Tribal leaders with Congressman Raúl Grijalva who supports tribes’ fight for consultation.”
Published November 13, 2015
DENVER – Tribal nations opposed to the delisting and trophy hunting of the Yellowstone grizzly bear today rejected the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) latest attempt to present itself as proactive on consulting with tribes on the issue. The approximately fifty tribal nations that have issued resolutions and declarations against removing federal protections from the grizzly and placing its future in the hands of states that intend to open trophy hunts on the bear, unanimously boycotted FWS’s webinar.
“Tribes resoundingly rejected this sham ‘consultation webinar’ that the Feds tried to pull over on them,” says Tracey Zephier, an attorney for Fredericks, Peebles and Morgan, one of the nation’s leading law firms dedicated to representing tribes and tribal organizations throughout the United States.
Tribal nations contend that delisting the grizzly is contrary to tribal interests and will cause irreversible damage to tribal cultural practices due to the significance of the grizzly in foundational narratives and ceremonies. Tribes also identify potential treaty violations, along with infringements of sovereignty and contraventions of the federal trust responsibility among their concerns.
“In the past, it seems that when tribes show up for these so-called ‘consultation’ sessions it simply becomes a series of talking heads telling tribes what the Fed’s plans are. The Feds will nod their heads and act like they are listening and taking notes about tribal concerns, but nothing ever comes back in the way of productive feedback after the sessions. They simply march on with their plan,” continues Zephier.
“GOAL Tribal Coalition Chairman David Bearshield with San Carlos Apache Councilman Wendsler Nosey, Sr., leader of the Apache Stronghold Resistance at Oak Flat. The San Carlos Apache Tribe and GOAL recently joined forces.”
At a meeting in Washington, DC last week, tribal leaders presented Deputy Secretary of the Interior, Mike Connor, and FWS Director, Dan Ashe, with a letter denouncing the webinar as a “PR stunt” that did “not amount to the ‘meaningful consultation’ called for by President Obama.” The delegation advised that affected tribes would be asked to boycott the event. “We were very clear in both the letter and in the meeting,” says GOAL Chairman, David Bearshield. “That letter is online for our people to read, and this webinar was recorded for our people to hear. We asked FWS the hard questions and they had no answers. I am very thankful and proud that no tribes participated and that ‘divide and conquer’ didn’t work today,” he says.
During the webinar, FWS repeated its claim that it had written to some affected tribes, but Bearshield challenged that assertion, and demonstrated that the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribe of Oklahoma has no record of any documentation from FWS on delisting. In a statement of 11/3, Oglala Sioux tribal President, John Yellow Bird Steele, declared the same.
“Contrary to the recent claims made by the FWS in the press, as President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, I have received no invitation from the FWS to initiate the formal consultation process on this issue that is mandated by a plethora of executive orders, secretarial orders, congressional acts and laws,” President Steele wrote.
FWS’s promotional material for the webinar read, “Given the historical, cultural, and spiritual connection many tribes have to the grizzly bear, we are especially interested in talking to you and hearing input on any potential actions the Service may take concerning the status of GYE grizzly bears.” Bearshield says had FWS wanted to know that, its employees should have read the declarations and resolutions tribes submitted to Director Ashe and Secretary Jewell. “GOAL co-founder, R. Bear Stands Last, made that point forcefully to Deputy Secretary Connor face-to-face,” states Bearshield.
“GOAL Tribal Coalition is providing leadership in this matter. GOAL is an advocacy group that unites both the grassroots and traditional viewpoint, while respecting the processes of tribal governments. GOAL is a voice, but the words are always those of the tribes and tribal members, which is why the coalition is respected,” explains former Hopi Tribal Chairman, Ben Nuvamsa.
In the webinar, FWS continued to insist that consultation should take place after it has written and proposed the delisting rule, a position lambasted by tribal leaders.
“When I met with Deputy Secretary of the Interior Connor and FWS Director Ashe, I told them that they needed to get this consultation process started. A webinar is not consultation. There’s fifty federally recognized tribes that have a vested interest in this undertaking, so they need to issue a moratorium so we can work at meaningful consultation, to ensure that tribes have influence in securing the future of the grizzly, and upholding our sovereignty,” insists James Walks Along, Director of the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Historic Preservation Office.
None of the FWS staff participating in the webinar was able to detail what the Service perceives the consultation process to be. “Tribes want meaningful consultation, a process where tribes, individually, can talk to Interior about formulating the best solutions for the sacred grizzly bear and our peoples. A webinar does not provide that. It is for tribes to decide what appropriate consultation is, and at what point they are satisfied,” observes former Hopi Tribal Chairman, Ben Nuvamsa.
“This should send a loud and clear message to Interior that tribes are serious about consultation on this issue,” says Tracey Zephier.
James Walks Along, seen by many as the face of tribal resistance to the delisting and trophy hunting of the grizzly, expressed gratitude that tribes stood in solidarity on the issue.
“This great animal, the grizzly bear, is sacred to us. As federally recognized tribes, we have ancestral lands where the grizzly bear once lived and roamed freely. Tribes want to be co-partners with the government in returning the grizzly to those lands and by doing so returning the ecological balance,” Walks Along reiterates.