"Goonulcheesh," said President Carter, bedecked in a blue-and-green-beaded vest and bestowed with the title "brother of the Raven Beaver clan and honorary chief of Angoon."
The scene was the chandeliered East Room of the White House yesterday, and the president was thanking a costumed Indian chief from southeast Alaska in his native Tlingit language. More than 200 assembled dignitaries, including Henry Cabot Lodge, Jacques Cousteau and Cathy Douglas, applauded. And Theodore Roosevelt IV presented Carter with a photograph of a bighorn sheep and said "Bully!"
It was all part of a last-minute, riotous extravaganza of lobbying, posturing, buttonholing, plotting, arm-twisting and rhapsodizing that has exploded around Washington over the Alaska lands bill, which goes to the House floor today.
The disposition of more than 100 million acres of federal land in Alaska is "the top environmental priority of my administration and perhaps of my entire life," Carter said, adding that he will do his "utmost" to support a bill proposed by Reps. Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.) and John B. Anderson (R-III.) over two competing measures.
The legislation would protect from development an area larger than California, doubling the size of the National Park System and the National Wildlife Refuge System.
"The decision affects the life of every single American now living and who might live in the future," Carter said.
While environmentalists won overwhelmingly in last year's House vote-the bill subsequently died in the Senate-they are on the defensive this year, in what promises to be an extremely close fitht.
A major difference, however, is that, in December, Carter administratively designated 17 national monuments in Alaska, covering 56 million acres. Thus, if no bill is passed, much of the land would be protected anyway. Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus has hinted strongly that Carter would veto unacceptable legislation, and the president said yesterday, "I will not hesitate to use administrative action in the future if necessary to protect Alaska lands from abuse."
The mob of lobbyists that has descended on Capitol Hill attests to the size of the stakes. Big oil companies, timber companies, mining companies, every major environmental group in the country, the National Rifle Association, labor unions, the Safari Club, Garden Clubs of America and the National Council of Senior Citizens all are working on the bill.
Alaskans are everywhere. The state legislature appropriated $2 million to lobby against the Udall-Anderson bill, and in favor of measures that would allow them to own, and possibly develop, 10 million acres within the proposed parks and refuges.
At a news conference Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Terry Miller said, "One side makes this a vote against caribou, the other against big oil. Alaska's and important national interests are being submerged in a din of misinformation."
One of Alaska's most active lobbyists is former representative Lloyd Meeds (D-Wash.), who sponsored a state-favored bill before he retired from Congress last year. Meeds is being paid out of a $400,000 fund for Alaska's Washington Lobbyists.
In addition to the Alaskas, industry groups support complementary bills sponsored by Reps. Thomas J. Huckaby (D-La.), John B. Breaux (D-La.) and John D. Dingell (D-Mich.). The Udall-Anderson bill, they say, would lock up valuable mineral and energy resources, a contention the administration disputes.
Dingell, a board member of the National Rifle Association, has mobilized its powerful forces by calling the Udall-Anderson bill "anti-hunting" and "extremist." However, Cleveland Amory, of the Fund for Animals, complains that animals on 90 percent of the land in the Udall-Anderson bill "will be subject to slaughter by hunters and trappers."
The dispute is typical of the flood of contradictory information that has assaulted the senses of members of Congress all week. Each side caims its approach is "balanced," preserves the environment and allows development, mustering numbers and facts to prove it.
The Washington effort is backed up by intensive grass-roots activity. The U. S. Borax Co., which wants to mine a large molybdenum deposit in the Misty Fjords wilderness in Alaska, went so far as to instruct, in a letter to job applicants, "If you are seriously considering working in industry as a temporary or permanent exploration geologist, I strongly suggest that you write your congressmen, senators and the president, and voice disapproval to the government's expropriation of the natural resource base in the U. S." CAPTION: Picture 1, President Carter in ceremonial garb with members of the Tlingit Indian tribe. By Ken Feil-The Washington Post; Picture 2, Tlingit Chief Mathew Fred Jr., right, with tribal members on the Capitol steps. By James K. W. Atherton-The Washington Post