Alaska Settles Voting Rights Suit Brought by Alaska Natives


An excerpt:

After nine months of negotiations, the State of Alaska reached a settlement with the Native Alaskan plaintiff’s who sued the state in federal court over the translation of voting materials and ballot access for Native Alaskan voters.  The settlement requires a variety of actions by the state including providing language assistance for three census areas and information in Gwich’in and up to six Yup’ik dialects in the official election pamphlet.  Read the full settlement document from the National Indian Law Library website. Find news coverage at the Alaska Dispatch website and the KTUU website.

Other materials here.

News coverage here.

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.

Non-Profit Organization Works to Train Interpreters for Yup’ik Speakers in Alaska Courts

In some areas of Alaska many elders and even middle-aged community members grew up with Yup’ik as their first language. The resulting language gap for these individuals has created problems when they are involved in court hearings. To combat these problems, the Alaska Institute for Justice is heading up an effort to train Yup’ik interpreters specifically to work in courts, medical facilities, and other institutions. The experts involved with this training are working to create a Yup’ik legal glossary with an emphasis on words that describe problems such as: sexual assault, child sexual abuse, domestic violence, and parental neglect and abuse.

“Our goal is to make sure that all Alaskans have access to the services that they need regardless of their ability to speak English,” said Robin Bronen, executive director of the justice institute.

Full article available here.


Selected Materials from Alaska Native Voting Rights Trial

Here are materials from Toyukak v. Treadwell (D. Alaska):

47 Alaska Motion for Partial Summary J

74 Plaintiffs Response to 47

86 Alaska Reply in Support of 47

128 Alaska Objection to McCool

138 Alaska Trial Brief

140 Plaintiffs Trial Brief

146 Plaintiffs Response to 128

News coverage here and here. H/t Pechanga.

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.