Alaska Subsistence
A National Park Service Management History
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Chapter 3:
SUBSISTENCE IN ALASKA'S PARKS, 1910-1971 (continued)

C. Glacier Bay National Monument

Glacier Bay National Monument, in southeastern Alaska, has witnessed a more long-standing, contentious controversy over subsistence rights than any other Alaska park unit. The Tlingit and Haida peoples who traditionally populated southeastern Alaska were the first to be impacted by commercial fishing and other U.S.-based economic development activities; perhaps for that reason, it is not surprising that these Native groups were also the first to organize themselves, economically and politically. By the time Glacier Bay National Monument was proclaimed by President Calvin Coolidge, in February 1925, southeastern Natives had been living and interacting with U.S.-based migrants for more than fifty years, and they had been interacting with European-based peoples for well over a century. This long exposure, combined with the complex, powerful culture that southeastern Natives had enjoyed prior to European contact, suggests—at least in hindsight—that neither the National Park Service nor any other governmental agency would be able to unduly restrict the Natives' lifestyle without vociferous protest.

As Ted Catton's park administrative history indicates, the 1925 monument proclamation was the direct result of a campaign orchestrated by the Ecological Society of America, and more specifically by ecologist William S. Cooper and botanist Robert F. Griggs. When these two men first floated the monument idea, they were unaware of any Native issues related to land rights or ownership; citing the oft-used "worthless lands argument," [27] they assured the skeptical that the establishment of a monument would not impair economic growth because the area was economically useless. Before long, mining interests and homesteaders—both of which were locally active—came forth to denounce the proposal, and on the basis of utilitarian concerns (which included a few small Native allotments near the bay's mouth), the proposed area was substantially reduced. Coolidge's proclamation, signed February 26, 1925, made no mention of any Native connection to the area; the only cited evidence of a cultural context was that the monument had a "historic interest, having been visited by explorers and scientists since the early voyages of Vancouver in 1794, who have left valuable records of such visits and explorations." No attempt was made to extinguish any of the Native allotments prior to the issuance of Coolidge's proclamation. [28]

Because the new park unit remained unstaffed for years after its establishment, the agency had no way of knowing if area Natives (or non-Natives, for that matter) used the newly-withdrawn area for subsistence activities. But from the monument's inception, the agency intended to keep such uses away from the monument. Using a paradoxical argument that must have confounded local residents, the NPS prohibited the use of "firearms, traps, seines, and nets" in the monument without a custodian's permission, but the agency assigned no monument custodian from whom permission could be sought. Despite that prohibition, a number of Tlingits residing in Hoonah asked a Bureau of Indian Affairs official about hunting and carrying firearms in the monument; and a few months later, more than 150 Hoonah residents petitioned Alaska delegate Tony Dimond to allow hair seal hunting in the monument. These two actions took place in the spring and summer of 1937, some two years before the monument's boundaries were expanded to include all of Glacier Bay's waters. [29] Notably, however, neither action was forwarded to NPS or other Interior Department officials, and the lack of such action prevented Native use patterns from being taken into account during the period in which the monument expansion was being proposed.

In April 1939, President Roosevelt more than doubled the size of Glacier Bay National Monument, and within a few months administration officials became aware of how much Hoonah-area Tlingits used the newly-acquired monument lands. (The NPS had been told that "various officials or families among the Indians" claimed small tracts of newly-proclaimed monument land, but the agency felt that they were primarily of individual rather than tribal interest.) The BIA, which was not consulted prior to Roosevelt's action, loudly protested the monument expansion and defended the Hoonahs' continued use of Glacier Bay resources. The NPS responded by dispatching Mount McKinley Superintendent Frank Been to Hoonah that August, and in October 1939 the two agencies met and agreed to allow the Natives "normal use" of the monument's wildlife. This allowance included hunting (of both terrestrial and marine animals), trapping, and gull egg collecting. [30] In the eyes of NPS officials, however, this agreement was of an interim nature; as agency director Arno Cammerer noted in a December 1939 letter to Frank Been, "It is our intention to permit the Indians to take hair seals and to collect gull eggs and berries as they have done in the past, until a definite wildlife policy can be determined." [31]

Although they continued to honor the October 1939 agreement, NPS officials made no secret that they were uncomfortable with some of its ramifications; namely, it undermined their agency's authority, and it gave Native residents (who were allowed to hunt, trap, and gather in the monument) rights and privileges that were not extended to non-Native residents. For those reasons, the agency began looking for ways to rescind the agreement as early as 1940. Owing to the slashed budgets that World War II brought, however, nothing was done for the time being. But in 1944 the NPS arranged for the Fish and Wildlife Service to begin patrolling monument waters. (They did so because the fisheries agency, unlike the NPS, was financially and logistically able to enforce federal regulations there.) Hoonah residents were soon warned to cease trapping and seal hunting in Glacier Bay, and a year later, an F&WS warden arrested "three or four" Natives for hunting and trapping in the monument.

During this same period, the BIA was undertaking a nationwide investigation of Native land claims, and as part of that effort the Interior Department delegated a study of the Tlingits' rights in southeastern Alaska to attorney Theodore H. Haas and anthropologist Walter R. Goldschmidt. Of particular interest to the NPS, the two men attempted to clarify areas in the monument where Tlingits could claim possessory rights. Their report, released in the fall of 1946, concluded that the Tlingits' claims extended over large parts of Glacier Bay, Dundas Bay, and Excursion Inlet, all of which were included in the monument. The publication of that report brought BIA and NPS officials together again to work out an updated agreement. That meeting took place in December 1946, during a time of economic duress on the Hoonahs' part. The agreement worked out that day gave the Hoonahs the right—for four years only—to hunt hair seals, carry firearms, and hunt berries in the monument. [32]

For years after that agreement was forged, the Hoonahs walked a tightrope between their moral claim to the area, based on historical use and cultural ties, and the agency's longtime prohibitions against hunting. The NPS's regional director, for example, laid the groundwork to prevent the pact's renewal as early as 1947; biologist Lowell Sumner, after a ten-day visit that June, wrote a report questioning the legitimacy of the Hoonahs' seal hunting practices. (Specifically, Sumner noted the Hoonahs' recent increase in the seal harvest and the overtly commercial nature of that harvest; "the natives today have forsaken their ancestral way of life," he intoned. Based on that perception, he decried the apparent decline in the bay's seal population in light of the Natives' new hunting practices. He also urged the prohibition of seal hunting in various portions of the bay that had been glaciated in 1890. [33]) A visit to Hoonah in 1948 by Assistant Interior Secretary William Warne tipped the scales back in favor of the Natives, but the NPS, in the spring of 1950, countered by assigning a seasonal ranger, Duane Jacobs, to Glacier Bay. (The agency had been trying to establish a presence at the monument for several years, but other budgetary priorities had intervened.) Jacobs's marching orders were to "visit the area this summer, view the situation, and bring forth a factual study report as to the protection needs of the area." [34] In his concluding report that fall, Jacobs noted that "widespread evidence of poaching [of various animal species] was found," and that "the greater part of this poaching can properly be charged against the native population ... which centers in and around Hoonah...." He was careful to note that that not all of the Indians were violators and that not all of the Hoonahs' game violations were occurring in Glacier Bay, and he further noted that the existing state of affairs stemmed largely from a lack of previous enforcement efforts. To reduce the poaching problem, Jacobs urged the establishment of "a small force of rangers, well equipped and extremely mobile," and he "strongly recommended that the agreement allowing natives to hunt seals in monument waters be cancelled." Despite those recommendations, however, the monument's ranger force remained small throughout the 1950s. And regarding DOI's four-year seal-hunting agreement, the December 1950 deadline came and went without incident, and the 1946 agreement lapsed. [35]

During the next few years, the seal hunting issue was not a high NPS priority; few overt conflicts took place between the Hoonahs and agency rangers, which led the agency to assume that Native use of the bay was minimal and fading. When the issue arose again at a meeting in early 1954, all parties—the NPS, F&WS, BIA and the Hoonahs—all agreed that the "continued use" of Glacier Bay resources by Hoonah Natives was a "fair and logical solution to the problem." The various officials agreed in principle to renew the 1946 agreement, with an added proviso that local seal hunters be required to obtain permits. That agreement was renewed, largely without changes, in 1956, 1958, 1960, and 1962. [36]

In 1963, the context of Native seal hunting in the monument began to dramatically change. These seals had long been hunted in many Alaskan coastal areas, by both Natives and non-Natives, and because the animals' diet consisted at least partially of salmon, the territory had awarded a bounty to seal hunters ever since 1927. The bounty, however, was seldom sufficient to warrant harvesting for that reason alone, and seal harvesting remained at a fairly low level. But beginning in the fall of 1962, the overharvesting of seals in the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans—the areas that had traditionally supplied the commercial seal market—resulted in a new wave of interest in Alaskan harbor seal (hair seal) pelts, and the increasing value of seal pelts caused many to significantly augment their harbor seal harvesting activities. From 1963 to 1966, a record number of seals were harvested throughout Alaska, by both Natives and non-Natives. After the mid-1960s, harvests abated somewhat, but widespread harvesting continued in Alaska until 1972, when the Congressional passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibited non-Natives from taking seals, whales, polar bears, sea otters, and other marine mammals. [37]

It was within the context of the newly "discovered" harbor seal market that two Glacier Bay rangers, in March 1964, encountered a Hoonah encampment on Garforth Island, a small island in the bay just west of Mount Wright. The abandoned camp, which had been used by two seal hunters the previous summer, bore unmistakable evidence that a large herd of seals—some 243, by the rangers' count—had been harvested. The ranger, appalled by the sight of so many rotting corpses, was well aware that the practice was legal; even so, he declared that "this type of shooting has no place in a National Monument." Soon afterward, he learned that another hunter had recently taken 300 seals from the bay. Guessing that the bay's total seal population was 800 to 1,000 strong, he rued that "there are no bag limits, no closed season, and no closed area to protect this population ... Under present agreement this entire herd could be wiped out if the natives so desire." [38]

The increased seal take caused NPS officials—none of whom had been on staff when the previous (1939, 1946, or 1954) agreements had been signed—to reassess the legitimacy of seal hunting in Glacier Bay. Those who dictated park policy during the mid-1960s took a hard line against seal hunting, at least in their public statements; they asserted that the earlier agreements had been forged to help the Hoonahs through the critical period following World War II, and the monument's latest master plan (completed in 1957) had stated that Native seal hunting would be "reduced and eliminated within a reasonable period of time." NPS officials, however, fully recognized that many Hoonahs were small-scale subsistence users. They were also aware that the only local residents who were making a significant impact on the monument's seal populations were a few large-scale seal hunters, who openly declared their interest in harvesting solely for the monetary rewards brought by hides and bounty. Faced with the impossibility of sanctioning the activities of one group while prohibiting those of another, and charged by Congress with protecting the park "and the wild life therein" (as noted in the NPS's 1916 Organic Act), agency officials had little choice but to push for a termination of the seal-hunting agreement that had been in place, in one form or another, since 1939. Given the agency's quandary, it was perhaps beneficial to all of the involved parties that interest in the subject declined during the waning years of the 1960s. In part, this state of affairs was attributable to a decline in the number of seal hunting permits, and it was also because NPS officials in Washington told park staff to let the issue subside. [39]

Local Natives, despite the lack of a currently-functioning agreement, continued to hunt seals in the monument. But the vexing issue was by no means resolved, and the uncertainty surrounding it would hang over the heads of both seal hunters and park staff until well after the December 1971 passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. How the issue was handled during the 1970s is discussed in Chapter 4; more recent activities surrounding this issue are discussed in chapters 6 and 8.

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Last Updated: 14-Mar-2003