Legislature(1995 - 1996)

05/08/1995 10:25 AM Senate RES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
              SR   4 REINDEER INDUSTRY ACT OF 1937                            
  CHAIRMAN LEMAN  called the Senate Resources Committee meeting to             
 order at 10:25 a.m., and introduced  SR 4  as the only order of               
 SENATOR HALFORD, prime sponsor of SR 4, explained that several                
 years ago an opinion was requested from the Bureau of Indian                  
 Affairs by Tom Williams, a resident of Alaska, as to whether the              
 Reindeer Industry Act of 1937 applied to importing Canadian                   
 reindeer into Alaska.  The BIA stated that it did not for a number            
 of reasons.  Based on that action, Mr. Williams spent a                       
 considerable amount of money and imported a herd of Canadian                  
 However, there was an appeal back through the BIA process and                 
 finally to a judge.   The judge did not give not a written ruling,            
 but Senator Halford obtained a transcription of the judge's oral              
 ruling in which the judge said that it was evident to him that the            
 case raises issues that must be decided by the Ninth Circuit Court.           
 The judge stated clearly that Alaska is not an equal state, and he            
 believes the Reindeer Act was and is constitutional.  Senator                 
 Halford believes the questions that are open are: if the Reindeer             
 Act got transferred at the time of statehood, and if the Reindeer             
 Act applies to reindeer that are not Alaskan reindeer.                        
 Senator Halford said Mr. Williams is now faced with an order that             
 says he must divest of the reindeer or the federal government will            
 basically take them.  They will take them from an Alaska citizen on           
 private property in an area of total state land far from any of the           
 other reindeer activities.  He noted Mr. Williams was getting along           
 very well and being very cooperative in the animal husbandry                  
 issues, disease issues, etc., in dealing with the Seward Peninsula            
 reindeer herders.                                                             
 Senator Halford stated he thinks that if the state of Alaska                  
 accepts a federal opinion that the reindeer industry is a racially            
 defined industry, the state of Alaska then is in a serious problem            
 in providing land leases, payments, services for any other state              
 action, because he thinks that gets into a question of                        
 constitutionality with the Alaska Constitution.  He introduced SR
 4 because he believes Congress can clarify the issue.                         
 Number 122                                                                    
 TOM WILLIAMS, testifying from Eagle River, said the judge ruled,              
 specifically, that the Native Act and the Alaska Omnibus Act had no           
 application here.  He ruled that the Indian Commerce Clause is                
 superior to and overrules the Bill of Rights in the U.S.                      
 Constitution and the Statehood Compact with the United States of              
 Mr. Williams said this is a lot like the subsistence issue, and it            
 may be that in the end, after state and federal representatives               
 review these things together, that it should be defined that the              
 state has the authority under its Constitution and with the equal             
 footing under this Act to conduct the reindeer industry on lands              
 distributed by the state and the federal government has the                   
 authority to conduct the reindeer industry on the federal lands.              
 Otherwise, and under AS 18.80.255, a private citizen can bring a              
 lawsuit against the state or any political subdivision that refuses           
 or withholds any state money, services, or lands from a person                
 because of their race.  Under that concept, the state then would              
 have to deny all state resources to the entire reindeer industry.             
 Mr. Williams noted that today, on the Seward Peninsula alone, there           
 are five million acres of state land that are freely made available           
 to the Natives at no cost to them.  That is a breach of both the              
 Constitution and AS 18.80.255.  He said a Native will have to lose            
 all state funding unless this is modified or agreed upon, then at             
 least the state can conduct its fairness equal rights on state                
 Number 200                                                                    
 ROSE ATUK FOSDICK, Director, Kawerak Reindeer Herders Association,            
 testified from Nome that there was not adequate notice on the                 
 hearing on SR 4, and she requested that more time be given for                
 public input.                                                                 
 Ms. Fosdick voiced the Kawerak Reindeer Herders Association's                 
 strong opposition to any changes to the Reindeer Industry Act of              
 1937.  They believe changes to the Act would be detrimental to the            
 economic well being of rural communities where Alaska Native people           
 reside and also where the majority of the reindeer industry is                
 located.  Reindeer are a trust resource of the Department of                  
 Interior, and they are held in trust for the benefit of Alaska                
 Native people.  The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the Alaska           
 National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the Bering Straits                  
 Coastal Resource Management Plan, etc., have all expressed support            
 for reindeer herding in rural Alaska.  Also, there is a great deal            
 of support from communities within the state.                                 
 Concluding her testimony, Ms. Fosdick said reindeer herding is a              
 tradition in Northwest Alaska and it is an important part of the              
 economy, and their association believes that the Reindeer Industry            
 Act contains provisions for a self-sustaining economy for Alaska's            
 Native people.                                                                
 Number 265                                                                    
 SENATOR HALFORD asked Ms. Fosdick if their position would change or           
 would it be the same if there were an opinion from the state that             
 if the Reindeer Industry Act maintained its totally exclusive                 
 jurisdiction, that any state action were illegal under equal                  
 protection and, therefore, there could be no appropriations or                
 state leases.  ROSE FOSDICK answered that their position would be             
 the same.                                                                     
 TOM WILLIAMS said he agrees with Ms. Fosdick that the trust                   
 resource is held by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  That resource is           
 those animals that the United States purchased in 1937 and their              
 descendants.  Where they disagree is whether they control all the             
 reindeer as a whole.  Where they also disagree is what Ms. Fosdick            
 calls a change in the Reindeer Industry Act.  He said he doesn't              
 think it is a change; the state has the set of laws.  He said what            
 we are addressing today is a change that did occur by the judge.              
 Up until the judge ruled and the BIA before him, the United States            
 had taken the position that he could own reindeer on his private              
 property that were imported from foreign nations.  Therefore, there           
 was no racial discrimination.                                                 
 Number 312                                                                    
 SENATOR AL ADAMS said the Reindeer Industry Act of 1937 was                   
 federal legislation that was part of Indian legislation devised by            
 the Reverend Sheldon Jackson to give Alaska Natives opportunities             
 to make a living and contribute to themselves.  He said that is the           
 real story here and it should be protected.  When you start taking            
 away perhaps the only way of making a living in rural Alaska, then            
 you really want to get them on AFDC and other welfare programs, and           
 that is not correct, he stated.                                               
 Senator Adams pointed out that the rural Natives, mainly the                  
 Eskimos, don't have the same opportunities that they would have in            
 some of the other areas of the state.  He believes that if changes            
 were made to the Reindeer Industry Act, the people who this program           
 was set up for would lose their livelihood.                                   
 Senator Adams stated his strong opposition to SR 4 and urged that             
 it be held in committee.                                                      
 Number 375                                                                    
 SENATOR LEMAN said he supports the existing reindeer industry by              
 Natives and he wants it to be an economic way of life for those               
 people.  However, he asked Senator Adams if he was saying that                
 competition is so severe that it causes them not to be able to                
 compete.  SENATOR ADAMS responded that it is not severe, but he               
 pointed out that the Native herders are not on equal footing with             
 Mr. Williams: they don't have slaughter houses, they don't have               
 road systems, they don't have water and sewer to do these things;             
 they do it right on the tundra.  He suggested that if Mr. Williams            
 wants to do this, he should do it in Anaktuvak Pass, or on the                
 Deering Range, or on the Candle Range.  He added that it would                
 probably be easier to just say that the federal law and the                   
 Reindeer Industry Act of 1937 prohibits anybody else but Alaska               
 Natives to be able to reindeer herd, and to just leave competition            
 out of the discussion.                                                        
 Number 400                                                                    
 SENATOR HALFORD commented that there are a number of                          
 interpretations of the 1937 Act that could protect the trust                  
 reindeer, and there are a lot of ways that this judge could have              
 left in place protection for the Seward Peninsula and the                     
 traditional reindeer ranges and still have gone along with what               
 they told Mr. Williams when he asked them if it was legal to import           
 reindeer from somewhere else.  He said he would like to see the               
 narrowest reading of the exemption that is fair to a person that              
 acted based on a request to the federal government of what their              
 laws were and acted in compliance with all state laws.                        
 Number 435                                                                    
 SANDRA TAHBONE, testifying from Nome, stated her opposition to SR
 4 and her concurrence with the testimony of Rose Fosdick and                  
 Senator Adams.                                                                
 Ms. Tahbone said the bottom line is that the resolution does not              
 speak to the actual issue, which is money.  She said if there was             
 no money in reindeer, Mr. Williams would not be sitting in Wasilla            
 right now.                                                                    
 Ms. Tahbone requested that the Senate not pass SR 4.                          
 Number 450                                                                    
 SENATOR LEMAN asked Ms. Tahbone if she was concerned about Mr.                
 Williams' competition and if his competition drives down the market           
 price for meat and horns from reindeer.  SANDRA TAHBONE answered              
 that it is not the competition, it is money.  Mr. Williams wants to           
 get into the industry to make money.  The industry right now is               
 developing and the reindeer herders have not really had the                   
 opportunity to fully make it a self-sustaining industry.  She                 
 believes that whenever there is an opportunity for a money making             
 enterprise, Native people have been manipulated on the industry.              
 Number 465                                                                    
 TOM WILLIAMS stated his business poses little competition to the              
 Native herders because he always charges a minimum of 50 percent              
 higher than they do for antler sales.  He also has expenses such as           
 property taxes, personal property taxes on the reindeer themselves,           
 etc., which are expenses the Native people don't have to pay.                 
 Number 507                                                                    
 SENATOR LINCOLN said she thinks the resolution is putting the cart            
 before the horse.  She questioned why, if there is an appeal                  
 process going through the Ninth Circuit Court, the legislature is             
 imposing upon what is felt to be the court's decision by requesting           
 Congress to clarify the Reindeer Industry Act of 1937.  She                   
 cautioned that the legislature will end up in a legal battle if it            
 is not careful.  She urged that Senator Halford wait until after              
 the Ninth Circuit Court makes it decision, and if that decision is            
 not favorable to his constituents, to then bring the issue back               
 before the legislature for discussion.                                        
 SENATOR HALFORD pointed out that in 1986 and again in 1989 the                
 BIA's opinion to Mr. Williams was that there was nothing in the               
 1937 Reindeer Act that prohibited a non-Native, such as Mr.                   
 Williams, from importing live reindeer from outside of the state of           
 Alaska and raising them within the state of Alaska as either a                
 hobby or a business.  He said Mr. Williams made a large investment            
 in purchasing 200 reindeer that the federal government can't really           
 take away from him until they pay for them so they are stuck in               
 their own act, but the state of Alaska is sitting here with a lot             
 of actions that are unconstitutional under our Alaska Constitution.           
 TAPE 95-59, SIDE B                                                            
 Number 001                                                                    
 Senator Halford further stated that he wouldn't be opposed to                 
 narrowing the resolution to say that the 1937 Act does not apply to           
 restrict non-Native ownership of imported reindeer, because that is           
 probably the narrowest exemption that doesn't affect at all of the            
 pre-1937 reindeer.  The goal is to give the guy a chance to survive           
 where he, who is a practicing attorney, has to hire attorneys and             
 can't seem to get anywhere economically.                                      
 Number 025                                                                    
 SENATOR TAYLOR spoke to his frustrations with the discussion on               
 racism.  He said when we continue to perpetuate that form of                  
 patronizing racism, it is a mistake that violates the integrity of            
 the U.S. Constitution and every single thing that that Constitution           
 stands for.                                                                   
 Number 100                                                                    
 SENATOR LINCOLN moved that SR 4 be held in committee until the                
 Ninth Circuit Court makes its decision.  SENATOR TAYLOR objected.             
 The roll was taken with the following result:  Senators Hoffman and           
 Lincoln voted "Yea" and Senators Taylor, Halford, Frank and Leman             
 voted "Nay."  The motion failed.                                              
 Number 115                                                                    
 SENATOR HALFORD said he was trying to find the narrowest exemption            
 that has the least impact.  He then moved to amend the "Be it                 
 Resolved" clause to say that the Reindeer Industry Act of 1937 does           
 not apply to restrict non-Native ownership of imported reindeer in            
 the state of Alaska.  SENATOR LINCOLN objected.  SENATOR HALFORD              
 withdrew his amendment.                                                       
 Number 144                                                                    
 SENATOR HALFORD moved that SR 4 be passed out of committee with               
 individual recommendations.  SENATOR LINCOLN objected.  The roll              
 was taken with the following result:  Senators Frank, Halford,                
 Taylor, and Leman voted "Yea" and Senators Lincoln and Hoffman                
 voted "Nay."  SENATOR LEMAN stated the motion carried.                        

Document Name Date/Time Subjects