The late Katie John is seen here sharing stories with her grandchildren at her beloved fishcamp in Alaska. Photo courtesy Family of Katie John

More Alaska Natives oppose Brett Kavanaugh ahead of critical hearing

Republicans are intent on advancing the high-stakes nomination of Brett Kavanaugh even as more Alaska Natives come forward to oppose the controversial U.S. Supreme Court pick.

The GOP chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary scheduled a vote on Kavanaugh on Friday, just a day after the panel is due to hear from the nominee and a professor who came forward with a sexual assault allegation. But Native elders are calling for a more thorough investigation of the claims, which date back to the judge's teen years in the early 1980s.

“Violence against our Native women and children in Alaska is not part of our culture, but is unfortunately an epidemic in Alaska," the Bering Sea Elders Group said in a newly-adopted resolution. "A person’s actions, beliefs, and ways of being show you who they are, and it is our way to know a person, their actions, their beliefs, and their way of being before elevating them to an important position in the community."

"Kavanaugh has been accused of sexual assault and attempted rape and this should be fully investigated,” the elders continued.

Though the group is small in numbers, it represents elders from 39 tribes in Alaska's Yukon-Kuskokwim and Bering Strait regions. And their stance underscores the role of Alaska's two U.S. Senators in determining the fate of Kavanaugh's imperiled nomination.

Arrests of Alaskan Indigenous activists now taking place outside Dan Sullivan’s office. We came here to ask him to #CancelKavanaugh. This is how he’s responded. #BelieveSurvivors

Posted by Women's March on Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Arrested: Alaska Native activist Fred John, wearing a red sweatshirt, can be seen toward the end of a video clip shared on Facebook by Women's March.

In hopes of swaying Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), some Native activists and allies went all the way to Washington, D.C., to protest the rushed nature of this week's proceedings. They ended up being arrested outside of his office by the U.S. Capitol police on Tuesday, according to a video posted by the Women's March group.

Among those who were arrested was Fred John, who is the 75-year-old son of the late Katie John, the Native matriarch whose subsistence rights battles remain active in the legal system. One such case, known as Sturgeon v. Frost, will be heard by the Supreme Court on November 5.

"The importance of subsistence fishing to Alaska Native subsistence users cannot be overestimated," attorneys for Nora David, Katie John's daughter, wrote in a brief to the high court.

"Nora David is Katie John’s daughter and representative of the John family seeking to preserve her mother’s legacy," the brief states.

In addition to Sturgeon, three Indian law cases from the lower 48 states, affecting everything from treaty rights to sovereign borders, are on the docket. The workload has the Alaska Federation of Natives, the largest organization of its kind in the state; the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Tribes; which represents over 30,000 citizens, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I) and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott (D), who is Tlingit; as well as the Bering Sea Elders Group alarmed about Kavanaugh's understanding of their issues.

According to the Bering Sea Elders Group, "Kavanaugh has demonstrated he does not understand the inherent status, rights, and roles of federally recognized tribes and puts at risk the 229 federally recognized tribes in Alaska.

Kavanaugh's "overly narrow and legally incorrect views of the relationship between federal and tribal governments will jeopardize the Indian Child Welfare Act, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the Violence Against Women Act, and other laws related to our self-determination," the resolution states.

Last week the Bering Sea Elders Group (BSEG) held its annual Summit at which we passed several resolutions, including a...

Posted by Bering Sea Elders Group on Monday, September 24, 2018

But Sullivan, who is serving his first term in the Senate, does not think Kavanaugh threatens the rights of the first Americans and he has previously indicated his support for the nomination. In a statement released after the arrests, he pointed out that his wife and children are Native.

"As I stated before, if I believed or saw evidence that Judge Kavanaugh’s views were somehow opposed or hostile to Alaska Natives — a very important population of our state that includes my wife, daughters, and mother-in-law — I would not support his confirmation," Sullivan said in the statement.

"Lastly, on recent claims made against Judge Kavanaugh. I would like to reiterate that allegations of sexual assault should be taken seriously. Both Professor Ford and Judge Kavanaugh deserve the right to be heard on this matter," he added, referring to Christine Blasey Ford, who is due to testify at the Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has taken a more measured approach to the controversy. As a long-serving member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, including a stint as the first woman vice-chair, she has advocated for the inclusion of Alaska tribes in the Violence Against Women Act, legislation to address the "epidemic" of missing and murdered Native women and girls and stronger protections for Native victims of crime and trafficking.

When asked about the need for an investigation into the Kavanaugh allegations, which include an additional claim reported by The New Yorker, Murkowski said on Tuesday: “It would sure clear up all the questions, wouldn’t it?” in a video posted by NBC News.

The Judiciary Committee hearing takes place at 10am Eastern on Thursday. The only people on the witness list are Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh, and the only person who apparently will be able to ask them questions is Rachel Mitchell, a prosecutor who was hired by the Republican majority.

"The goal is to de-politicize the process and get to the truth, instead of grandstanding and giving senators an opportunity to launch their presidential campaigns," Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the committee, said in a statement on Tuesday.

The executive business meeting is due to take place at 9:30am Eastern on Friday. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), the top Democrat on the panel, questioned why a vote was scheduled so quickly.

“It’s clear to me that Republicans don’t want this to be a fair process,” Feinstein said in a statement.

The Supreme Court's October 2018 term starts on October 1. Republicans have long hoped to confirm Kavanaugh in time for the session and could still get him seated in the next few days if they are able to clear the committee vote and get the nomination to the Senate floor early next week.

Of the four Indian and Native cases on the docket, the Supreme Court has scheduled arguments for two. Washington State Department of Licensing v. Cougar Den, a treaty and taxation case affecting the Yakama Nation, will be heard on October 30. Sturgeon, the Alaska subsistence case, will be heard a week later, on November 5.

The court has yet to schedule arguments in Herrera v. Wyoming, another treaty rights case, this one involving the Crow Tribe. A date for a hearing in Royal v. Murphy, a high-profile reservation boundary dispute affecting the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, is also pending.

Senate Committee on the Judiciary Notices
Nomination of the Honorable Brett M. Kavanaugh to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (Day 5) (September 27, 2018)
Executive Business Meeting (September 28, 2018)

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