Legislature(1995 - 1996)
05/08/1995 10:25 AM RES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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 business. 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 reindeer. 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 America. 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 land. 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.