Sunday, October 1, 2023

Tribal co-management of U.S. National Parks (Part II): Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

 N.B. The Hoonah Indian Association are an Alaska Native Village in Hoonah, Alaska. They are a majority Tlingit Alaska Native People. Glacier Bay has been the home of the Huna Tlingit since time immemorial. I will use the spelling "Hoonah" when referring to the political entity and the city of Hoonah, but the spelling "Huna" when referring to the people, since that is how they prefer it. 

Glacier Bay (Photo: Christopher Michael, Wikimedia Commons)

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is located in southern Alaska, west of Juneau and not far from the Canadian border. It is the homeland of the Huna Tlingit people, and can only be accessed by plane or by boat. The National Park Service (NPS) operates a lodge and park ranger service in Bartlett Cove, 10 miles from the small town of Gustavus, the closest town to the park. Most visitors to Glacier Bay come via cruise ship, where they can take in the views from the safety of a floating hotel. Hiking trails are only available near Bartlett Cove, but sea kayaking, boating, and rafting are popular ways to access the park.

Glacier Bay is currently co-managed with the Hoonah Indian Association, a federally-recognized Alaska Native Village whose community has been the steward of the land within Glacier Bay National Park for centuries. The Hoonah Indian Association are a largely Tlignit community in Hoonah, across the sound from Gustavus. Tlingit people lived on and cultivated the land in Glacier Bay National Park until the "little ice age," a period of global cooling lasting from approximately 1300 to 1850. During the little ice age, the glaciers stretched south, covering the land and filling the bay. The Tlingit communities moved south as well, taking up residence in their current villages. As the glaciers began to retreat in the late 19th century, archeologists and geologists began to petition for the protection of the bay because of what could be learned from the melting permafrost. 

John Muir visited Glacier Bay many times, and he frequently wrote about it. He was fascinated by the insight that the retreating glaciers could provide into the development of the Sierra Nevadas, particularly Yosemite Valley. Muir's visit and writings on the area generated popular and scientific interest. Glacier Bay became particularly important to glacial geologists. In response to gold prospecting and increased tourism, these scientists, with the support of Muir, campaigned to make Glacier Bay a National Monument. 

Glacier Bay National Monument was created by presidential declaration in 1925, not long before Canyon de Chelly (see Part I, here). As compared to the Najavo Nation, the Tlingit were in a much poorer negotiating position during the campaign for federal protection. The Navajo Nation was able to negotiate with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the National Park Service to preserve their rights to Canyon de Chelly because they had a treaty agreement with the United States that gave them ownership over land, including Canyon de Chelly. 

The Tlingit were in a different situation. Russia ceded Alaska to the United States in 1897. The treaty between Russia and the U.S. for the transfer of Alaska and the Organic Act of 1884 recognized Native claims to the land. By 1897 the United States was no longer making treaties. The Dawes Act of 1887 made treaty-protected reservation land alienable by assigning private title to individual Tribal members. The Huna Tlingit were allotted land in Hoonah and organized into the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) in 1912, alongside other nearby peoples.

When Glacier Bay was designated a National Monument in 1925, the Tlingit were barely consulted. There was already fairly limited communication between the NPS and the Tlingit villages. Most of the land surrounding Hoonah was already under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service, which had done little to disrupt daily life at that point. The majority of Tlingit and ANB activism in that period was focused on labor organizing, since most Tlingit men worked for fisheries and canneries. For the first few years, the NPS did little to interfere with Tlingit hunting and trapping in the park.

But, in the 1930s the Alaskan Brown Bear became a fixture of the national imagination. Conservationists wanted to create a bear sanctuary in Alaska where they could increase bear populations so that tourists could see them from their boats. They proposed expanding the size of the Glacier Bay National Monument to include land that could be used for a bear sanctuary. Over renewed protest from the mining industry, President Roosevelt expanded the National Monument in 1939, again without consultation with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) or the ANB.  In reaction to the expansion, the BIA, the ANB, and the NPS reached an agreement giving the Tlingit the privilege to hunt and trap in the park for subsistence. The agreement was informal, and not recorded. Non-Huna Tlingit did not have permission to hunt in the park.

Throughout this period, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was paying a bounty for seals. Though the Tlingit were ostensibly only allowed to hunt for subsistence, data suggests that they also redeemed seals for money, some of which were likely hunted in the park. Huna Tlingit people began complaining because they were being excluded from the Park by white residents under the guise of NPS policy. In 1946, the NPS, BIA, and ANB reached a new agreement. It recognized three rights: that the Huna Tlingit would be allowed to carry firearms while in the park, that they would be permitted to hunt hair seals within 100 ft of the waterline, and that the agreement would be re-negotiated in 1950.

Huna Tlingit park usage was renegotiated every few years until 1966. By then, park officials were becoming more and more concerned with the health of the seal populations and the aesthetic violence of seal hunting. Visitors to the parks didn't like to see any vestige of hunting, particularly carcasses. For tourists and park officials, the hunting disrupted the purpose of the park. They had no problem with "traditional" hunting, which they believed left no trace and did not involve firearms. 

Park Service officials argued that the Tlingit were hunting beyond the health of the seal population, estimating that 1,200 seals were taken from the park of a total population of only approximately 4,000 in any given year. However, when more accurate data estimated that the seal population in the park was more likely between 7,000 and 8,000 seals, the conservation argument lost ground. 

The NPS then argued that since the Tlingit community no longer needed the seals for survival, so they shouldn't have unrestricted rights to hunt seals in the park. A park biologist went so far as to say that "These alleged hide hunters, entering the bay in large boats, sometimes killing 200 seals on a single trip, were trying to 'outdo the whites in their resource-rape.'"

This argument was based on the takes of two Tlingit hunters, George Dalton and James Austin. Huna Tlingit hunters consider neither the use of firearms or hunting for money to be non-traditional. Sealing had always been part of their life, and tools had always changed with technology. Ironically (and revealingly), the NPS later cited the same two men as the last true subsistence hunters in those waters.

NPS action on sealing was prompted by a series of legal issues. In 1947, the Tlingit and Haida Tribes filed suit against the United States, alleging an illegal take of more than 17 million acres in six designated areas in southeastern Alaska, including Glacier Bay. In 1959, the U.S. Court of Claims found for the Tribes, but remanded the case for further hearings on relief (177 F.Supp. 452). In 1968, the same court approved $7.5 million dollars in damages to the Tribes (389 F.2d 778). The rulings acknowledged the Tlingit and Haida's native title to the land comprising Glacier Bay but resolved their claims by compensating them for the land. 

For the NPS, the resolution of the Tlingit and Haida native claim to Glacier Bay potentially affirmed the NPS's right to modify the hunting privilege and exclude Tlingit hunters from the park. Additionally, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (1971) terminated Native title to the rest of Alaska, vesting land rights to most of that land in the State of Alaska.

Then, the Marine Mammals Protection Act (MMPA) was passed in 1972. The MMPA provided an exception for Alaska Native hunting that allowed them to hunt in National Parks for subsistence and cultural activities. Advocates for the sealing ban in Glacier Bay realized they had to act before an exception under the MMPA was granted to the Huna Tlingit. 

On April 4, 1974, the Chief Park Ranger informed the Mayor of Hoonah that the NPS would be enforcing a general ban on the killing of wildlife in National Parks in Glacier Bay. The NPS did not provide any written notice or allow for comment. Between 1974 and 1992, no permits were granted to Tlingit hunters. Glacier Bay National Monument became a National Park and Preserve in 1980.

In 1992, the Tlingit staged a protest and entered into negotiations with the NPS. By 1997, the NPS agreed to build a Tribal House in Glacier Bay, a space in the park where Tlingit people could establish cultural practices. The project was stalled for lack of funding until 2013. The Tribal House, Xunaa Shuká Hít, was dedicated in 2016. 

In July, 2014 President Barack Obama signed the Huna Tlingit Traditional Gull Egg Use Act, which allows Tlingit people to resume harvesting gull eggs in Glacier Bay once the NPS established harvesting regulations. The NPS now has an agreement with the Hoonah Indian Association to harvest eggs in the park, and works with cruise lines to have the Hoonah Indian Association provide guide and cultural interpretation services. 

Sealing in the park is still banned. 

The majority of the history in this post is based on information found in Land Reborn: A History of Administration and Visitor Use in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, available online here. Chapters 1-6 and 10 are especially relevant.


J. Todd Bernhardt said...

Thank you for your interesting coverage of this issue. I think it cuts to the heart of the complex and contentious relationship that native tribes are forced to have with the federal government in the US. While I suppose that co-management of the land seems like a better alternative to being completely shut out, the history that you discussed shows that the NPS, and the federal government as a whole, clearly does not treat the natives as equals in this regard. The frequent unilateral action and subordination of native concerns is quite troubling. Maybe this history shows that co-management is not a feasible way of empowering natives in America. Or perhaps that we need to fundamentally restructure co-management to put the native tribes on a more equal footing.

Katie Eng said...

Thank you for this post! It is frustrating to read about the injustices inflicted upon the Huna Tlingit people in creating the National Monument. I cannot understand why there was such a lack of communication between NPS and the Tlingit, and how the government can justify taking hunting and sealing permissions away. It is comical to me how the NPS thinks it can manage seal populations better than indigenous communities who have kept the area’s ecosystem alive and thriving for thousands of years. We must continue to support and respect the Tlingit and Hoonah as stewards of the land and ensure their voices are heard in conservation efforts.