The Katie John Litigation: A Continuing Search for Alaska Native Fishing Rights After ANCSA

Robert T. Anderson.

This essay tells the story of the struggle by upper Ahtna people to protect their way of life and their access to a traditional fishery in modern Alaska. Because of the perseverance of Katie John, Doris Charles, other Ahtna people, and the larger Alaska Native community, their right to fish at a traditional fishing site survives. It is a battle that continues to this day––after nearly thirty-five years of litigation in various forums and in successive related cases that illustrate the complex legal and political issues. The rich history, culture, and modern activism of the Ahtna people motivate the litigation to protect an important local fishery, and along with it, the subsistence fishing rights of all rural Alaska Natives. The latest legal chapter is centered on a peculiar case about a moose hunter, a hovercraft, and the jurisdiction of the National Park Service over navigable waters within the boundaries of Park units. This also is a story that will never end, for population pressures, commercial fishing interests, government indifference, and hostility forever have the potential to diminish or undermine long-standing rights.

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