Did I Hear That Right? One Anthropologist’s Reaction to Colleague’s Testimony in a Court Case Involving Alaska Native Aboriginal Hunting and Fishing Rights on the Outer Continental Shelf


  • Rita A. Miraglia


In August of 2008, I attended portions of the Native Village of Eyak vs.CarlosGutierrez trial, held in Federal District Court for the State of Alaska, in Anchorage. I heardsome of my colleagues, who appeared as expert witnesses for the United States Federal Government (the defendant in the case), giving testimony, some of whichI found deeply troubling. In this paper, I recount some of the troublingtestimony and respond to it, at the same time deconstructing the logicunderlying the testimony. However, I first need to describe the context of thetrial.

Theplaintiff Chugach Region villages, including the Alaska Native Villages of Eyak, Tatitlek, Chenega, Nanwalek, and Port Graham, originally filed suit in1995 (Native Village of Eyak vs. Trawler Diane Marie, Inc., Case No.A95-0065-cv), claiming exclusive aboriginal hunting and fishing rights in theOuter Continental Shelf (OCS), as a challenge to new regulations limitingaccess to halibut and sablefish fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska and lower CookInlet.

Theplaintiffs appealed this decision to the Ninth Circuit Court, which affirmedHolland’s ruling. Plaintiffs then filed the lawsuit under consideration here,for non-exclusive aboriginal hunting and fishing rights on the OCS, in 1998. The judge granted the Secretary of Commerce’s motion for summary judgment, holding “that plaintiff’s claim of non-exclusive aboriginal hunting and fishingrights cannot exist as a matter of law due to the US’s paramount sovereignty.” The plaintiff’s again appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court, which remanded thecase to the District Court, instructing the District Court to “decide whataboriginal rights to fish beyond the three-mile limit,if any, the plaintiff’s have….for purposes of this limited remand, the DistrictCourt should assume that the village’s aboriginal rights, if any, have not beenabrogated by the federal paramountcy doctrine or other federal law” (Holland2009:5). The remanded case (Eyak vs. Gutierrez) was heard in United StatesDistrict Court for the State of Alaska, in Anchorage, in August 2008.

Inorder to support the defendant’s case, archaeologists presented what I considerto be some questionable ideas as testimony. I do not have the time of space todiscuss each of the points raised in the testimony of these defense witnesses,but I will hit on a few key points of their argument.

Author Biography

Rita A. Miraglia


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