April 20, 2009 Meet the People with AFN Spokeman George Irvin
Listen to Kells Hetherington’s interview with George Irvin, spokesman for the Alaska Federation of Natives. Mr Irvin discussed the legislature’s rejection of Governor Sara Palin’s nominee for attorney general, Wayne Anthony Ross.
Read AFN’s press release on Ross
On Tuesday, March 30, the Alaska Federation of Natives’ Legislative Committee unanimously adopted a motion to oppose the nomination of Wayne Anthony Ross to be Attorney General of Alaska. Here are some of the reasons behind that decision.
Subsistence: Mr. Ross has been most vocal in his opposition to a rural subsistence priority, in both state and federal law. However, subsistence hunting, fishing and gathering are the very core of Alaska Native life, as they have been for thousands of years. The vast majority of an estimated 125,000 Natives in Alaska practice subsistence regularly in order to put food on the family dinner table. Fish constitute 59% of the statewide rural subsistence diet, but subsistence takes only 2% of all the fish annually harvested in Alaska. The other 98% go to commercial, personal use, and sport users. Most subsistence activities occur on federal lands and waters, where Congress has unequivocally enacted a rural priority (in Title VIII of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980).
If subsistence cannot be protected from the overwhelming competition of other users, most villages will not be able to feed themselves and will disappear. Such an enormous out-migration to Alaska’s cities would create a socio-economic crisis that would harm all Alaskans – especially urban residents. A rural priority is not only humane, but it is the intelligent thing to do in the interest of all Alaskans.
In his most recent gubernatorial bid, Mr. Ross stated that, if elected, he would hire “…a band of junkyard dog assistant attorney generals to challenge the federal law…” This is old news. The constitutionality of Title VIII of ANILCA has been challenged time and again in the federal courts. The courts have consistently upheld the rural subsistence priority on federal lands and waters in Alaska. That is settled law.
Tribal Sovereignty: Mr. Ross’s contempt for Native leaders and their self-governing institutions is obvious. He opposes the very existence of tribal governments, which have exercised their authority since time immemorial. Many millions of federal dollars come into this state to serve Alaska Natives simply because the federal government has a government-to-government relationship with tribes in Alaska. The State of Alaska receives some of these monies directly, while other funds go directly to tribal consortia, non-profit associations, and tribal governments, to assist them in the delivery of vital human services. If Mr. Ross does not know these facts, he is uninformed. If he doesn’t care, he is irresponsible.
Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act: Mr. Ross has often opposed the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement and the 1988 congressional amendments thereto. In 1987, he wrote that ANCSA had been a waste of public resources by Congress. He added: “…We average Americans, native and non-native alike, haven’t got much to show for the expenditure…”
That statement is not true. By settling Natives’ claims to the land, Congress cleared the right-of-way for construction of the oil pipeline. ANCSA, more than any event since Statehood, created modern Alaska. Everything that we have here today was made possible by that 1971 real estate sale between Natives and the United States. If it had not happened, the pipeline, the oil and the resulting economic boom would have been held up for decades in the federal courts. Mr. Ross’s view disregards the abiding legal principle of aboriginal land title, which descends from colonial times. Mr. Ross does not understand ANCSA’s history and legal foundation any more than he recognizes the benefits that it provided to everyone in Alaska.
Mr. Ross also criticized the 1991 Amendments to ANCSA, arguing that they would promote Native authority in Alaska. The truth is the exact opposite. The 1991 amendments were opposed by most of Alaska’s tribes because they saw the statute as failing to give tribes sufficient powers. Mr. Ross does not know what actually happened; but he waves “tribal sovereignty” as a scare tactic. That is politics, not law.
Legal Competence: Mr. Ross was among several candidates for the Alaska Supreme Court seat vacated by Justice Bryner in 2007, and for the Court of Appeals seat vacated by Judge Stewart in 2008. He did not make the “short list” of qualified applicants sent to the Governor for either seat.
Nominations for the state judiciary are handled by the Alaska Judicial Council, which rates all candidates by means of a Bar Survey answered by attorneys. The Survey has to be anonymous in order to encourage frank, honest answers. However, in a letter recently published by the Alaska Bar Association, Mr. Ross strongly objected to the anonymity of the Bar Survey. The secret ballot is an axiom of modern democratic process. Mr. Ross’s objection to it in his own case demonstrates a certain disregard for democracy, itself.
Between now and Mr. Ross’s confirmation hearing on April 8, AFN will strongly urge its membership, and all concerned citizens in Alaska, to ask their own legislators to oppose his confirmation. By his extremism, his biases and his lack of competence, Wayne Anthony Ross is unfit to be the Attorney General of Alaska.