Glacier Bay National Park, in Alaska, was founded with good intentions in mind: to protect a wild land still recovering from the recession of a massive, steamrolling glacier and all the whales, otters, fish, bears and wolves that haunt the fjords and mountains.
But when the monument was established in 1925, the local people, the Huna Tlingit, who had lived there since time immemorial, were not consulted. This, in fact, was not uncommon among national parks and monuments that laid claim to native lands. Thus began a long, sour history between the tribe and the park. For years, the Huna were discouraged from practicing traditions, from seal hunting to berry gathering, in their native homeland. By the latter half of the 20th century, animosity simmered to a boil with arrests and protests.
But over the last two decades or so, both the tribe and the Park Service have endeavored to repair the relationship. Last year, the effort culminated in the completion of a spectacular new cedar tribal house—the first to be built in well over a century within park borders. For the Huna Tlingit, it was a heartfelt homecoming. For the Park Service, it was a symbol of hope and proof that the agency is moving, however slowly, toward a future that is more inclusive of all American stories.
Last fall, I had the opportunity to visit the park and Hoonah, the tribal headquarters, to report on this long journey toward reconciliation for National Parks magazine. I won’t pretend that the article is comprehensive. There are many many threads in this long saga, but I hope that the result is some awareness of what lies beneath the surface of this monumental park. Read the story, “The Long Way Home,” in the spring issue of the magazine.