This is an explanation for passage 1 of LSAT preptest 63, the June 2011 LSAT. This passage is about an issue affecting native Alaskans. Due to a flawed definition of the word “tradition”, the natives couldn’t exercise certain traditions.
This section has paragraph summaries and an analysis of the passage, links to the explanations for the questions are below.
- Alaska hasn’t defined ‘tradition’, which causes problems.
- The law has considered tradition to be a long standing process, regular and continuous.
- Laws banned the use of sea otter pelts. This meant that sea otter pelts hadn’t been used by natives ‘within living memory’.
- Courts found that ‘within living memory’ was too restrictive, especially when natives were legally banned from exercising certain traditions.
This passage is both a discussion of tradition in Alaska, and an argument. The author clearly believes that tradition has been defined too narrowly. See lines 10-12 and lines 17-20.
The central dilemma in the example given is that Natives were banned from using sea otter pelts. So by law, they couldn’t continue to exercise certain traditions. This meant that there had been no use of seal otter pelts ‘within living memory’.
There are two laws. The fur seal treaty of 1910 banned the hunting of sea otters. This stopped Alaska Natives from exercising their tradition.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 allowed natives to hunt protected animals, if they were being hunted to make “traditional” articles.
You may see the problem. By 1972, many traditions had died out, thanks to the 1910 treaty. So if courts defined a tradition as something continuous, then natives could not start making things from sea otter pelts again.
Initially, the courts applied this narrow view of tradition. But the fourth paragraphs explains that now courts take a broader view. Sea otter pelts qualify for the exemption under the 1972 law, because natives had a longstanding tradition of using sea otters, and the tradition only died out because natives were forcibly prevented from continuing to hunt sea otters.
It’s not clear whether natives could restart exercising a tradition if they had stopped doing it voluntarily. This distinction isn’t tested in the questions.
The main point of the passage is not the sea otter pelts. They’re an example supporting the broader point: the concept of tradition has some flaws in the way it’s often defined.
The Russians come up in a few answers. We know that sea otter hunting by Alaska Natives was common before the Russian occupation in the late 1700s. That’s all we know. We don’t know if Russians stopped sea otter hunting, or if any Russians hunted otters.
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