Wrangell St. Elias: Slana Alaskans Unite

There is a sign across from the Ranger Station in Slana that says, “Slana Alaskans Unite.” When you first see it, you don’t register that it is not part of the park. You see this wooden sign and assume it is something for supporting the park service. It is not. It is, in fact, the opposite.

The Alaska National Parks were established in 1980 as a part of ANILCA. Needless to say, not all Alaskans were super excited about all this National Park business, and local chapters of Alaskans Unite started popping up around the state. Basically, they were small community groups that were opposing the creating of the National Parks.

The sign in Slana says:

“Slana Alaskans Unite”

Founded in 1978 – Preserving  a Way of Life
With respect for this land, we utilize natural resources, which provide our food, shelter, and livelihood. Hunting, fishing, trapping, logging and mining define our Alaskan lifestyle. Slana Alaskans Unite was formed by people in this area to preserve and protect that lifestyle. We were here long before National Park Service. We who make our home here ask that you respect this place, not as a park or National Playground, but as one of the last places on earth where a person can live as an integral part of a wild environment.

Our conversations with Doug make so much more sense. This is the context. It makes sense with Ollie as well. He left the lower 48 and came to the country so that he could have a self-dependent lifestyle.  People want a way of life where they kill and grow their food and create the things that they need and use with their own hands. I see the value in that, and I can’t disagree. If you think that Americans are independent you would be correct, but Alaskans are a different breed. I wouldn’t call them individualistic though, because the harshness of conditions forces people to come together regardless of whether or not you like one another. If you don’t shoot a moose and your neighbor does, you can be sure that some meat will end up on your doorstep, because you never know what will happen next year.

Much of the Alaskans Unite story is already chronicled in a book by John McPhee called Coming Into the Country, and I would recommend that you check it out. For me, though, this serves as a reminder that there nearly always someone present before the National Park was created. Whether it was indigenous tribes or settlers, there was always someone  who has called the place home before the National Park was established. Unfortunately, so far, the park hasn’t done a great job of actually acknowledging these things. You will hear about the ancient indigenous inhabitants of Cuyahoga Valley, Isle Royale and Wrangell – St. Elias, but the story of the most recent inhabitants is either brushed over, or ignored completely. If Howard Zinn taught us anything, it is that we have to be skeptical of the writers of history. Being that the National Park Service decides which story is being told, it is good for us to remember and think about the bias they may have and the holes in the story that they often don’t mention.