Alaska Subsistence
A National Park Service Management History
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Chapter 2:

D. Emergence of New NPS Policies, 1963-Present

Beginning in the early 1960s, the NPS began to adopt new attitudes toward Native Americans. A number of reasons probably lay behind the agency's change of perspective. Part of the change was caused by an increased sympathy toward Native causes by society as a whole; part was doubtless caused by an increased sensitivity toward Natives among agency employees; and part was probably caused by increased militancy among Native groups that either lived adjacent to existing park units or were involved in agency attempts to establish new park units. For each of these reasons, the NPS by the early 1970s was significantly more respectful of Native viewpoints, and NPS employees responded by allowing greater Native uses of existing parks, by making Native themes an increased part of park interpretive programs, by including Native concerns in the planning of new parks, and by similar measures. This increased recognition in the role of Native Americans in the parks has continued to the present day.

One way in which the NPS has shown its sensitivity toward Native Americans has been in its increased willingness to establish new units based upon Indian historical themes or units in which Natives were consulted as part of the proposal process. In that context, the year 1965 looms as significant. In May of that year, Congress established the Nez Perce National Historical Park to commemorate the lifeways as well as the historical struggle of the Nez Perce people. The park, though headquartered in Spalding, Idaho, is spread across 38 sites in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. This model "partnership park" has been managed by the Nez Perce tribe ever since; only five of the 38 sites are owned by the NPS. [59] Three months later, Congress established Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site. The site, established to commemorate historical trading activities between Navajos and non-Native traders, is located in the midst of the Navajo Indian Reservation and has long depended on Native staff and interpretive themes. [60] Later that decade, the NPS began working with the Pima Indians toward establishing another partnership park at Snaketown, an archeological site located on the Gila River reservation south of Phoenix, Arizona. Congress went so far as to authorize a park, but the Pimas blocked the process and prevented its implementation. [61]

Five years after the Nez Perce and Hubbell Trading Post units were established, Congress created Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in northern Wisconsin. This unit is significant because the process by which it was established marked a significant change in how Native groups were able to mold park legislation that directly affected their interests. The idea of protecting the twenty-two Apostle Islands in an NPS unit had been initially proposed in the early 1930s. That effort had failed, but a second attempt in the mid-1950s had resulted in the establishment of a state forest on three of the islands. By the early 1960s, conservationists recognized that the islands were being threatened by summer home construction as well as by potential logging operations. Preserving the islands clearly demanded a federal effort. Complicating the effort, however, were the Bad River and Red Cliff Chippewa; both bands had reservations in the area, and both depended on area resources for hunting, fishing, trapping, and wild rice harvesting. But the initial Congressional bill to emerge on the issue proposed that the federal government purchase all lands on the two reservations, both tribal lands and individual allotments, in favor of new lands that the Interior Department would provide away from the proposed park. But within months of the bill's emergence, the Chippewa support for the bill had winnowed away. Despite that opposition, park backers pushed ahead, and a park bill passed the U.S. Senate in early 1967. That July, however, negotiations reached a standstill because the two Indian bands—who were backed by newly-empowered, Washington-based Native rights organizations—collectively agreed that any new park should not infringe on Indian lands or tribal rights. Some park backers, given that position, reluctantly agreed to push for a bill that included no reservation land. But others, most notably the NPS and the Interior Department, fought the idea. The testimony of the latter two parties, however, ultimately proved unpersuasive, and in a landmark victory for Native rights, the bill that passed Congress and became law in September 1970 did not include Indian lands. Rights to Indian hunting, trapping, fishing, and rice harvesting within the newly created national lakeshore were also protected. [62]

The 1960s were also notable because the NPS began to make internal organizational changes on the behalf of Native American interests. In 1963, the agency's Southwest Region commenced its Indian Assistance Program (IAP), a novel effort headed by archeologist Leland Abel. That program, a cooperative arrangement between the NPS and BIA, provided cultural resource management, maintenance and design, and archeological assistance to Indian tribes throughout the region. To increase accessibility to the tribal officials with whom they worked, IAP staff were located in Phoenix, Arizona and Gallup, New Mexico as well as in Santa Fe. The program expanded in popularity and, backed by NPS officials at both the regional and Washington level, it remained active for almost twenty years. Another organizational change that the NPS implemented that decade occurred in 1968 when the Southwest Region created a special Navajo Lands Group, headed by John E. Cook, to help manage Navajo-area sites. [63] Shortly afterward, NPS Director George Hartzog—at the behest of new Interior Secretary Walter Hickel—asked Cook to head an Indian Economy Task Force, which entailed a nationwide survey regarding how Natives and the NPS could work together on issues of mutual concern. [64]

During the 1970s, Indian tribes became increasingly aggressive in pursuing their interests, and in the face of new resistance to NPS policies, the agency became increasingly sensitive to Native issues. In this decade, as in the previous one, the Southwest Region was at the forefront. But on a national level, no real progress took place until the late 1970s. Work on a servicewide Indian relations policy began in 1978 (using principles that had first been espoused by Chief Historian Verne Chatelain back in the 1930s), and after almost a decade of effort the agency issued a completed Native American Relationships Management Policy. This document, distributed in 1987, stated in unequivocal terms that the agency, more than just tolerating Native presence in and around parks, would respect and promote tribal cultures as an active park component. [65] The NPS also signaled its interest in Native affairs when Director Russell Dickenson, in 1982, appointed Bill Fields as the agency's first tribal liaison. Fields, a Cherokee who had grown up on the Navajo reservation, was an old NPS hand; at the time of his appointment, had worked for years in the Southwest Region's Indian Assistance Program and had headed the program since 1979. [66]

The 1960s also marked a watershed period because the agency began to broaden the types of uses that would be allowed in both new and existing parks. The agency, during this period, was justifiably proud of its successes, over the years, in preventing the incursions of unwanted activities in the parks, both in the "crown jewels" and elsewhere. But in its mission to make the agency more relevant to minority and other urban residents, NPS Director Hartzog instituted a expansionist and activist park policy as part of President Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" program, and between 1964 and 1972, sixty-nine new NPS units came into being. Several new units were national recreation areas located near large urban centers, and several more were national seashores or lakeshores; only five of the sixty-nine were national parks. Most of the new national recreation areas, national seashores and national lakeshores allowed hunting, although the activity was typically prohibited in urban-based units. [67]

The other major way in which the NPS began to change its organizational habits during the mid-1960s, as they related to Native Americans and other local residents, was to incorporate the concerns of those groups in the various new NPS units. Most new parks, to be sure, did not focus on Native or local-resident themes, but the new park units—regardless of theme—did differ from previously-created park units in that they took pains to incorporate local lifeways (Native or non-Native) into the park planning process. And this process of incorporation often resulted in local land uses, that in an earlier period would have been prohibited, being legitimized in the newly-established park units.

The following parks, all of which were established between 1963 and 1972, illustrate the range of allowed uses:

Badlands NP (S.D.) — Oglala Sioux can hunt, etc. in the newly-designated South Unit, [68]

Buffalo NR (Ark.) — local residents still utilize area resources [69]

Lake Chelan NRA (Wash.) — Stehekin residents can gather wood and other local materials [70]

Point Reyes NS (Calif.) — Hispanic ranch hands pick berries [71]

Redwood NP (Calif.) — Natives can collect maidenhair ferns for baskets [72]

Voyageurs NP (Minn.) — Ojibwe can harvest wild rice and pick berries [73]

Many parks that have been established since 1972 have also made special provisions for the local residents' needs, but inasmuch as they are not the primary focus of this report they will not be discussed here. [74] One major change, however, was the agency's decision to create a new park category, and in October 1974 the first two "national preserves" came into being. This category, the process that brought it into being, and the category's applicability to the various Alaska park proposals will be discussed in Chapter 4.

This change of attitude has also affected a number of the existing parks. Although generalization is difficult due to the small number of parks for which data are available, it appears that a general trend has emerged in recent years to either allow subsistence activities by local residents, so long as that activity is compatible with overall park goals, or to officially permit and codify various subsistence activities that previously had been allowed on only an informal or surreptitious basis. [75]

Perhaps at the expense of overgeneralization, it appears that during the early years of the national parks, both before and after the formation of the National Park Service in 1916, there was a strong tendency to suppress existing subsistence activities, often through law enforcement actions. Legislation creating new parks and monuments, moreover, generally forbade subsistence activities because it was perceived that such activities ran counter to the NPS Organic Act goal of "conserv[ing] the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein." But even in the early days, there were a few parks where subsistence activities (either fishing or collecting) were legally allowed. In addition, there were other parks where informal subsistence activities—hunting included—were condoned, either because of political sensitivities or because there was a recognition on the part of NPS officials that these activities were causing no long-term harm to the resource base. The tendency to allow subsistence activities in new and existing park units, on either a legal or informal basis, began to increase after 1963, and a recognition of local lifeways has become, in recent years, an important part of park planning efforts. The following chapter will investigate how the agency's changing attitude toward subsistence has been applied to the various Alaska park units that were established prior to the 1970s.

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Last Updated: 14-Mar-2003