Alaska Subsistence
A National Park Service Management History
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Chapter 2:

B. Establishing an NPS Management Policy, 1916-1933

The National Park Service came into being on August 25, 1916, primarily because the 36 parks and monuments then in existence had grown into a "hodgepodge of areas inconsistently managed and inadequately protected." [12] The new agency's first two leaders, Stephen Mather and Horace Albright, were members of a so-alled "college-educated managerial elite" that were in positions of power in several federal conservation agencies at that time. Perhaps because of their educational level and field experience, both Mather and Albright had a genuine interest in archaeology and Native artifacts; they also had a genuine concern for Indians and could defend Native interests as they understood them, and they recognized that tribes had a historic, inherent relationship with parks. Their knowledge of living Indians, however, bordered on being superficial and naive. Correctly or not, Mather and Albright perceived that national park visitors preferred romantic stereotypes and "picturesque" misconceptions rather than the realities of Indian life. And, like most Americans at that time, elements of racism surfaced in their descriptions of Indians and their cultures. Both the stereotypes and the misconceptions are apparent in a book that Albright wrote in 1928, where he stated that visiting the various western national parks gave the visitor the opportunity to find "Real, live Indians! the kind that wear feathers, don war paint, make their clothes and moccasins of skins.... The best place for the Dude to see the Indian in his natural state is in some of the national parks." [13]

The brevity of the Congressional act that established the NPS demanded that additional, detailed guidance be provided to help direct park management policy. Interior Secretary Franklin Lane provided the general orientation of that policy in a May 1918 letter to Director Mather. (Lane's letter, in actuality, was probably written by Horace Albright after discussions with Mather.) The letter was unequivocal in his attitude toward hunting—"hunting will not be permitted in any national park"—but as to fishing, the letter noted that "mountain climbing ... boating, and fishing will ever be the favorite sports." It made no statement about non-recreational fishing. (It can only be assumed that officials were opposed to the activity, although it probably did not loom as a major issue.) Regarding the parks' botanical resources, Lane's letter urged the prohibition of tree-cutting except for certain specified uses (none of which related to subsistence), and the letter's other statements about botanical matters were similarly irrelevant to subsistence concerns because they pertained primarily to grazing and the collecting of museum specimens. [14]

During the next several decadest—hat is, from the agency's inception until the 1960s—the National Park Service was often insensitive to the needs of Native Americans that lived on the margins of the various NPS areas. At many park units, agency personnel and Native Americans rarely if ever came into conflict. But in virtually all of the "crown jewel" parks and in many other large western park units, Native Americans and the NPS clashed repeatedly over a variety of issues, including subsistence. In part, these conflicts stemmed from the fact that the NPS during this period was "fixed on growth as necessary for agency survival," and in order to satisfy the dictates of Congress and to please park visitors, "it demonstrated little genuine concern for Native rights." [15] And the fact that the NPS emerged victorious from many of its disagreements with its Indian neighbors stems, in part, from the hierarchy of governmental agencies. The National Park Service, in comparison with many other government agencies, traditionally ranked poorly in budgets and visibility because it lacked scientific or military prestige and because its programs—bent on retaining the status quo—neither produced dollars nor protected potential wealth. But compared with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, another Interior Department agency, the NPS ranked high. This is because the BIA had virtually no lobby, no public popularity, no tourist industry, and few avid Congressional supporters. [16] Case-by-case specifics about the nature of those conflicts, and the evolution of NPS policy toward subsistence, are described below.

The area included within today's Glacier National Park, in northern Montana, was once home to members of the Blackfeet confederacy. But as in other parts of the west, the coming of the white man had whittled down the Blackfeet's domain. Their legal dealings with the Federal government had begun in 1851, when a treaty (in which they had not participated) allotted them a large swath of the northern plains. But beginning in 1868, new agreements reduced the size of that allotment, and in 1895 the U.S. government finagled the Blackfeet into selling a twenty-mile-wide "mineral strip" for $1.5 million. This 800,000-acre expanse included the eastern half of present-day Glacier Park, along with additional lands to the south. The Blackfeet were firm in their conviction that the land sale would not affect their ability to hunt, fish, graze, or cut timber on the "mineral strip," and the agreement that Congress approved reflected those concerns. [17] But when Congress began considering the area as a national park, no Blackfeet or other Indians were invited to make their views known, and when the park became a reality in May 1910, the enabling act contained no provisions for hunting, fishing, or timber rights. A number of Blackfeet ignored the law, and in response, they were either jailed or removed, and their guns, traps, and game were confiscated. Perhaps based on those incidents, a 1914 law confirmed the obvious: that all hunting was prohibited in the park, along with all fishing except by hook and line. NPS officials, who soon recognized that the area's megafauna migrated between the park and the nearby Blackfeet Reservation, tried in the interests of wildlife conservation to purchase an additional six-mile-wide strip east of the park. Both the BIA and the Blackfeet rejected the Service's entreaties, however, and throughout the 1920s Indian hunting continued inside the park as well as on reservation land. In 1924, a Blackfeet leader went so far as to circulate a petition calling for recognition of Indian rights in the park. But the petition went nowhere, and in 1925 the Blackfeet and others filed a lawsuit based, in part, on the NPS's policy of actively prohibiting subsistence activities in the park. This lawsuit dragged on for ten years; meanwhile, the NPS made a renewed attempt to buy the six-mile strip east of the park's eastern border. During the late 1940s the NPS, for ecological reasons, belatedly recognized that it made little sense to purchase Blackfeet land. The Indians, for their part, pressed their case throughout this period for harvesting the park's game, fish, and timber resources; they have continued to do so, thus far without success. [18]

Grand Canyon is another example of an area that was reserved by the Federal government prior to the establishment of the National Park Service, although many activities related to Native use had taken place after the agency's creation. The canyon and the surrounding rimlands were designated as a forest reserve in the early 1890s, and in 1906 the area was reclassified as a game reserve; it became a national monument in 1908, and in 1919 Congress declared the area as Grand Canyon National Park. Here, as elsewhere, Natives had been living in the area long before Spanish explorers visited the area in 1540. These Natives, primarily Havasupai and Navajo Indians, remained in the area until American settlers began to arrive during the 1880s. Legally, they disappeared soon afterward; Federal agencies ignored their land rights and their prior occupation as they created the various conservation withdrawals, and NPS reports for many years after the park's 1919 establishment paid virtually no attention to area Indians. The Havasupai and Navajo, however, had not left. A few Havasupais continued to reside at Indian Garden, along the Bright Angel Trail, until the agency evicted them in 1928. Others continued to live within the park boundaries for years afterward; some hunted along the South Rim, and some worked in the park, either as NPS employees or for concessioners. By the late 1920s, the NPS had set aside a small area for the Havasupais, called Supai Camp, near Grand Canyon Village. Managing Supai Camp would cause NPS officials much vexation for decades to come. [19]

The NPS and local Indians had few if any recorded use conflicts over Grand Canyon National Park land. But before long, difficulties arose when the agency attempted to expand its boundaries. As early as 1919, NPS Director Stephen Mather mulled over the idea of building a road from the El Tovar Hotel to Cataract Canyon, near Supai Village. (Park land, at that time, extended all the way west to the rim above Cataract Canyon, while the Havasupai Indian Reservation was small—less than one square mile—and located entirely below the rim.) The road would have been built had the construction cost (some $2 million) not been so high, and in 1930 the NPS proposed purchasing Indian land in the area, an action for which it was heavily criticized. Somewhat later, during the mid-1950s, Havasupais living at Supai Camp began to assert their right to hunt deer in the park, actions that resulted in arrests and a partially-successful NPS campaign to close Supai Camp. At Grand Canyon, as elsewhere in the NPS system, agency officials had little sympathy toward allowing Natives to carry on activities that Congress had not specifically provided them. (This lack of sympathy, as noted later in this chapter, would abruptly change during the 1970s. As one aspect of those changed sympathies, Congress in 1975 transferred 169,000 acres of Park Service and Forest Service land along the canyon's south rim to the Havasupai tribe.) [20]

A third example of how the NPS and adjacent Natives coexisted is that of Mesa Verde National Park, established in June 1906. The Mesa Verde country, in southwestern Colorado, had long been a Ute homeland. But miners and other settlers began filtering into the area in the 1860s, and by the 1880s a series of treaties had relegated the Utes to a 15-mile-wide sliver of territory north of the Colorado-New Mexico border. The Mesa Verde legislation had further reduced the Ute Mountain Utes' reservation by 42,000 acres; and a subsequent boundary adjustment, necessitated by a surveying error, increased the park by an additional 175,000 acres, much of it gained at the Indians' expense. Less than a year later, a field inspection revealed that many of the best ruins were still outside of the new park's boundaries, so the Interior Department proposed trading land on nearby Ute Mountain for the land in question. The Utes initially refused to bargain, but using overtly coercive tactics, a land swap was implemented in May 1911; 19,500 acres on Ute Mountain was traded for 10,000 acres adjacent to the new national park. Yet another surveying error caused 1,320 additional acres to be transferred from Bureau of Indian Affairs to Interior Department jurisdiction, an action that was taken in 1913 without the Utes' knowledge or consent. [21] When the NPS inherited the park in 1916, officials with the new agency quickly learned that the Utes were still smarting over the strong-armed tactics that had been used five years earlier. Perhaps as a result, the Utes had no qualms about hunting, grazing livestock, cutting timber, or otherwise using park lands. The NPS took no immediate action in such cases; what it did show an interest in was additional land, in adjacent Mancos Canyon, that was "rich in cliff dwellings and archaeological material." Off and on for more than fifty years, NPS tried to acquire Mancos Canyon land. But no deal was ever completed. Not until 1970 did the agency drop its quest for Ute land. [22]

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Last Updated: 14-Mar-2003