Published October 21, 2015
SAN CARLOS INDIAN RESERVATION – Embroiled in one of the most significant spiritual rights and sacred land issues of this generation, in its struggle to protect Oak Flat the San Carlos Apache Tribe has declared solidarity with the tribes opposing a separate federal action the Blackfoot Confederacy has already denounced as “an act of cultural genocide.”
“I am pleased to announce that the San Carlos Apache Tribe has joined with GOAL Tribal Coalition to protect our religious and spiritual rights. The grizzly bear must continue to be protected under the Endangered Species Act. Delisting the grizzly bear for trophy hunting and commercial purposes is an insult to Native American rights. We must allow both the grizzly bear and Oak Flats to continue to be protected,” declared Tao Etpison, Vice Chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe.
The San Carlos Apache Tribe issued an official statement that was immediately furnished to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Director, Dan Ashe.
“The consequences of this action on those forty-two tribes reflect those that will devastate the cultural, spiritual and environmental well-being of the San Carlos Apache people if the Resolution Copper Mine becomes a reality on our sacred land of Oak Flat,” Chairman Terry Rambler impresses upon the Obama Administration officials in the statement.
Etpison explains that the grizzly bear is sacred to the Apache, as it is to the tribes in what the Northwestern Band of Shoshone has described as the “unprecedented” forty-plus tribe coalition opposing delisting.
“It is our belief, taught by our ancestors, that the grizzly bear is a grandmother and a grandfather,” explains Etpison. “We have to respect them as people. When we are gathering or hunting in the mountains we’re taught not to talk about the grizzly bear. Such is our respect for the grizzly that we won’t say its name,” he continues.
Etpison feels that people do no realize just how few grizzlies there are in the Lower-48, and would like to see the grizzly return to Apache country. In the tribe’s statement, Chairman Rambler reminds Secretary Jewell and Director Ashe why the grizzly is no longer present there. “Our ancestors knew the grizzly bear, as they cohabited in our traditional homelands. The Apaches played no part in the extirpation of the grizzly bear from our territory, which was done by those who took our lands, and the government’s PARC hunters and trappers. San Carlos Apache people did not hunt grizzly bears.”
In common with the other tribal nations arrayed in opposition, the San Carlos Apache question the credibility of the scientific date being used to justify delisting the grizzly.
“Grizzly bears survive on less than 2% of their original range. With only 2% of their historic population, maybe fewer than 1,400 bears, it is inconceivable to remove ESA protections from the grizzly when 100,000 thrived within its historic domain pre-European contact, many of them in the Southwest, in Apache country,” elaborates Chairman Rambler.
The San Carlos Apache draw attention to the apparent contradictory actions of the Department of Interior on consultation, and highlight Secretary Jewell’s comments in the wake of the National Defense Authorization Act that included the Resolution Copper Mining Provision that, if not revoked, condemns Oak Flat to become what Vice Chairman Etpison describes as “a two mile wide crater.”
“‘The appropriate time for honoring our government-to-government relationship with tribes is before legislating issues of this magnitude,’ wrote Secretary Jewell after the Resolution rider was enacted as part of the National Defense Authorization Act,” reads the statement. “Forty-two Tribal Nations have petitioned the Secretary for consultation on the delisting of the grizzly bear before a new rule is published in the federal register, but they are still waiting for that government-to-government process to be honored,” continues Chairman Rambler.
To date, Secretary Jewell has declined to meet with a delegation of tribal leaders traveling to Washington, DC to petition lawmakers and Obama Administration officials on retaining federal protections for the grizzly and the approximately two million acres of Greater Yellowstone that will become vulnerable to mining leases if the proposed delisting rule is enacted.
Proponents of the Resolution Copper Mine at Oak Flat and those of delisting and trophy hunting the grizzly have alleged that tribal opposition to both has been “staged” and “orchestrated.”
“Anti-mining opponents have sunk to a new low by using members of the Apache tribe to further their misguided effort,” claims Representative Paul Gosar, who accuses “environmental extremist groups” of “orchestrating” Apache opposition to the mine.
At Interior’s summer Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) meeting on traditional Blackfeet land in Montana, IGBC spokesman, Gregg Losinski, of Idaho Fish and Game, and Scott Talbott, Director of Wyoming Game and Fish, alleged that aspects of tribal opposition to grizzly delisting were “staged.”
Talbott, who last month stated publicly that FWS was expected to announce the delisting rule “by the end of the year,” concurred with Losinski’s theory that environmentalists, principally veteran campaigner Louisa Willcox, were manipulating tribes along with the Center for Biological Diversity. When subsequently asked to provide any evidence to support their allegations, Losinski could not, and Talbott did not respond.
“Losinski and Talbott’s assertions are not only completely wrong, they are sickeningly colonialist. I’m truly shocked and disgusted,” says Kieran Suckling, Executive Director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “How much disrespect do they expect the tribes to tolerate? Are they unable to see how condescending and colonialist their attitudes are?” he questions.
Tao Etpison summarizes both issues with a reminder. “We respect our sacred land and we respect the sacred grizzly bear, and we have joined forces to tell all Americans that this country is built upon religious rights. The people who came here from Europe did so for that reason, for their own religious rights. Native Americans have rights to their religions and spirituality too.”