Senator Cory Booker Leads Support for Tribes in Defense of the Sacred

Senator Cory Booker

Published October 24. 2018

WASHINGTON  —  In the wake of wide-ranging testimony submitted on behalf of thirty-plus tribes to the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) has reaffirmed his commitment to tribal rights and the issues raised by the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council (RMTLC), the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association (GPTCA), and the Blackfoot Confederacy in the consequential testimony.

Senator Booker described the intertribal declaration as “important testimony from tribal leaders” and confirmed that he “is opposed to any efforts to weaken the Endangered Species Act, including any attempts to interfere with the court decision in Crow Tribe et al v. Zinke.” The tribes’ testimony rebuked the stated intent of Republican members, including former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), to legislatively overturn the federal court ruling that returned the grizzly bear in Greater Yellowstone to Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections and halted trophy hunts of the bear revered by a multitude of tribes as sacred.

Senator Tom Udall with RMTLC Chairman AJ Not Afraid and Piikani Chief, Stan Grier – President of the Blackfoot Confederacy Chiefs.

Tribal Nations across North America have supported the positions raised in the testimony, and condemned Senator Barrasso, who now chairs the EPW Committee, and Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY), for leading Congressional efforts to nullify Judge Dana Christensen’s ruling, which is seen as a landmark victory for tribes.

“I introduced the Grizzly Bear State Management Act, which directs the Department of the Interior to re-issue the rule delisting grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and prohibits any judicial review of this decision,” said Congresswoman Cheney. Her bill, if enacted, “would decimate what remains of the fewer than 700 grizzlies in Greater Yellowstone,” countered Chief Stan Grier, President of the Blackfoot Confederacy Chiefs. Human-caused grizzly mortalities for 2018 are on pace for a record high, with approximately 10% of the population projected to be lost.

Cheney’s bill favors trophy hunting, undermines conservation, and is a veritable giveaway to extractive industry and livestock operations on the ancestral and sacred lands of impacted tribes. The tribal testimony highlighted existing violations of the National Historic Preservation Act in the region, where, due to federal agencies failing to authorize a single Section 106 Review, hundreds of sacred and historic sites are already threatened by incursions and development.

“Attempting to overturn a court ruling with a legislative provision that will deny due process to tribes and citizens alike is not reflective of the tenets of a democracy,” asserted the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs in a recent statement, representing one-hundred-plus First Nations.

Among the species of particular concern identified by Senator Booker are the grizzly, gray wolf, salmon, the lesser prairie chicken, and the sage-grouse, all of which have prominent places within tribal cultures. The prospective Democratic Party 2020 presidential candidate insists that ESA listing and delisting decisions must be “based upon science” and not “cherry-picking certain species” for “life and death decisions.” A newly-acquired Trump Administration memo directs US Fish and Wildlife Service staff to suppress public records that show how ESA decisions are reached, and to conceal scientific data. The directive is consistent with agency actions in its push for the Keystone-XL Pipeline and grizzly delisting.

The joint-RMTLC, GPTCA and Blackfoot testimony cataloged the multiple connections between high-ranking Republicans and extractive industry giants who are seeking to gut the ESA and tribal rights, including Anadarko, Halliburton and Amec Foster Wheeler. “It is clear from Chairman Barrasso’s proposed amendments to the ESA that a far greater emphasis would be placed upon the input of energy companies, with considerable influence being accorded extractive industry executives in ESA listing and delisting decisions,” testified tribal leaders, who cited the Trump Administration’s approval of Jonah Energy’s 3,500 gas wells in critical greater sage grouse habitat on the boundary of Greater Yellowstone, 96% of which will be established on public lands. “In reality, that 96% of public lands is 100% tribal land,” clarified Chief Counselor Brandon Sazue, head of the Global Indigenous Council.

Tribes warned that should Barrasso’s “proposed amendments to the ESA become law” this scenario “is likely to become the norm. If such circumstances had prevailed in prior decades, it is highly unlikely that species recovered by the ESA that are integral to tribal cultures, such as the bald eagle, gray wolf, humpback whale, green sea turtle and California condor, would now exist anywhere outside of zoos or taxidermy displays. The same can be said of the grizzly bear if Crow Tribe et al v. Zinke is legislatively reversed.”

The tribes’ position is echoed by Senator Booker and some thirty prominent Democratic Senators, including potential 2020 presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, in a letter to Senator Richard Shelby and Senator Patrick Leahy of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, in which the senators ask the chair and vice chair respectively to, “reject any and all riders that would undermine the Endangered Species Act.”

The Democratic leaders continue, “As a result of human impacts on our environment, we are facing a global extinction crisis on par with the events that drove dinosaurs to extinction 65 million years ago. Species today are going extinct at a rate thousands of times faster than natural extinction rates. Scientists estimate that one in six species are threatened with extinction this century. We need the Endangered Species Act now more than ever.”

Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, also expressed his support for the tribes’ testimony and positions. Senator Udall’s staff confirmed that they have followed-up with the EPW Committee on “the tribes’ interests.”

Senators Udall, Booker and Sanders actively supported Tribal Nations throughout the grizzly bear delisting struggle, and in a letter to Interior Secretary Zinke emphasized that “the federal government has a trust and treaty responsibility to engage in meaningful government-to-government consultation with tribes” but feared that Interior had “abandoned that responsibility in its delisting process.” They reminded Zinke that, “any federal action to delist grizzly bears must take into consideration tribal input on any impacts to tribal sovereignty, treaty rights, and spiritual and religious freedoms.” Zinke, who has consistently claimed to be pro-Indian rights, ignored the appeal and infamously perjured himself on the issue before the House Natural Resources Committee.

“We know It does not take many words to tell the truth. So we say to our trustee, do not speak the hollow word ‘consultation’ that comes to nothing. Rather, like Senator Booker and Senator Udall, speak good words and act so that we may heal with our brother, the grizzly,” commented Tom Rodgers, a spokesman for the RMTLC who is best-known for exposing the “Indian lobbying scandal” that led to the demise of Jack Abramoff.

Photos courtesy of Alter-Native Media from the documentary, “Remaking the Sacred Hoop.”

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