Alaska COA Rejects Yup’ik Free Exercise Defense to Criminal Prosecution for Salmon Fishing

Here is the opinion:

Phillip v. State

An excerpt:

In June 2012, the thirteen defendants in this case — all Yup’ik fishermen living a subsistence lifestyle — were charged with violating the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s emergency orders restricting fishing for king salmon on the Kuskokwim River. The defendants moved for dismissal of the charges, asserting that their fishing for king salmon was religiously based activity, and that they were entitled to a religious exemption from the emergency orders under the free exercise clause of the Alaska Constitution.

Briefs are here.

Briefs in Phillip v. State of Alaska — Yup’ik Fishers Case


Appellants Opening Brief

ACLU Alaska Amicus Brief

AVCP and AFN Amicus Brief

State Brief

Appellants Reply Brief

Victoria Sweet posted the Atlantic Monthly profile of this case here.

“When Global Warming Kills Your God,” 23 Yup’ik Men Defying a Fishing Ban for Their Traditional Beliefs

This well-written article (link) paints a powerful picture about the devastating impact that a warming climate is having on Alaska Natives. Cited is the fact that an estimated 86% of Alaska Native villages will require relocation over the next 50 years because of climate changes.

In addition, the article looks at the case of 23 tribal members who were punished for defying a fishing ban. Briefs available here. Their case will be heard in the Alaska Court of Appeals, possibly sometime this summer. According to the article, “the fishermen’s civil disobedience has been framed as a First Amendment issue: The Yup’ik believe they have an obligation to continue their ancestral traditions.” In an amicus brief, the ACLU stated

A Yup’ik fisherman who is a sincere believer in his religious role as a steward of nature, believes that he must fulfill his prescribed role to maintain this ‘collaborative reciprocity’ between hunter and game. Completely barring him from the salmon fishery thwarts the practice of a real religious belief. Under Yup’ik religious belief, this cycle of interplay between humans and animals helped perpetuate the seasons; without the maintaining of that balance, a new year will not follow the old one.

While the trial judge appeared sympathetic, he still felt the state had sufficient reason for imposing the ban. It will be interesting to see how the court of appeals deals with this defense, particularly under current changing conditions.

There, [in the Court of Appeals] state-appointed judges will grapple with the same question the court faced in 1979, when an indigenous hunter named Carlos Frank was charged with illegally transporting a newly slain moose. Frank argued that he had needed the animal for a religious ceremony. Two lower courts found him guilty, but the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the verdict, calling moose meat “the sacramental equivalent to the wine and wafer in Christianity.”

This, in the end, is what’s at stake for the Yup’ik fishermen. Their villages may be swallowed up by the sea, but the people themselves won’t float away. They’ll relocate en masse or drift into the urban diaspora of Anchorage. But if they stop fishing king salmon, the Yup’ik believe they’ll lose something far more fundamental than their homes.

H/T to TH.

Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobile Cert Petition


Native Village of Kivalina Cert Petition

Question presented:

Petitioners Native Village of Kivalina and the City of Kivalina, a federally-recognized tribe and an Alaskan municipality, are the governing bodies of an Inupiat village located on an Arctic barrier island that is being destroyed by global warming. Greenhouse gases have caused the Earth’s temperature to rise, especially in the Arctic, which has melted the land-fast sea ice that protects the village from powerful oceanic storms. Kivalina is thus now exposed to erosion and flooding from the sea and must relocate or face imminent destruction.

Petitioners seek damages — not injunctive relief–from the largest U.S. sources of greenhouses gases under the federal common law of public nuisance. In American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut (“AEP”), 131 S. Ct. 2527 (2011), the Court dismissed a federal common law claim for injunctive relief, holding that the Clean Air Act displaces “any federal common law right to seek abatement” of emissions because the Clean Air Act “provides a means to seek limits on emissions [2]  of carbon dioxide from domestic power plants — the same relief the plaintiffs seek by invoking federal common law.” AEP, 131 S. Ct. at 2537, 2538 (emphasis added).

The question presented is: Whether the Clean Air Act, which provides no damages remedy to persons harmed by greenhouse gas emissions, displaces federal common-law claims for damages.

Lower court materials here.

Ninth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Native Village of Kivalina Claims against Oil Companies

The opinion is here.

Briefs and oral argument materials are here.

Lower court materials here.

Could American Indian Nations “End Nature?” in Order to Save Themselves from Global Warming?

This paragraph appears in an article published the Summer 2011 edition of Radcliffe Magazine:

Assuming (and you know what they say about assumptions) Mr. Keith is right, this raises an interesting question relating to tribal sovereignty. If an Indian nation could do this, should they? And some Indian nations, say the Native Village of Kivalina for one example, have every motivation for doing this.