Academic journal article Human Organization

A Tale of Three Parks: Tlingit Conservation, Representation, and Repatriation in Southeast Alaska's National Parks

Academic journal article Human Organization

A Tale of Three Parks: Tlingit Conservation, Representation, and Repatriation in Southeast Alaska's National Parks

Article excerpt

Why have Southeast Alaska Natives enjoyed success in gaining governing authority over cultural resource economies but limited success in gaining co-management over natural resource economies in the region's national parks? This paper hypothesizes that the most successful co-management regimes in the natural resource economy will be those that are constructed according to an emerging cultural resource paradigm, which emphasizes the circulation and return of "inalienable possessions" by the federal government, rather than the extension of limited harvest rights under the current "subsistence" regime. Further, it suggests the logic of "repatriation," well used in the cultural resources realm, might be constructively applied to the natural resource realm to restore Alaska Native relations to critical fish, wildlife, and other resources in national parks and protected areas.

Key words: Tlingit, repatriation, inalienable possessions, conservation, resource management, parks and protected areas

Introduction

Why have Southeast Alaska Natives enjoyed success in gaining governing authority over cultural resource economies but limited success in gaining co-management over natural resource economies in the national park system? Much of the answer to this question lies in how national parks evolved within a particular historical, legal, and cultural context in the United States, where the environment became increasingly constructed according to a nature/ culture dichotomy in which supposedly "uninhabited" wilderness landscapes were constructed, framed, and preserved, fortress-like, as museums of nature and historical landscapes (see Keller and Turek 1998; Schemas 2001; Spence 1999; West, Igoe, and Brockington 2006). As many have pointed out, including Theodore Cattai (1997:217) in Alaska, this "romantic impulse to preserve America's past. . .as remnants of a once-continental wilderness" or "vignettes of primitive America," has become increasingly untenable. Wilderness and primitiveness may themselves become fetishes in support of a certain dominant nationalist identity, topophilia (love of place; see Tuan 1974), and historia (atlas of eternity; see Wallace 2005) to the exclusion of others, especially those of indigenous peoples. Even in countries with legal recognition of multiculturalism, as in Australia and Canada, the state typically requires Indigenous people to authenticate their aboriginality and "connectedness" to land in logics defined by Western law and heritage, thereby strengthening the latter at the expense of the indigenous logics (Povinelli 2002).

Indigenous peoples, including the Tlingit, never accepted the assumptions that underlie the dominant nature/culture paradigm in United States national parks and have actively resisted their removal, regulation, and representation by the Park Service through articulations of their own identities, topophilia, and historia. Recently, Tlingits have begun to enjoy some success in promoting these visions within Southeast Alaskan parks. But access to natural resources, such as fish and wildlife, remains stubbornly limited, in part due to conflicting visions of what these resources represent and how and for whom they should be conserved. This paper argues that conflicts over natural resources between park managers and Natives could be reduced if certain natural resources of critical cultural significance were reconceptualized as "inalienable possessions" of cultural patrimony, rather than mere "resources" to be developed or preserved. In this way, the logic of "repatriation," increasingly utilized in the cultural resources realm under such laws as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), could be applied to the natural resource realm to restore Alaska Native relations to critical fish, wildlife, and other features of the land and sea, in national parks and protected areas. Such a paradigm shift would have the advantage of conserving critical Tlingit cultural landscapes and livelihoods in Southeast parks, where subsistence and other relations have been severely circumscribed by the establishment of parks and protected areas. …

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