refused to accord proper respect to Alaska Native languages and voters by refusing to provide language assistance to Yup’ik speaking Alaska Native voters. As a result, Palin was just ordered by a special three-judge panel of federal judges to provide various forms of voter assistance to Yup’ik voters residing in southwest Alaska. Nick v. Bethel, No. 3:07-cv-0098-TMB (D. Ak.) (Order entered July 30, 2008). Citing years of State neglect, Palin was ordered to provide trained poll workers who are bilingual in English and Yup’ik; sample ballots in written Yup’ik; a written Yup’ik glossary of election terms; consultation with local Tribes to ensure the accuracy of Yup’ik translations; a Yup’ik language coordinator; and pre-election and post-election reports to the court to track the State’s efforts.

In sum, measured against some the rights that are most fundamental to Alaska Native Tribes – the subsistence way of life, tribal sovereignty and voting rights – Palin’s record is a failure.



State v. Norton opinion:

State v. Norton complaint:


[Alaska court system is not electronic]

Nick v. State


18 thoughts on “Palin on Tribes

  1. Rosalie M. Jones September 10, 2008 / 1:21 pm

    Turtle Talk:
    Many, many thanks for writing and sending out this scathing information
    regarding the efforts of Sara Palin.
    Another article surfaced recently about
    her danger to the environment, and of course her practice of allowing wolves to be shot from planes.
    This is a dangerous person! Everone, please get these articles to the media, so that it will get out on the major television channels, such as CNN, etc, as well as into the newspapers. We will not stop this person until the media carries the stories!
    Daystar/Rosalie Jones

  2. Aaron September 10, 2008 / 5:37 pm

    Thank you for publishing. More Native voters need to be aware of information like this. If more is found or known, please post. Thanks!

  3. John Wright September 10, 2008 / 7:53 pm

    Very interesting. But I don’t think the facts support your conclusion that Palin opposes the tribes’ sovereignty (it seems like the criticism in point 3 is more about what she DIDN’T do than what she did – ie. she didn’t ask for a new legal opinion, just adhered to the one that was already there, which I don’t think is uncommon). In respect to the hunting and fishing stuff, I don’t know much about it but it doesn’t seem to me that it was an “attack” on the tribes (even if the tribes could maybe have been consulted and considered more).

    In addition, far from being anti-tribes as you imply, Palin’s husband is a full ‘enrolled’ member of the Yup’ik tribe! See here. Palin is 1/8th tribal. She has an 83 percent approval rating.

  4. Mark September 11, 2008 / 8:36 pm

    Hearing about Palin and her husband’s tribal affiliation does not necessarily qualify her policies as pro-Native or anything of the sort. Without getting into the complexities of Native identities and not knowing the extent of her husbands association with his tribe, I will say I was put off by hearing the hoorah about it during the GOP convention. Lets just say I always think redflag words like “descent”, should be noted and offer insight into someone who is claiming to identify with a certain group. Meaning, you are American or you’re not, you’re Yup’ik or you’re not. You are not of American descent, anymore than you are of Yup’ik. Therefore, I think the GOP was just humdrumming that up to add depth to Palin as being sympathetic to people of color, in this case Native people.

    That being said, I the evidence in this article does show Sarah Palin’s true colors in regards to tribes. If she is married to a Yup’ik member, and according to John being part Native herself, I would absolutely expect for her to be supportive of the sovereignty of Alaskan tribes.

    Although, hunting and fishing rights might seem meaningless to others, that is a right that those tribes enjoy and is an extension of sovereignty. Its regulation! States establish and regulate hunting/fishing rights. So do tribes! Tribes are like no other racial group in America, for the simple fact that they are a political group. Therefore, when those rights are attempted to be curtailed, of course that is an infringement of sovereignty. And as a result, a reflection of Palin’s stance.

    Same can be said for the child welfare issue. That is a sovereign right as acknowledged in the Indian Child Welfare Act. An attempt by a state to infringe upon that right is an attack on sovereignty.

    As for a lack of support of Native languages. That might not necessarily be an attack on sovereignty. But that sure as heck speaks about her character. Her husband and herself being Native, and identifying so much with their people to use it as a flag of identity should then be aware of the social issues surrounding their communities, with language being one of them! Voting shouldn’t be privileged to those who can speak English. It would be the same as requiring a literacy requirements from the Jim Crow south. I would assume Palin to be sympathetic to the fact that voting without language support threatens to shut out Native Alaskans who make up nearly 16% of the population!

  5. mpb September 15, 2008 / 4:08 am

    4. Palin has attacked Alaska Native Languages</blockquote?

    I think that is a bit strong. The Republicans in Alaska have not dealt with the issue of ballots and voting rights (nor the Democrats). It isn’t just Palin. On the other hand, Gov. Palin hasn’t expressed much interest in what is actually going on in rural Alaska and I have yet to find any “vision” or “plan” or executive leadership on our immediate and long-term needs. Her promised rural sub-cabinet became a rural spokesperson.

    It is unfortunately true that it took a lawsuit to get action on the the Voting Rights act. It is also unfortunate that for too long people just asked any bilingual person for help instead of someone impartial and with a comprehensive understanding of the ballot (some of the ballots are not comprehensible in English).

    I asked the City Council over a year ago why they were defending this suit (at over 250-300 K dollars) but never received a satisfactory answer. They seemed not to even know what was going on (we’ve had city manager problems for several cycles). Bethel is 60% Alaska Native (predominantly Yup’ik) and the City Council was/is about 3/4 Alaska Native or Alaska Native espoused.

    This past election (municipal, August 2008) did have Yup’ik assistance. Cucuklillruunga! It remains to be evaluated for its success.

    Listen to the story here,
    Yup’ik language ballots a success

  6. Franklin Two Crows September 19, 2008 / 7:02 pm

    I am proud to be who I am, call me Native American/ Indian/ call me what you will, But if Sarah Palin is willing to attack the tribes in Alaska, if she were to assume the presidency, what would she do to the tribes that live in this part of the Country? And why would the Alaska governor be wasting taxpayer funds by constantly going to court over issues that had already been decided? Is that the reason she needs to find ways of making more money for the state? If she would stop attacking Native Alaskans there wouldn’t be a need to seek more federal funding. Why not just leave the Alaska Natives alone to live in peace following age-old traditions and the customs of the people? I am wondering how much deception it must have taken in order to even be elected as the Governor of Alaska! I shudder to imagine what would happen to the rest of the Natives in the continental US should Sarah Palin ever have to assume the role of president! I say, Natives all over the United States: Unite! We as a sovereign nation do not need a leader to take away what few rights we still have.

  7. Jackson B September 23, 2008 / 1:44 am

    ‘Lets just say I always think redflag words like “descent”’

    Hahahaha. Mark, my point exactly.

  8. '47 Chief September 24, 2008 / 7:32 pm

    Note to John Wright: Just what does “full enrolled member of the Yup’ik tribe” mean? What constitutes enrollment? Is it blood quantum as recognized by the federal gov’t, or is membership determined by the tribe by other means? The term “full enrolled” sounds awfully misleading.

    The guy, the First Dud, doesn’t strike me as Indian, particularly as evidenced by his lack of advocacy and involvement surrounding Indian issues. I think he’s just another typical mainstream redneck trying to “feather” his already weak credentials with phony associations.

    Even if he is 1/8 Yup’ik at best, he’s still 7/8 White, and that being of the most neo-conservative type. His and his wife’s attitudes toward the environment, wildlife protection and indigenous rights bear that out.

    C’mon. He ain’t no Indian. He’s phony just like his wife.

  9. DeWayne September 26, 2008 / 5:55 pm

    So I read/researched the Palin on Tribes in Alaska…

    Palin has attacked Alaska Native Subsistence Fishing. True. She opposed “subsistence fishing” but she wanted to open business so all peoples of Alaska (native and non-native) to benefit from the corporate revenue while maintaining the integrity of Natives and their customs.

    Palin has attacked Alaska Tribal Sovereignty. False. Palin has recognize all FEDERALLY RECOGNIZED tribes that the US government has recognized and attacked those people who aren’t federally recognized; asking them to go through the proper channels to seek federal reorganization. That being said, ALL federally recognized tribes aren’t sovereign. Sovereignty only exist when each tribe sustains its own revenue and government without depending on Federal dollars (i.e. welfare checks, income tax, funded IHS, stimulus checks, WIC, food stamps…)

    Palin has attacked Alaska Native Languages. False. Palin has asked bilingual speakers to assist those who need translation, especially during Alaskan elections.

    This website seems to only attack her with a “democratic” bias leaning towards Obama. I’m Native and undecided; and seem to lean towards McCain/Palin knowing McCain’s positive history with Native Americans in Arizona.

  10. Jon October 4, 2008 / 8:25 pm

    Hey, I just found this sight, I’ve been outside for about 7 years, I’m in the military, and when I found out about McCain taking on Mrs. Palin as his running mate I was surprised. I’ve been out of the loop for some time now.

    I’ll try to post this site where I can.

    as side to DeWayne: Who to vote for is a flip of the coin, what politicians do after they get into office is out of our hands for four years. McCain may have done some work, that doesn’t mean he’ll do more good work.
    Obama is being hailed (at least by the media hypesters) as a great new leader with a fresh view.

    I think we can all agree that Alaska is a great resource, and that everyone wants a peice of it, so we must protect what parts of it which we have.

  11. Legal Transcription October 6, 2008 / 7:24 pm

    Palin just gives more and more reasons each day for people NOT to vote for her in November. Thank you for the new information.

  12. Powheetee October 6, 2008 / 7:58 pm

    I’ve read the news of Palin’s treatment to Native people of the State of Alaska and I hope it all comes back to haunt her. Here’s a woman who would deny the Alaskan indigenous peoples their rights to fish and hunt while protecting her husband’s rights to commericial fishing. Sounds like greed and selfishness to me.

  13. Robin October 6, 2008 / 10:28 pm

    I have never been to Alaska, but hope it is still beautiful when I finally get to visit. Given the current state of the economy, that will be many moons from now. I am not Native American, but taught Head Start children in a community with many Wampanoag children. I have always been appalled at the poor treatment of Native Americans in this country. Tribes and tribal members should be honored and appreciated, and looked to for guidance, not degraded and ignored.
    As pertains to Todd, who I pray will never be “First Dude” – it matters not to Sarah that he is even part Yup’ik. Sarah Palin ran a dirty, smear campaign against her own mother-in-law, Todd’s mother! She has no allegiance to his family. I don’t think his roots matter to her in the least. McCain-Palin = big profits for big companies, and the rest of us will suffer.

  14. Eric October 16, 2008 / 2:34 pm


    “Sovereignty only exist when each tribe sustains its own revenue and government without depending on Federal dollars (i.e. welfare checks, income tax, funded IHS, stimulus checks, WIC, food stamps…)”

    Your assertion that tribes are only sovereign when they no longer accept federal dollars is patently untrue. The federal government is required to provide basic services such as the IHS through its trust obligation and various treaty agreements. It is also legally mandated to respect tribes a distinct and sovereign entities, albeit of a dependent nature.

    As for federal recognition, any Native Alaskan knows that the issue is deeply complex given their status as “corporations”. Getting federal recognition through the BIA is so difficult, most whites couldn’t gain recognition for the United States!

  15. Pamela October 20, 2008 / 7:23 am

    Why doesn’t CNN broad casts all this?
    These woman is dangerous and people must know about her and her record.

  16. LEE LARSON October 11, 2010 / 2:43 pm

    Sarah Palin’s only goal is to get in the Oval Office. Here is someone who abandoned her job as Governor of Alaska, and now she wants to control the whole country? I would rather suffer through another term with Obama than deal with her.

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