National Geographic : 1975 Jun
By JOSEPH JUDGE ASSISTANT EDITOR Photographs by BRUCE DALE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTOGRAPHER In my end is my beginning. -T. S. ELIOT nificent land where the American frontier finally ran out of ground, the American future took root. At least the attempt is being made. * The ancient rights of aboriginal peoples to own ership of the land have been acknowledged, those rights have been purchased, at the cost of nearly one billion dollars and 40 million acres, and native groups-Aleut, Eskimo, and Indian-have been given the opportunity to become wealthy profit making corporations. * Tens of millions of wilderness acres are being proposed for vast new wildlife refuges, wild rivers, and national parks and forests, precluding com mercial development. * The extraction of mineral wealth is proceeding under scrutiny of conservationists, and with a gen uine attempt to study and safeguard environ mental values. "When the history of the United States is written 500 years from now," a professor-historian told me, "Alaska may be the state most worthy of attention. Mistakes that were made 'Outside' with the In dian tribes, with the division of territories irrespec tive of natural resources, with the devotion to prog ress regardless of environmental consequences, all these errors of the past are being avoided in Alaska. At least, people are trying to avoid them." Will they succeed? There are more than a few Alaskans who say, Never! Near Lake Minchumina, in the remote interior of the Kuskokwim drainage, trapper Tom Flood ties down his dogs, invites me to join him in a moose-meat stew prepared by his Indian-Eskimo wife, Mary, and says, "Parks are necessary for tourists, but the 'bush people' need and deserve their right to a self-sufficient and independent life style. Just because the people Outside have polluted their world, why do they have to lock ours up?" On a bitter winter night in Fairbanks, the bars on Second Avenue are steaming with Indians and Eskimos. A sudden scuffle, angry fists. "All that money we are giving these people for their land," says a bartender, "we should have pumped it down a sewer, because that's where it's going." Old Alaska smiles from the face of Johnny Frank, a former Athapaskan chief who's heading home, firewood cut. No new gas driven, chain-saw Alaska for him. And 40° below zero isn't bad woodchopping weather, since he's got a good ax and good health at 95.