Sunday, April 5, 2009

AFN letter says Palin's AG pick is "unfit"

Though I've been haunting the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) Web site all week, I didn't find the letter AFN was drafting about its vote to oppose Sarah Palin's choice for attorney general, Wayne Anthony Ross. I was incredibly grateful to be e-mailed the full press release... until I was shocked.

The firm wording is totally called for, but there was one thing they objected to that I didn't even know.

Wayne Anthony Ross thinks that ANCSA was a waste?

Holy crap.

The 1971 "Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act" - commonly referred to as ANCSA - is too big an issue to tackle in a single post, but at it's core, it was intended to settle the land dispute of Native land claims in Alaska. It quite literally "settled" with Native people by transferring money to go to newly formed corporations in exchange for lost land, and determined what was still Native land and give title. Twelve original regional corporations were formed to handle this money and titles to land, as well as several hundred village corporations.

Yet Mr. Ross believes neither Native and non-Native Alaskans "haven't got much to show for the expenditure?"

Again. Holy crap.

First... well, you got LAND. That was kind of the point. And despite who thinks the settlement was fair or not, Native people also got the title to land (also the point) and a settlement for the land taken.

Second, I think it's painfully clear Ross doesn't know much about ANCSA. People - political entities - from all over the world come to study this landmark settlement of aboriginal land claims. Highly flawed as it is, it is a model in the world for both governments and aboriginal people.

Third, the letter mentions oil construction, and anyone who knows anything about ANCSA knows that oil was the catalyst in the first place! My guess is Native people would still be trying to get the issue heard in court (as many tribes down south are) if it were not for oil. The motivation for the whole settlement was oil. Period. No ANCSA, no oil money.

I don't understand the animosity Ross seems to hold for Native people or issues, but it seems to point more towards willful ignorance at this point than anything. I didn't know anything about this guy to begin with, and the more I learn, the more appalled I am at the choice.

The letter in full:

Anchorage, Alaska – April 2, 2009

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.

Excellent and accurate letter.

For some of Ross' other quotes regarding Native and rural issues:

An article sent from SMR, regarding his opposition to building hate-crime legislation, focusing on Native education, etc.

"Alaskans are divided because we have too many people pointing out the perceived problems, and we don't have enough people pointing out how well we work together."

On Native sovereignty and subsistence (from the ADN):

''The idea of Native sovereignty is a 19th-century principle, and we are going into the 21st century.''

''Rural preference is wrong and not necessary to ensure subsistence foods."

The crazy part of Ross' argument/defense of these types of comments is his assertion that people are jumping the gun, so to speak, on what his stance really is. That he "doesn't have positions" on these issues. Let me sum up the Tundra Drums interview with Ross by paraphrasing the answers he gives to every issue they ask him about:

"I never said anything bad, and if I did, it was because I was paid to."

He seems to think subsistence isn't even an issue anymore. Someone hasn't been paying attention.

His statements and battles from the past speak for themselves.



Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting the AFN Letter.Thank goodness the AFN is calling it like it is... Mr. Ross is unfit and should never have been
named as an AG pick.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your commentary and for posting the letter. I feel distressed for native Alaskans and all Alaskans that your governor does not appear to respect or support your rights and best interests.


Wolfe Tone said...

Wayne Anthony Ross is another item on an ever-growing list of Bad Decisions made by an inept, shallow, and tone-deaf Governor.
Let's hope the Legislature heeds the voices across Alaska calling for rejection of this terrible pick.

Writing Raven said...

I'm glad - and grateful - that AFN decided to go this way. It is a statement in itself, but I believe it also opens up other Native organizations and leaders to speak out. They've already got a few groups following suit.

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