Ahtna issues statement in response to U.S. Supreme Court Sturgeon decision

Published April 2019

Ahtna is pleased by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Katie John line of cases as part of the Sturgeon ruling. The Katie John decision has stood as one of the few protections of Alaska Native traditional hunting and fishing rights, and the unanimous ruling helps defend how our people live and use the land and waters near our communities. This is a paramount issue for Ahtna, and we are honored that the court cited our amicus brief in protecting the Katie John decision.

Protecting our right to use our land, while also preserving the right of our people to live their culture and traditional lifestyle, is not only fair and proper, it is protected by the compromise Congress reached with Alaska Natives during the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) and Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). We would like to congratulate Mr. Sturgeon on his victory and thank him and all those who fought to ensure the Katie John decisions were not disturbed.

In 1980, the Wrangell St. Elias Park & Preserve was established by ANILCA. It surrounds 622,000 acres of Ahtna’s original land selections in 1971 under ANCSA. Ahtna owns approximately 1,978 acres in the Denali National Park & Preserve. The court’s decision regarding access is one we support.

Sturgeon Case Background:
In the landmark case of Katie John v. United States, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that navigable waters adjacent to parks and other Conservation System Units (CSUs) created by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) were “public land” for purposes of a rural subsistence priority that protected Alaska Natives’ right to fish. The case of Alaska resident John Sturgeon, who sued the National Park Service in 2011 over being forced off the Nation River for using a hovercraft to hunt moose, was argued before the Supreme Court last fall for a second time. At issue in the appeal was whether the state or federal government has management authority over state and Native property located within the boundaries of ANILCA CSUs. Ahtna is one of the largest private land owners within the CSUs in Alaska.

 

John Sturgeon and his hovercraft. (Photo provided by John Sturgeon)

John Sturgeon and his hovercraft. (Photo provided by John Sturgeon)

John Sturgeon with his hovercraft on the Nation River. (Photo provided by John Sturgeon)

John Sturgeon with his hovercraft on the Nation River. (Photo provided by John Sturgeon)