Joining the fish fight

Sealaska enter debate over Glacier Bay subsistence

Posted: Sunday, January 02, 2000

Sealaska Corp. wants Native subsistence rights to Glacier Bay put into federal law.

Toward that end, the regional Native corporation for Southeast Alaska has released a report called ``A National Treasure or a Stolen Heritage.'' It outlined the history of area Tlingits in the park and the often rocky relationship they have had with the National Park Service.

The 72-page report has drawn fast and damning reaction from administrators of the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve and the Hoonah Indian Association, who have been working to restore traditional Native subsistence uses of the nearly 75-year-old park.

For Bob Loescher, president and CEO of Sealaska, the issue is personal. At the corporation's headquarters hangs a Tlingit blanket belonging to his clan. The beads sewn into it represent a story that sews his clan to the bay spiritually, he said.

Rather than the park being a playground for tourists, he said, the top management priority should be subsistence use and commercial fishing by Hoonah Tlingits.

``When tourists on ships and others have more access to the Glacier Bay and its resources than the original Tlingits ... that is a sad commentary on national public policy,'' Loescher said. ``Only Congress can make this right.''

Sealaska has sent copies of the report to all members of Congress and the state Legislature, Loescher said. He wants to get Congress to apply a federal rural preference subsistence to the park. He also wants to assure that commercial fishing in waters surrounding the park, a 100-year tradition for Hoonah Natives, is protected.

Tomie Lee, superintendent of the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, said the report is a political vehicle rather than a scholarly document. Much of its contents were lifted - sometimes word-for-word - from a report paid for by the National Park Service.

That document, and a subsequent dissertation by anthropologist Theodore Catton, served as the foundation for the Sealaska report, Loescher said.

Catton, in his 1995 report, found that the Tlingits living in and around Hoonah had - despite what some had asserted - significant historical and cultural subsistence ties to Glacier Bay, said Lee. That finding is no secret, she said. Hoonah sits across Icy Strait from the bay.

The rest of the Sealaska report, she said, is more rhetorical and emotive than scholarly.

``It's very confrontational,'' Lee said. ``It's inflammatory rhetoric. A pretty shoddy job was done on it.''

Lee said the document was ``disheartening,'' and she hopes it doesn't undermine a relatively new but growing relationship between park managers and Hoonah Natives.

``We have been working so hard,'' she said. ``We are honestly working with them in good faith.''

Norman Staton, the Juneau consultant who wrote the position paper for Sealaska, said there was a lot of material on the subject and he never intended to produce a comprehensive work. He said he sifted through a lot of information and based the paper on what he learned.

``It wasn't meant to be a scholarly report,'' he said of the paper. He came to the conclusion that there was no good reason to exclude Glacier Bay from subsistence laws that govern other parks in Alaska. The history is pretty clear, he said, that Hoonah Natives have not been treated fairly given their history in Glacier Bay.

By law, the park was excluded from the rural preference for subsistence that is required on practically all other federal land in the state by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

Park superintendent Lee said if the law was changed to allow for such hunting and fishing, the door would be open to non-Native rural residents as well as Tlingits from Hoonah.

Following federal guidelines, she said, the park has been working with Hoonah Natives through the village's tribal government, the Hoonah Indian Association.

That's the way federal agencies are supposed to work, she said, and that method is better for Hoonah Tlingits than for the park service to deal with for-profit Native corporations such as Sealaska.

The Indian association has been working with the park service for the last few years to regain traditional subsistence uses of the parkland.

To Johanna Dybdahl, tribal administrator of the Hoonah Indian Association, the report is ``shoddy workmanship.'' She said it is unfortunate that Sealaska, ``with all that money,'' has decided to release the report. She agrees with Lee that ANILCA-style subsistence isn't appropriate for Glacier Bay.

The 600-member association, she said, is the best representative of Natives living in Hoonah, and certainly better than Sealaska, which has some 16,000 shareholders with Southeast ties. Not everyone in every clan agrees, but the association does represent the interests of the village's four clans, she said.

``We believe Glacier Bay belongs to Hoonah,'' Dybdahl said. ``We've made progress, and we are going to move forward in that direction.''

Agreements worked out between the association and the National Park Service since 1995 have led to berry-picking rights for Hoonah Natives and the restoration of the traditional gathering of seagull eggs from park lands.

A study is in the works that will likely lead to the return of subsistence seal hunting in park waters as well.

Historic use of the bay for commercial fishing, she said, is being addressed as ``tribal cultural fishing,'' and will be the subject of continuing talks.

``We have begun these talks,'' Dybdahl said. ``We consider ourselves on even footing (with the park service).''

Loescher said such talks after nearly 75 years of what he and the report conclude are oppressive park service policies start at the wrong place.

``There are many paths to success,'' he said. ``The approach I advocate is dealing with the governing laws and regulations first.

``I believe we should start with Congress.''



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