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Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (Alaska), Tlingit Indians -- Alaska -- Social life and customs, Tlingit Indians -- Alaska -- Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve


This report provides a thematic summary of an ethnographic study addressing the effects of cruise ships within Glacier Bay proper on the people known as the Huna Tlingit. Occupying the heart of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Glacier Bay proper is considered to be the core homeland of Huna Tlingit. The Huna occupied the Bay prior to its most recent glaciation and, though they now live nearby in Hoonah and other communities, they have continued to use, occupy, and value the lands and waters within the Bay since the glaciers began to retreat over two centuries ago. Simultaneously, since the designation of Glacier Bay as a unit of the National Park Service, Glacier Bay proper has become the focal point of a thriving tourist industry, with most park visitors arriving in the Bay by cruise ship. In past consultation, Huna representatives have expressed to NPS staff that cruise ships have various adverse effects on lands, resources, and values that are of concern to Huna people.

Also, in recent years, the NPS has identified locations within Glacier Bay proper that appear to be eligible for designation as “Traditional Cultural Properties” (TCPs), a type of property that is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places by virtue of its cultural and historical importance to the Huna Tlingit. In light of the presence of these TCPs, as well as a variety of other federal mandates, the NPS must assess the potential adverse effects of park operations on lands and resources of importance to Huna Tlingit— including park specific vessel quotas and operating requirements that set limits on the number and operation of cruise ships. Recognizing this, the NPS initiated the current study to systematically identify the scope and nature of the impacts of cruise ship traffic on lands and resources of importance to Huna people, to illuminate the cultural context of those impacts, and to recommend potential avenues for minimizing or mitigating any adverse effects.

No fewer than 50 Huna Tlingit served as formal interviewees for this study, and many others contributed informally to the project’s success. Through interviews with these people, as well as repeat visits to Glacier Bay proper with Huna Tlingit interviewees, the researchers systematically documented the nature and extent of cruise ship effects, as described and understood by Huna people. Interviewees identified a number of “tangible” adverse effects, some historical and some ongoing: air and water pollution, trash dispersal, noise pollution, wakes, fish and wildlife disturbances, various impacts on Tlingit boaters, and increased region-wide exposure to shipborne diseases. Interviewees also identified “intangible” adverse effects: displays of “disrespect” by people on ships, the disruption of Huna connections to Glacier Bay, inappropriate public interpretation, and the effects of outside observers on the character of traditional activities. While particular attention is directed here to the effects of cruise ships on TCPs, most of the effects are understood to have broader effects, throughout large portions of Glacier Bay proper and beyond. Positive effects were also noted, especially economic advantages. Seeking to illuminate some of the challenges and potentials of cruise ship tourism from a Huna perspective, interviews also contrasted cruise ship tourism in Glacier Bay with the Icy Strait Point facility, a cruise ship port with tourist facilities that is run by Huna Totem Corporation. Certain key cultural issues required to conceptualize these effects are also addressed, such as Huna protocols for “respecting” Glacier Bay, traditional Huna concepts of Glacier Bay as uniquely “clean” and spiritually potent, as well as Huna discomfort with the loss of their traditional role as “host” to visitors in their homeland. These elements represent key context for discussions of Huna perceptions of cruise ships, we suggest, and Huna discussions of specific impacts are often only understandable with reference to them.

Interviewees recommend a variety of opportunities for minimizing or mitigating these adverse effects of cruise ships in the future management of TCPs and other park lands, waters, and resources. The document advances both specific recommendations and general principles that may be of value in future consultation and communication between Huna and the NPS on matters relating to the future of Glacier Bay.

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