Alaska Subsistence
A National Park Service Management History
NPS Logo

Chapter 2:

C. Shifting Policies Toward Native Americans, 1933-1963

As the NPS grew and matured, it began to adopt new paradigms toward Natives that resided on lands adjacent to newly-designated park units. Part of this change in attitude took place because the Franklin Roosevelt administration, during the mid-1930s, declared an "Indian New Deal," and the ramifications of the changed status of Indians in the Federal hierarchy had the practical effect of producing a rough stalemate between Natives and various land management bureaus. [23] Three examples of the shift in the agency's behavior during the creation of new park units (at Olympic and Everglades national parks and Grand Portage National Monument) are described below, and illustrations are provided showing a gradual loosening of strictures pertaining to subsistence uses.

Olympic National Park, located in northwestern Washington, was established by Congress in 1938. The process that created that park, however, was a half-century in the making. The idea of a national park—to protect the Roosevelt elk, other game and non-game animals, and several ancient stands of fir, spruce, and cedar—was first proposed by Judge James Wickersham in 1890. (Wickersham, then living in Tacoma, moved to Alaska in 1900 and spent some forty years there as a lawyer, judge, and Congressional delegate.) The Olympic Peninsula, at the time, was home to ten tribal or band groups, most of whom lived in coastal villages. Wickersham, however, felt that designating a park would cause no dislocation to area Natives. These groups, he claimed, stayed close to the coast because they were frightened by legends of mountain spirits and by savage gods that practiced cannibalism. [24]

Here, as elsewhere, the Federal government reserved much of the peninsula without regard to Native uses or claims. President Grover Cleveland reserved some 2.1 million acres there in 1897, but his successor, William McKinley, lopped off huge chunks of it to timber interests. By 1904, a proposal for an "Elk National Park" had arisen. That effort failed, but five years later, Theodore Roosevelt withdrew some 600,000 acres on the peninsula to establish Olympic National Monument. Woodrow Wilson stripped away most of the forested lands from the newly established monument. Twenty years later, however, Franklin D. Roosevelt played a key role in the campaign for a national park. The park bill that Roosevelt signed in 1938 was notable in that Indian treaty rights were explicitly protected [25], although Native issues had played no role in the park campaign and no Natives were consulted. Two years later, the NPS acquired a remarkable strip of land along the wild Pacific shoreline. Considering the complexity of the Native population and the variety of resource issues, relations between the NPS and area Natives during the next several decades were remarkably amicable. Part of that amicability, it appears, was based on the fact that local Indians, by and large, were invisible to the agency. A direct result of that invisibility was that park rangers did not overreact when they heard about occasional, illegal Indian elk or deer hunts. [26]

Everglades National Park, in southern Florida, was the subject of a long, agonizing birthing process; Congress authorized the park in 1934 but the NPS did not begin to administer it until 1947. This "river of grass" had long been home to the Seminole Indians, but few paid attention to them until the early twentieth century, when growing concerns about both their way of life and preserving the dwindling wildlife populations brought about the creation of a 100,000-acre Indian reservation and game preserve. The Florida land boom of the 1920s brought huge new threats to the Everglades, and in response to the sharp increases in ecological degradation, Robert T. Morris and Ernest F. Coe founded the Tropic Everglades Park Association. For the next two decades, Morris and Coe's organization fought for a park against local politicians and sport hunters. [27]

But before a park could be established, the Seminole Indians—who depended on the proposed parklands for subsistence—would also need to be considered. When the NPS first discussed the area, in 1930, officials discovered that the Seminoles' reservation, which was key to the proposed park, could legally be cancelled because the affected Indians hunted on their land but did not live there. But the BIA, which was also conducting an area study, declared that there was "an intimate connection between the Indians and the park" and that the Seminoles had to retain hunting rights in any future park proposal. Conservationists involved in the project likewise did not relish a Seminole removal from the areas being proposed for the park, so when Congress passed the Everglades National Park Act in 1934—which authorized a park but provided no land—the lives of local Natives were unaffected. Federal officials hoped that the park would become a reality through state and private land donations. [28]

Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, who helped organize support for the park, was a maverick administrator who, unlike others, felt that the local Indians enjoyed a special status. In a March 1935 radio address, he spoke of the historic injustices to Indians that had often accompanied the establishment of new parks, and he further declared that "the Seminoles ought to have the right of subsistence hunting and fishing within the proposed park." [29] Ickes had thus thrown a moral dimension into the fight for the Everglades, a factor that heretofore had never been considered; and as a practical matter, he had found a way, at least theoretically, to marry the ideas of Native use and wildlife preservation into the park proposal. BIA chief John Collier responded to Ickes's address by proposing a new sentence into the 1934 park act, which read "[Nothing] in this Act shall be construed to lessen any existing rights of the Seminole Indians which are not in conflict with the purposes [of] Everglades National Park." Ernest Coe, however, was furious at its inclusion, and in response to his criticism, NPS officials (and later Ickes, too) softened their stance. By 1936, Coe had been reassured that Indians had "no special rights or privileges within national parks." [30]

The following year, several Seminoles spoke out about the issue; in remarks to the press, they vowed never to leave the Everglades and would continue to hunt there regardless of how federal decision makers resolved the matter. Federal officials, perhaps in response, quietly agreed on a long-term plan to remove the affected Indians to sites north of the proposed park, but they indefinitely postponed the implementation of that plan; and throughout this period, Seminoles continued to hunt, trap, and fish in that area. (Major species harvested included alligators and frogs as well as various fish species.) By 1947, land donations and funds for additional land acquisition began to turn the park from an idea to a reality, and a Fish and Wildlife Service officer, Daniel Beard, was assigned to help write a refuge management plan. Beard, sensitive to the realities of Indian life, allowed several bands to reside within park boundaries. He hoped to include Natives as park rangers, and he also proposed that Native use of the area be a major interpretive theme. As to subsistence, however, he demanded that frogging be prohibited and that hunting be restricted to specific park areas. Once the park was established, however, NPS officials let it be known that those prohibitions would not be enforced. Indians, to this day, continue to live on leased land within park boundaries, but they seldom use the park except for traditional burials. [31]

At Grand Portage, in northeastern Minnesota, the agency showed a new willingness to work with Native groups on what was targeted as a mutually-beneficial park area. This 710-acre parcel, which was declared a national historic site in 1951 and a national monument in 1958, included within its boundaries a long-established Chippewa village, and it indirectly commemorated the role of American Indians as well as non-Native trappers in the northern fur trade. In order to establish the park unit, the Chippewa donated almost half of the monument's land, and in return, the NPS guaranteed the tribe free access across the monument, job preferences, the stimulation of handicraft sales, and other advantages. It was perhaps the first time in which agency personnel had worked together with Native representatives on a park proposal. Indeed, the stipulations of a tribal resolution formed the backbone of the enabling legislation. [32]

As noted above, Secretary Franklin Lane had recommended in 1918 that the NPS adopt a policy prohibiting hunting in the national parks, and seven years later, Secretary Hubert Work reiterated that policy and expanded it to monuments as well as parks. The government's first Code of Federal Regulations, published in 1938, noted that "the destruction ... or disturbance of ... any animal, bird, or other wildlife ... is prohibited," and it more specifically it stated that

The parks and monuments are sanctuaries for wildlife of every sort, and all hunting, or the killing, wounding, frightening, capturing, or attempting to capture at any time of any wild bird or animal, ... is prohibited within the limits of the parks and monuments. [33]

The policy's primary effect was to protect wildlife populations by stopping sport hunting. An unfortunate byproduct of this policy was that Native Americans, who often had few nutritional alternatives, were severely impacted by the ban. But as the examples above (all of which date from the pre-1960 period) have suggested, the agency's prohibition against hunting was something less than ironclad. [34]

Consider the following examples. At Yellowstone, Mount Rainier, Glacier and Grand Canyon, the NPS vigorously enforced anti-hunting laws; and with the possible exception of Glacier, the agency apparently succeeded in both driving subsistence users away and preventing them from returning. But at Mesa Verde, Olympic, and Everglades, and probably at a number of other national parks as well, park officials were less than zealous in their enforcement efforts, knowing full well that subsistence activities occasionally took place. In these latter parks, NPS officials tacitly condoned subsistence harvests so long as they remained both small in scale and away from the public view. In addition to the above parks, either hunting or sheep grazing took place at several park units in the Four Corners area. These activities were openly allowed in both Navajo and Canyon de Chelly national monuments (primarily because the units were on Navajo tribal land), but NPS pressure eventually forced Natives to abandon these activities at Chaco Canyon National Monument (now Chaco Culture National Historical Park) and Wupatki National Monument. [35] Hunting on an informal basis—officially illegal, but tolerated—also took place in Hawaii National Park (where hunting helped control the booming feral goat population), at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, at Virgin Islands National Park, and doubtless at a number of other park units. [36]

The parks that condoned subsistence hunting during this period were by no means the only units in the NPS system where hunting took place. As Richard Sellars's excellent history of NPS natural resource management has described, officials in Grand Teton National Park in 1950 bowed to public pressure and began allowing recreational sportsmen to hunt elk in Jackson Hole as a means of culling an overstocked herd. In addition, the agency often authorized hunting in national park units to control predators. Most of this hunting was done by NPS rangers, but outside hunters were occasionally brought in. (This activity, quite common during the Mather era, began to decline during the 1930s but did not cease until years later.) And beginning in the mid-1930s, the agency had responded to Americans' increasing recreational needs by establishing the first national recreation areas. These units, which during this period were primarily based on reservoirs, often allowed a broad range of activities, including hunting, that were not generally authorized in national parks or monuments. [37]

In addition to the relatively small number of park units where hunting took place, scattered other park units allowed other subsistence activities on either a legalized or informal basis. If it is assumed that the definition of "subsistence uses" as applied in the Alaska Lands Act is used here—to include hunting, fishing, and collecting—then twenty or more park units that were established prior to 1965 supported subsistence activities. (See Table 2-1, following page.) Several parks, as described above, allowed hunting, and at least two national parks formally allowed subsistence fishing—both located at the time in U.S. territories—while other units condoned the activity on an informal basis.

Table 2-1. Known Subsistence Uses in Non-Alaskan NPS Units That Were Established Prior to 1976

Date Unit
Park Unit Allowable Use(s)

Hunting and Fishing:
1899Mount Rainier NP, Wash.spear fishing (Natives)
1933Fort Pulaski NM, Ga."protein fishing" (local residents)
1936+national recreation areas (selected)hunting, fishing, etc.
1937+national seashores (selected)hunting, fishing, etc.
1938Olympic NP, Wash.hunting (Natives)
1938Hawaii NP (Kalapana Extension)fishing (Kalapana residents)
1947Everglades NP, Fla.hunting, fishing, trapping (Natives)
1956Virgin Islands NP, (local residents)
1966+national lakeshores (selected)hunting, fishing, etc.
1968Badlands NM, S.D. (South Unit)hunting, etc. (Natives)
1970Apostle Island NL, Wis.hunting, fishing, trapping (Natives)
1972Buffalo NR, Ark.various uses (local residents)
1974+national preserves (all)hunting

1890Yosemite NP, Calif.plants, nuts, berries (Natives)
1899Mount Rainier NP, Wash.berries (Natives)
1915Rocky Mountain NP, Colo.nuts, ceremonial purposes (Natives)
1916Haleakala NP, Hawaiiplants, berries (local residents)
1919Grand Canyon NP, Ariz.nuts, salt (Natives)
1929Badlands NM, S.D.plants (Natives)
1930Great Smoky Mtns. NP, N.C.-Tenn.plants, nuts, berries (local residents)
1932Great Sand Dunes NM, Colo.nuts (local residents)
1932Bandelier NM, N.M.ceremonial purposes (Natives)
1933Death Valley NM, Calif.-Nev.nuts (Natives)
1933Saguaro NM, Ariz.cactus fruit (Natives)
1933Walnut Canyon NM, Ariz.nuts, flowers
1937Organ Pipe Cactus NM, Ariz.cactus fruit (Natives)
1968Lake Chelan NRA, Wash.wood, etc. (local residents)
1968Redwood NP, Calif.ferns (Natives)
1970Apostle Islands NL, Wis.rice harvesting (Natives)
1972Point Reyes NS, Calif.berries (local residents)
1975Voyageurs NP, Minn.rice, berries (Natives)

Sources: see text

Fishing in the National Park system, according to federal rules, was either prohibited entirely or was open only to recreational sportsmen. NPS regulations stated that "Fishing with nets, seines, traps, ... or for merchandise or profit, or in any other way than with hook and line, the rod or line being held in hand, is prohibited," and they further stated that "The canning or curing of fish for the purpose of transporting them out of a national park or monument is prohibited." [38] The only exceptions to these regulations applied at Fort Jefferson and Glacier Bay national monuments, where commercial fishing was allowed, and at Hawaii and Virgin Islands national parks (see below), where personal-use (i.e., subsistence) fishing was allowed to continue. At all four units, fishing was tightly regulated by user, gear type, and season. A few additional park units, primarily in the southeastern or southcentral states, allowed fishing with trot and throw lines (i.e., fishing lines with multiple hooks) while a few others allowed small seines to be used on bait fish such as minnows and crawfish. [39]

Perhaps the most well known example of legalized subsistence fishing in a national park unit is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which was established as Hawaii National Park in 1916. In June 1938, Congress expanded the park's boundaries along the Kalapana coast, and the language in the bill gave explicit permission for the "Native Hawaiian residents" in the extension area to fish along the coast above the high tide line and also to collect limpets, locally called opihi. [40] Subsistence fishing is also legally allowed in Virgin Islands National Park. The bill establishing the park, which passed Congress in 1956, specifically provided for fishing "by traditional means;" local residents had a long history of subsistence fishing using traps. [41] At Georgia's Fort Pulaski National Monument, and perhaps at other NPS units, "protein fishing" (i.e., fishing by indigent local residents) has long taken place; though not specifically sanctioned, officials condone the practice because it does not impair overall park values and because it provides opportunities for area residents to visit the park. [42]

Far more numerous are instances in which park units (all of which were established prior to 1963) allowed the collection, by local residents, of either plant materials (for nutritional, construction, or craft purposes) or various materials for ceremonial purposes. Agency regulations, first issued in 1938, discouraged any such practices; they bluntly stated that "the destruction, ... removal, or disturbance in any way of ... any tree, flower, [or] vegetation ... is prohibited." There were only two general exceptions to this rule. First, "flowers may be gathered in small quantities when, in the judgment of the superintendent or custodian, their removal will not impair the beauty of the park or monument." In addition, allowances were made for "collections for scientific or educational purposes." Both of these activities required a written permit from a superintendent or custodian. [43] By 1943, the regulations remained restrictive, and they further noted that "the unauthorized possession of any flower or other vegetation in any park or monument is prohibited." [44] But by the 1960s, regulations presented a mixed message. On the one hand, they noted that

the possession ... removal or disturbance in any manner of any animal and plant matter and direct or indirect products thereof, including but not limited to petrified wood, flower, cone or other fruit, egg, nest, or nesting site ... is prohibited, except as otherwise provided in this section or in special regulations for a park area.

A later paragraph in those regulations, however, provided for personal use gathering under certain circumstances:

The gathering or possession for personal consumption or use, of only such fruits and berries as the Superintendent may designate is permitted. All such fruits and berries shall be picked by hand. The gathering or collecting of such objects for the purpose of sale is prohibited. [45]

The only park-specific exception mentioned in the 1938 regulations was at Hawaii National Park, where visitors "may, with the permission of the park superintendent, pick and eat, or carry away, such fruits as the superintendent may designate." Based on that provision, visitors to the park (primarily that portion of the park that became Haleakala National Park in 1960) have a long history of collecting a'kala (native raspberries), and under specified conditions, locals have long taken certain native plant materials for traditional uses. [46] Elsewhere, plant materials have been collected at many other park units, including the following:

Badlands NP (S.D.), where the Lakota Sioux harvest prairie turnip [47]

Death Valley NP (Calif.), where the Timbisha Shoshone collect pinyon nuts [48]

Grand Canyon NP (Ariz.), where Natives collect both pinyon nuts and salt [49]

Great Sand Dunes NP (Colo.), where local residents collect pinyon nuts [50]

Great Smoky Mountains NP (N.C./Tenn.), where the Cherokee collect ramps (wild leeks) and all local residents collect nuts and berries [51]

Organ Pipe Cactus NM (Ariz.), where the Tohono O'odham gather cactus fruit [52]

Rocky Mountain NP (Colo.), where Natives collect nuts [53]

Saguaro NP (Ariz.), where the Tohono O'odham gather cactus fruit [54]

Walnut Canyon NM (Ariz.), where pinyon nuts and elderberry flowers are collected [55]

Yosemite NP (Calif.), where the Miwok and Paiute collect mushrooms, elderberries, and black oak acorns for food, and bracken fern root, sedge root and willow shoots for basket making [56]

Of these activities, only the cactus fruit collecting practiced by the Tohono O'odham has gained specific legal sanction, either by provisions in the enabling legislation or via special use permits. Activities in the other park units have been conducted on an informal basis. Pinyon nut collecting may well have taken place in a number of other units in the southwestern states than those listed here. [57]

Ceremonial collecting was also tolerated, though less evidence has been gathered in this regard. It is known, for example, that material for ceremonial purposes has long been collected at both Rocky Mountain NP (Colo.) and Bandelier NM (N.M.). [58] Similar activities may well have taken place at a number of other park units.

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 14-Mar-2003