By Richie Richards - Native Sun News
Tribes unfazed by Feds' grizzly doubletalk
19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe,
Chief Arvol Looking Horse
The following story was written and reported by Richie Richards, Native Sun News Correspondent. All content © Native Sun News.
RAPID CITY, S.D. –– Acting under instruction from Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has issued its first official responses to the mounting opposition from Tribal Nations to the government’s proposed removal of Endangered Species Act protections from the Yellowstone grizzly bear.
In a letter to GOAL Tribal Coalition, FWS’s Mountain-Prairie Region Deputy Director, John Bryan, told the organization “we fully understand our obligation to consult with Federally Recognized Native American Tribes on a government-to-government basis.”
GOAL (Guardians of Our Ancestors’ Legacy) Tribal Coalition has liaised with prominent spiritual leaders, elders and tribal governments to form an alliance against delisting the Yellowstone grizzly bear, citing spiritual, sovereignty and treaty violations among its concerns.
The coalition has grown to 32 tribal nations, including all of the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation.
“We agree that Tribal governments should have the opportunity for meaningful engagement with the Service on the status of all wildlife species of concern to them,” Bryan continued.
The same day GOAL received Deputy Director Bryan’s assurance, the Montana Wyoming Tribal Leaders’ Council (TLC) received a letter from him that caused TLC Executive Director, Cheryl Belcourt, to question FWS’s sincerity.
Bryan “offered” the ten tribes of the TLC “three consultation meetings in broad areas where Tribes have expressed interest in this issue.”
The TLC received the letter February 21, and Bryan stated FWS wanted the meetings to be arranged by “no later than March 6” and concluded by “late winter or early spring.”
However, Belcourt said the TLC does not convene again until April.
“Regrettably, the timescale you request for these meetings is unrealistic,” Belcourt informed Bryan in writing.
“This compressed timeframe will, in all likelihood, preclude tribes from participating in these meetings,” she cautioned.
“Three consultation meetings ‘in broad areas where tribes have expressed an interest in this issue’ does not equate to ‘meaningful consultation,’” Belcourt added.
In his letter to GOAL, Bryan referenced Secretarial Order 3206, which explicitly calls for “meaningful tribal participation” in decisions related to delisting a species from the Endangered Species Act.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service has recognized its obligation to consult with affected tribes about grizzly delisting, but a rushed process that has to be hammered out before the Montana Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council even convenes its next meeting doesn’t seem like an opportunity for ‘meaningful tribal participation,’” said Tim Preso, an attorney for the non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice.
Preso has successfully litigated against FWS, most recently winning a case that returned wolves in Wyoming to the Endangered Species Act.
“GOAL Tribal Coalition definitely has the attention of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” he said.
GOAL co-founder, R. Bear Stands Last, offered an insight into FWS’s seemingly contradictory messages.
“The day we received Deputy Director Bryan’s letter we were informed that FWS is going to move forward with delisting the Yellowstone grizzly bear in June, regardless of what the tribes say,” he explained.
“This reeks of the duplicity we saw in 1866, when treaty negotiators came out to Fort Laramie to acquire the Bozeman Trail but the decision had already been made to send the army to take it,” said Bear Stands Last.
“It was treaties then, and now it’s Secretarial Orders and Executive Orders. This is simply a continuation of the government’s historic abrogation of the treaty process,” he insisted.
Bear Stands Last emphasized that 32 tribal nations comprise GOAL, and FWS has so far ignored 22 of them.
“What they think they can get away with and reality are two different things. If we go back to 1866, Fetterman thought he could defeat the Great Sioux Nation with 80 men,” he said.
One of the most prominent leaders in Indian Country, Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, recently added his support to GOAL and the tribes opposing delisting.
“The Chickasaw Nation supports the Native American tribes located in Wyoming, the Dakotas, Montana and Idaho in their request to consult with the US Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the policy which will potentially delist the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear,” Anoatubby informed FWS Director, Dan Ashe, by letter.
“This is nothing new to us,” said Steve Hernandez, assistant to Oglala Sioux Vice President, Tom Poor Bear.
“We had this same thing during Keystone. On another occasion a federal agency told us they had consulted with us after they made one phone call. We missed the call, and they thought that constituted a consultation process,” Hernandez recounts.
Vice President Poor Bear wrote to Secretary Jewell in December and outlined what the government’s obligations were for a “meaningful consultation” process on this issue.
If the Yellowstone grizzly bear is delisted the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho will sell high-dollar grizzly trophy hunts across a landscape defined by a multitude of sacred sites that 26 tribes have traditional ceremonial and ancestral connections to.
“Our ancestors told that the Sacred Hoop of Life was broken when our people were massacred at Wounded Knee,” explains Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe.
“This was the period when those that massacred our people also wiped out the Wámakaškaŋ – they wiped out the buffalo, the grizzlies and the wolves – and today that mindset is still there, that ‘disease of the mind,’” said Chief Looking Horse.
“Grizzly bears have an important place in our ceremonies. The grizzly bear is a living spirit that is a part of our ceremonies and our ancestors have been using the medicine given by the grizzly bear for generations,” he elaborated.
The Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma is the latest tribe to oppose the delisting and trophy hunting of the Yellowstone grizzly bear.
“The Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma calls upon the federal government to honor the consultation process with the affected tribes,” writes Pawnee President, Marshall R. Gover.
“This consultation process must be comprehensive and exhaustive, and solicit input from elected tribal leaders, traditional spiritual leaders, elders, and respective Tribal Historic Preservation Offices where they exist,” President Gover asserts.
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