Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) recently received a small but important photograph collection documenting a peaceful subsistence protest undertaken by the Tlingit community of Hoonah in 1992. The twenty-one photographs received by SHI, donated by protest participant and photographer Misty Jack of Hoonah, document the May protest carried out at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve by the Hoonah Tlingit concerning the infringed rights of the Tlingit to engage in subsistence gathering and fishing within Park boundaries. The Park currently limits, regulates, and forbids certain subsistence activities in the Park by the Tlingit of Hoonah.
The area known today as Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve has been inhabited by the Tlingit people for thousands of years according to archeological evidence and oral history. The Tlingit of nearby Hoonah have historically managed the water and land’s resources and wildlife with balance and harmony for thousands of years. However, in 1925 areas of the current Park were made a National Monument, and in 1980 it was made a National Park and Preserve. Since these enactments, the Tlingit of Hoonah have lost further control and access to the lands and waters in Glacier Bay, and federal laws restricted and/or forbade traditional subsistence practices.
For decades the Tlingit of Hoonah, and the tribal governments and organizations representing Hoonah and the Tlingit in general, have petitioned the federal government for subsistence rights and claim to the land. After decades of work and petitions, and with little response from the federal government, the Hoonah Indian Association (HIA)—a federally recognized tribal government representing the Tlingit of Hoonah—facilitated a community discussion on subsistence in Glacier Bay.
Over the winter of 1991-92 meetings were held in Hoonah, with leaders of each traditional clan house serving on a committee to discuss the issue. After long and careful discussion, the clan house leaders of Hoonah felt it was best to engage in a peaceful demonstration within Glacier Bay.
In May 1992 the Tlingit clans and people of Hoonah boarded a number of boats that sailed into Glacier Bay. The boats put ashore and held a number of ceremonies connected to the Hoonah Tlingit’s history and ownership of the land. Those of the Raven moiety conducted part of the ceremony, and those of the Eagle moiety conducted other portions, in accordance with traditional culture and to ensure balance. Important and historic regalia and totem poles were brought into Glacier Bay for this event, and used in ceremony. Tlingit elders from Hoonah gave speeches on the history of their people and subsistence in Glacier Bay. At the conclusion of this ceremony, the people of Hoonah peacefully engaged in subsistence practices according to historic and cultural practice.
While this topic requires additional research, those who participated in the event stated that federal officials felt it was best to not interfere with the Hoonah Tlingit during their peaceful protest in May 1992.
While the issue of subsistence remains unresolved for the Tlingit of Hoonah today, and their right to engage in subsistence activities in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is still regulated and in some situations forbidden, this peaceful demonstration captures the values of a people and community as they work to challenge the federal government’s ownership and management of Tlingit land.
Sealaska Heritage Institute is a regional nonprofit representing the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people of Southeast Alaska. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures.
Phone interview with Ken Grant, employee of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, September 2011.
Phone interview with donor, Misty Jack, participant and resident of Hoonah, September 2011.
David Hulen, “Look but don’t take: Tlingit battle Park Service for Glacier Bay subsistence,” Anchorage Daily News (July 22, 1990).
David Hulen, “We are made criminals for our food,” Tlingit say Park scorns culture in citing hunter,” Anchorage Daily News (Oct. 22, 1992).