Chief Stanley Grier
STANDOFF, ALBERTA– Demonstrating the strength and conviction that enabled their ancestors to defend a territory that once stretched over two US states and two Canadian provinces, leaders of the Blackfoot Confederacy are mounting a vigorous challenge to the US government’s proposed removal of Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections from the grizzly bear.
“Here in Blackfoot Country the grizzly is revered as a very spiritual part of our ceremonies, especially the Medicine Pipe bundles,” explains Blood Tribe Councilman, Mike Bruised Head.
In a letter to US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Chief Vincent Yellow Old Woman, Chief of the Siksika Nation, emphasized the significance of the grizzly bear in Blackfoot culture.
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“The grizzly bear is central to some of our oldest and most sacred narratives, accounts that speak to the creation of constellations and the coming of sacred bundles. The circumstances do not exist that would make us, the stewards of this land, turn on our relative, the grizzly bear, to satisfy the US government, state game agencies, and affluent white trophy hunters,” Chief Yellow Old Woman impresses upon the Secretary.
“The grizzly bear has been significant to the Blackfoot people since the time of our Creation,” says Chief Stanley Grier of the Piikani Nation.
Chief Grier describes the grizzly as “a fundamental part of our existence,” and for that reason he categorizes the US government’s intent to delist the Great Bear and enable the states of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho to open trophy hunts on them as an act of cultural genocide.
“It is cultural genocide,” he states. “But more than that, I believe it’s right out genocide, because it really attacks our whole identity as a people.”
Chief Charles Weasel Head of the Blood Tribe and Chief Yellow Old Woman “fully concur” with Chief Grier’s assessment.
“It is cultural genocide. I wouldn’t put it any other way,” agrees Blackfeet Councilwoman Cheryl Little Dog. “To delist and allow trophy hunting of the grizzly bear is the government again saying to our people, ‘Forget how sacred the grizzly bear is. Forget your sacred ways,’” she says.
The Blackfeet Nation is now in the eye of the grizzly delisting storm. Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suggest that the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) intended to target the Blackfeet Nation as the key to facilitating the delisting of the grizzly population in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) if the government and states were again thwarted in Greater Yellowstone.
“The Region has the horses to focus on only one grizzly delisting effort at a time,” FWS Assistant Director, Gary Frazer, cautioned FWS Director Ashe in a communication dated 3/19/12. Frazer then advised Ashe that FWS grizzly coordinator Chris Servheen would take, “other necessary steps for delisting the bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.”
“The documents expose their intentions,” says David Bearshield, Chairman of GOAL Tribal Coalition’s Advisory Council. “Their policy has nothing to do with seeking ‘the best available science,’ it is all about answering the court on the issue of whitebark pine and just rehashing and reinterpreting the data they already had to get their way.”
Judge Donald Molloy ruled against FWS in US District Court in 2009, finding that in removing the Yellowstone grizzly from the ESA on April 30, 2007, FWS had failed to adequately address what impact the diminishment of that critical food source would have on the bears. In November 2011, the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld the ruling pertaining to the potential threat from declining whitebark pine, and vacated FWS’s delisting Rule.
“In the FOIA documents even Director Ashe questions his agency’s own integrity,” contends Bearshield.
In an email to Frazer on 3/19/12, Ashe writes: “I may be missing something, but this recommendation seems at odds with the ‘best available science’ standard of ESA.”
“Nowhere in these documents will you find mention of the tribes or FWS’s mandated obligation to consult with affected tribes, but, in my opinion, you can read between the lines on how they set their sights on the Blackfeet and the age-old practice of divide and conquer,” insists Bearshield.
“I believe our ancestors would roll over in their graves if they learned that even one Blackfeet leader would consider siding with the federal government and the states over delisting the grizzly bear in our country,” says Councilwoman Little Dog. “If they were to do this, and go against their own people, it would affect our elders terribly because of the sacredness of the grizzly.”
In their respective letters to Secretary Jewell, Chiefs Yellow Old Woman, Weasel Head and Grier cite the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council (RMTLC) resolution in opposition to delisting the grizzly bear.
“We unequivocally support the RMTLC resolution. This is a powerful document that honors our ancestors and defends our future generations by rejecting the delisting and trophy hunting of this sacred being,” asserts Chief Yellow Old Woman.
Chief Weasel Head credits Blackfeet Councilman, Bill Old Chief, with securing the resolution’s passage, and considers it an affront to the Blackfoot Confederacy and an infringement of sovereignty that FWS appears to be ignoring the resolution by attempting to influence the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council (BTBC) to separate from the Blackfoot Confederacy on delisting the grizzly.
“In order for us to challenge what the US government is trying to introduce with delisting we must stand together,” implores Chief Weasel Head. “We are the caretakers of this land and we must take up that responsibility. This is an infringement of our sovereignty, and an attack on the very identity of who we are as the original people of this country.”
“If they take the grizzly bear off the ESA that opens the protected lands the grizzly bear occupies, be that Indian reservations or public lands,” warns Blood Councilman, Mike Bruised Head. “Delisting the grizzly will take that protected area away and open it for big industry to dictate the usage of the land. Without the grizzly bear being protected, big industry will have free access to the last protected areas in both Canada and the US,” he predicts.
All of the Blackfoot Confederacy Chiefs detail how delisting the grizzly bear will “directly impact and undermine” the Blackfeet Nation’s efforts to protect the sacred Badger-Two Medicine area.
“The grizzly will no longer be able to protect our lands if it, itself, is no longer protected. Without the grizzly, what will become of our lands and water? Fracking will not feed our children. Gas cannot be our oxygen. Petroleum will not quench our thirst,” cautions Chief Yellow Old Woman.