Reuben Loewen testifying Monday. (Jillian Rogers)

Reuben Loewen testifying Monday. (Jillian Rogers)

The trial of Reuben and Rosalie Loewen versus the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources began proceedings Monday in Haines court. The case stems from a dispute between the Loewens, private landowners who live on the Chilkoot River, and locals who use the river for subsistence hooligan fishing.

Tlingit people have been hooligan fishing at the disputed location for centuries, says Kristen Miller, the attorney representing Sealaska Corporation, the Alaska Native Brotherhood Haines Camp 5, and the Chilkoot Indian Association. She says they will argue over the next several days that the fishermen should continue to have unhindered access to the spot. Hooligan season typically lasts for about a week in late April and early May.

The Loewens say they are stewards of the river and are trying to preserve the waterway by restricting vehicle access to the spot, which is just south of the Chilkoot River bridge. The Loewens say they don’t mind people fishing, if they walk down to the spot instead of driving.

The conflict started a few years ago, but came to a head last year when the Loewens tried to block vehicles by placing a boulder in the middle of the path leading to the fishing spot. A group of subsistence users removed the boulder, and a verbal altercation ensued.

The boundaries and state right-of-way in the area are not clearly designated, so it’s unknown who exactly owns or has the right to access the land. The Loewens filed the accretion lawsuit to clarify ownership. Co-defendants include Sealaska Corporation, the Chilkoot Indian Association, and the Haines Alaska Native Brotherhoood.

Attorney Daniel Bruce is representing the Loewens. He called eight witnesses Monday, including Rosalie and Reuben, along with Lutak residents.

Miller had a list of more than a dozen witnesses representing various Native groups, including the Chilkoot Indian Association and the Alaska Native Brotherhood.

The trial is expected to last three days. Judge Phillip Pallenberg is presiding.

Correction: The originial article stated that Kristen Miller was an attorney representing the state. She is not representing the state, but the other defendants, including Sealaska Corporation, the Alaska Native Brotherhood Haines Camp 5, and the Chilkoot Indian Association.