Alaska Subsistence
A National Park Service Management History
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Chapter 4:
THE ALASKA LANDS QUESTION, 1971-1980 (continued)

D. NPS Subsistence Activities in Alaska, 1972-1973

After NPS planners, as part of their work with the Alaska Task Force, turned in their recommendations about proposed park units to Congress in December 1973, the focus of the park planning process officially moved from the executive to the legislative branch. Congress, however, showed little interest in the matter; as Frank Williss has noted, "Neither the Nixon nor the Ford administrations showed any inclination to work for passage of the bill in 1974 or subsequent years." NPS staff, however, remained active on the issue. The agency continued to carry on an intensive effort to gather data that would be available as Congress deliberated the measure; much of that activity, at least initially, was directed toward the preparation of final environmental statements for the various proposed park units. [57]

During the preparation of the draft and final environmental documents, NPS personnel were active in other spheres that dealt with subsistence uses and Native relationships in Alaska. One focus of activity was a renewed spotlight on the Native Alaskan heritage center idea. As noted in Chapter 3, an NPS planning team in 1968 had recommended the establishment of at least three Alaska Native cultural centers: that is, easily-accessible sites where both visitors and Alaska residents could learn about Native Alaskans and their lifeways. That idea had not emerged from the proposal stage, but within a year of the passage of ANCSA in late 1971 the idea of a series of heritage centers that would "collect, document, and preserve local artifacts and ... display them in a meaningful, organized manner" was presented in a NPS report. [58]

The report, which compiled both Native and non-Native ideas related to the topic, shied away from specific recommendations. Instead, the report suggested a range of alternatives: one or more state centers (primarily for tourists) that would represent all Alaska Natives, one or more regional centers (for both tourists and Natives) that would be located in each regional corporation's geographical boundaries, and a series of village centers (primarily for villagers) that would "provide communal focal points ... so important to village social life and necessary for village cohesiveness." The NPS, for its part, offered technical and organizational capabilities; it also offered staff that might assist with the design and implementation process (although the agency "should not primarily serve as the final producer of working plans"). The agency even suggested a series of pilot projects and a list of regional corporations that might logically adopt those projects. It did not, however, offer major funding for such centers; money to build and maintain these facilities would need to come either from grant programs of private organizations and foundations or from the regional corporations themselves. [59]

So far as is known, this report did not result in any immediate action toward implementing heritage centers in Alaska. The concepts presented in the report, however, did not winnow away. During the 1970s, several entities considered the idea, but the idea remained in the conceptual stage until after the passage of the Alaska Lands Act. In 1987, momentum finally began to build when various Native organizations founded a group dedicated to planning and constructing such a center. That group surmounted numerous obstacles in its quest. By the summer of 1994 they had obtained a 26-acre parcel, and on May 8, 1999 the Alaska Native Heritage Center opened to the public. The site has been open on a year-round basis ever since. A detailed account of the process that resulted in the center is noted below. [60]

Throughout this period, NPS officials were dealing with ongoing issues relative to allowable activities within the existing parklands. As Chapters 2 and 3 have suggested, subsistence uses at Mount McKinley National Park and Katmai National Monument were not an issue; regulations at these and most other U.S. park units prohibited hunting, subsistence fishing, trapping, and other consumptive uses. At Glacier Bay National Monument, however, the agency's official prohibitions were tempered by the recognition that harbor seal harvesting, berry picking, and other subsistence activities had long been practiced by Tlingits residing in nearby Hoonah. In recognition of that fact the Interior Department had adopted, with some misgivings, a laissez-faire attitude; NPS Director Arno Cammerer, in 1939, had noted that the agency had "no intention of making any sudden changes in the uses which the Indians have been accustomed to make of the monument area," and in December 1946 that attitude was reflected in an agreement forged in Washington between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the NPS. [61] That agreement, again with some misgivings, was renewed in 1954, 1956, 1958, and 1960. But the March 1964 discovery by NPS rangers of scores of Native-killed harbor seal carcasses forced the agency to rethink its previous position in the matter. The recognition that at least some Hoonahs were harvesting seals for commercial purposes, and the inability to legally separate the few market hunters from others who made only occasional use of the monument's subsistence uses, caused some park officials to conclude that there was no easy way to sanction Native seal hunting without jeopardizing the monument's resources. [62]

Park officials, at the suggestion of the agency's Washington hierarchy, decided to let the seal problem subside, and the agency tried its best to ignore the problem for the remainder of the decade. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, with its multitudinous provisions, had the potential to address this problem. But as noted above, the Act did not contain a provision protecting Native people's historic uses of public lands for subsistence purposes, and a solution to Glacier Bay's subsistence dilemma remained unsolved. [63] But less than a year later, on October 21, 1972, President Nixon signed the Marine Mammal Protection Act into law. The law's primary thrust was the prohibition of marine mammal harvesting. Specifically excluded from the prohibition, however, was "any Indian, Aleut, or Eskimo who dwells on the coast of the North Pacific Ocean or the Arctic Ocean." The Act condoned subsistence harvesting, and it also allowed a limited commercial use of the harvested animals. But it did not allow these Natives to engage in a blatant commercial harvest, nor did it allow marine mammal harvests to be "accomplished in a wasteful manner." [64]

Feeling empowered by provisions in the Act, Glacier Bay Superintendent Robert Howe wrote to his superior, Alaska State Director Stanley T. Albright. In that letter, written just five days after the Act's passage, he asked for authority to terminate harbor seal harvesting in the monument. Howe noted that "We truly believe that seal hunting in Glacier Bay is neither legal nor longer necessary. In fact, considering the new national legislation it might be illegal anywhere when 'hide hunting' is the end result." Three weeks later, Albright telephoned Howe and asked him to inform Hoonah's residents that their harvesting privileges in the monument had been terminated. Whether he immediately did so is uncertain, and the first documented communication on the matter between the NPS and Hoonah residents did not take place until January 1974, when the monument's chief ranger telephoned Hoonah's mayor, Frank See, and told him about the hunting prohibition. The agency never put the rule against Native hunting in writing, nor did it ever hold a public meeting on the subject. But perhaps because the mayor and other Hoonah residents were in the midst of other matters that were just as critical to the community—if not more so—agency officials received no protests regarding the hunting ban. Beginning in 1974, therefore, the NPS maintained an official prohibition against Native hunting in Glacier Bay. [65]

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Last Updated: 14-Mar-2003