When the Indians harp that they should be allowed to fish in their “ancient and accustomed ways,” they are on shaky grounds for argument. The catch in that phrase, incorporated in old treaties, is the virtual impossibility of an Indian complying with the “ancient” requirements. He probably is going to drive to the fishing spot, use some store bought materials in his gear, land a hatchery fish and take it home to a refrigerator. What those five Indians did at Alcatraz the other day could be more difficult for the whites to counter. Alcatraz has been abandoned as a penitentiary. Now the island is just unused federal land. The Indians staked claims on it.
It was an imaginative move. If the idea is taken up on a larger scale, this is what could happen: One day the rangers at Yellowstone meet a long train of automobiles moving into the national park, with Indian scouts riding out ahead on motorcycles. The scouts pick a good meadow, and some of them ride back to the rain to direct the cars to the camping spot. Others scatter to hunt up something for dinner. The rangers are horrified. They descend upon the train, which is now forming a circle in the meadow. “We’re emigrating,” the Indian leaders answer blandly. “We are looking for new land where we can settle. Maybe this is it.”
“Here?” the rangers exclaim.
“Don’t you know this is a national park?”
“Yes,” says Chief Herman Jones. “So we figured we might stay. It is public land.”
The rangers sputter. “Of course it is public land! That is why you can’t settle on it.”
“Oh?” Chief Jones says, raising his eyebrows. “We thought it was well established in American history that settlers kept moving onto land that was not privately owned.”
“But it is owned by the federal government.”
The Indians nod. “We know. That means it is owned by everybody, just as our people in general owned the land. We didn’t have private lots, either.”
Two more park rangers arrive in a patrol car, greatly agitated. “Guess what?” they cry. “Two Indians killed a buffalo and another one over that away is bringing in an elk he shot! When we tried to arrest them, they threatened to shoot us.”
“Can you explain that?” the head ranger demands angrily.
“Sure,” Chief Jones replies. “We need meat for dinner.”
“Animals in national parks. . .” the ranger begins, but he is interrupted by several Indians at once.
“Where did your wagon trains get fresh meat? It was off of public land, and they didn’t buy the buffalo from us or ask permission to shoot them.”
“This is different,” the ranger protest.
“How?” Chief Hones says.
“How!” the ranger replies automatically, raising his hand. Recovering, he hastily lowers it. “I mean, nothing like this has happened, and . . . hey, stop those fellows from chopping trees! It is prohibited. I can show you in the regulations that is prohibited.”
“Need firewood,” explains Chief Jones, who is on leave from his law practice to lead the emigrant train. “Well, no, we don’t need wood, we have gasoline stoves for cooking but a campfire is nice.” A tree crashes to the ground. “Just like the old days,” Chief Jones remarks watching the choppers. “Just like the settlers did when they moved onto the shores of Puget Sound and started felling trees.” The rangers are so flabbergasted, they withdraw for a conference.
Presently they declare, “We are going to telephone the secretary of the interior. We may even call President Johnson.”
“Good,” Chief Jones says, “Tell the Great White Father that if his people are too disturbed about losing this land and the game on it, we will sets aside a reservation for them.”