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U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Hearing to Overturn Katie John Case

Published On: Apr 01 2014 12:03:00 AM AKDT

Reporter Dan Carpenter, Photojournalist Eric Sowl 

The State of Alaska's legal fight to end federal management of state waters is over. The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the Parnell Administration’s appeal of what is known as the Katie John case.

The news was well received by Alaska Native leaders and family of the late Katie John.

"I just want to say thank you, thank you to everyone and I just thank the Lord for this day,” said John’s granddaughter Katherine Martin.

John was an Athabascan elder who, along with other Alaska Natives, went to court to bring Alaska's navigable waters under the definition of public lands -- allowing for a rural subsistence priority.

Monday’s decision by the Supreme Court upholds rulings of lower courts enforcing a subsistence priority for rural Alaskans.

Federal law mandates a rural preference for hunting and fishing resources under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, known as ANILCA. The state had argued that navigable waters shouldn't be subject to federal jurisdiction as they have been since 1999.

The Alaska Federation of Natives says it is extending its hand to the state to find a solution to food security for Alaska Natives.

“We are hopeful that this opens up a new and better chapter with our relationship with the State of Alaska,” said AFN President Julie Kitka.

The state Department of Law reacted to the announcement in a written statement Monday.

“The State is disappointed today by the news that the Supreme Court has denied hearing the case between the State of Alaska and the Department of Interior and will not move forward to clarify the lines of management authority between the state and federal subsistence programs in Alaska," officials wrote. "Until this ambiguity can be removed and a clear definition of jurisdiction can be drawn, the dual management program will continue to lead to litigation and further uncertainty to the detriment of the Alaskan people as a whole."

The AFN says it will double its efforts to protect the rights of Alaska Natives.