Trials start Monday for subsistence fishermen cited for fishing on the Kuskowim River during closures this past summer. Twenty-four fishermen pled not guilty to charges that they fished with salmon nets when the river was closed to salmon fishing.
The upcoming trials gained state attention during the Alaska Federation of Natives convention last week. There, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski called the situation “an embarrassment”, saying the fishermen should have never been fined.
Today, the trials gained national attention at the annual meeting of the National Congress of American Indians in California.
A resolution supporting the fishermen passed the council with unanimous support. It was brought to the meeting by tribal delegates with the Akiak Native Community.
Delegate Mike Williams Sr., speaking by phone from Sacremento, said the “National Congress of American Indians is voicing it’s support for the Yupiit and their families in their courageous resolve to contest the charges now pending against them in the state court in Bethel.”
According to Williams, the resolution supports three main efforts, two of which involved the trials. It supports the subsistence fishermen, asks for the trial court in Bethel to dismiss or reverse the violations for all the fishermen cited this past summer, and it addressed ANCSA, urging the U.S. Senate and House Committees on Indian Affairs to hold field hearings in hub communities around the state.
Williams says all the delegates from Alaska supported the resolution at the meeting:
“There were delegates from Kodiak, there were delegates from Tlingit and Haida, and Tsimshian nations down in South East,” said Williams. “Also Maniiliq and from the Kawerak region, everybody in the Interior, the Tanana Chiefs and everybody in Alaska in attendance, fully supported our efforts.”
The National Congress of Americans Indians annual conference has been going on all week in Sacremento, California.
The 24 subsistence fishermen will be represented in court pro bono by the law firm Northern Justice Project.