Sacred white grizzly
Published July 2, 2019
BROWNING, Mont. — Joining across international and sovereign lines, today the Blackfoot Confederacy, comprised of the Piikani Nation, the Blackfeet Nation, the Siksika Nation and the Blood Tribe, released a statement opposing the Trump Administration’s attempts to remove Endangered Species protections for grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) which the Confederacy holds as the “heart of the grizzly bear nation.”
The Blackfoot Confederacy’s action is consistent with its May 2000 Declaration that rejected the colonial imposition of the US-Canada border that bisected the Confederacy’s long-established territory. “The international boundary between Canada and the United States of America has arbitrarily divided our people without our consent resulting in restricted access to our traditional territories and interference with our religious, economic, social and governmental relationships.”
The statement released to the media today, “Continuing Efforts to Delist the Sacred Grizzly Bear in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE), Re-Institute Trophy Hunts, and Open Our Sacred Sites to Extractive Industry,” was initiated by Chairman Tim Davis of the Blackfeet Nation and Chief Stanley Grier of the Piikani Nation.
“The statement by Chairman Davis and Chief Grier is a clear reaffirmation of the historic Blackfoot Confederacy Declaration of 2000. It’s tantamount to a decree of sovereignty, something our people should welcome,” said Tom Rodgers, a Senior Adviser to the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council and a Blackfeet tribal member.
The Trump administration is currently appealing a federal court ruling last fall that reinstated Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for the Yellowstone grizzly population, while actively working to remove protections from the NCDE grizzly population. A 19-plaintiff tribal alliance was instrumental in the historic court victory, Crow Tribe et al v. Zinke.
In the Confederacy statement, Chairman Davis and Chief Grier cite deep cultural and spiritual connections to the sacred grizzly and note that the bears’ survival is threatened by dramatic impacts from climate change, fossil fuel development, habitat destruction, and – if protections are removed – trophy hunts.
In 2016, the Blackfoot Confederacy initiated the historic North American tribal accord The Grizzly: A Treaty of Revitalization, Reconciliation and Restoration, the most-signed tribal treaty in history with over 200-Tribal Nation signatories. The scope of the treaty includes conflict reduction, carrying capacity, and reintroduction of the grizzly to sovereign tribal lands where biologically suitable habitat exists in the Great Bear’s historic range for cultural, economic and environmental revitalization for participating tribal nations.
Blackfeet Nation Chairman Tim Davis
“The Blackfeet Nation and Piikani Nation are on the ‘frontlines’ of the proposed Northern Continental Divide delisting issue. Our voices – those of the original stewards of the land – should be heard above any extractive industry corporation in listing and delisting decisions of species that have deep cultural significance to us, and which survive on our ancestral lands,” said Chairman of the Blackfeet Nation, Tim Davis. “As we make this statement, one of our most sacred sites, Badger-Two Medicine – a holy site imbued by the Ba’ksíkoyi, the sacred grizzly bear – is once more threatened by fossil-fuel leases. It is time for tribal people to have a greater input into the management and protection of these species. Our collective door is open to the federal government to sit down and discuss a positive route forward that is a ‘win-win’ for all concerned, not least for the sacred grizzly bear,” Chairman Davis emphasized.
Chief Grier and Chairman Davis have been at the forefront of publicly elevating the role of the Great Bear in Piikani-Blackfeet culture and the grizzly’s role in protecting sacred lands due to its status as a threatened species under the ESA. Protections afforded the grizzly under the ESA significantly restrict habitat destruction from extractive industry. The struggle of the Blackfeet to protect the holy land of Badger-Two Medicine exemplifies what the Confederacy insists is at stake. The Trump Administration has reversed Obama-era protections for Badger-Two Medicine which quieted energy leases in the hallowed sanctuary. Two of the leaseholders, W.A. “Tex” Moncrief, Jr. and Solenex, LLC challenged the decision in court and prevailed.
The Blackfeet Nation made numerous attempts to negotiate a settlement with Texas oil billionaire, Tex Moncrief, Jr., but to no avail. Moncrief, 99, is considered a “legendary” oil and gas “wildcatter” within the fossil-fuel industry. The Blackfeet Creation narrative relates to Badger-Two Medicine where Moncrief intends to drill. Due to its immense cultural significance Badger-Two Medicine is designated a Traditional Cultural District under the National Historic Preservation Act. The Moncrief and Solenex leases extend to some 10,000 acres of the sacred land.
The Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) represented Solenex. The MSLF has consistently litigated against tribal interests. George W. Bush’s Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton, had previously served as lead attorney for the MSLF. Norton was described as “the Bush administration’s leading advocate for expanding oil and gas drilling and other industrial interests in the West.” Her protégé, David Bernhardt, is now Trump’s Interior Secretary. Bernhardt, who served as Norton’s counselor during her tenure at Interior, emerged as a high-profile oil industry lobbyist in the years between the Bush and Trump administrations, representing Halliburton, Samson Resources, and the Independent Petroleum Association of America. Under Bernhardt, the Interior Department has filed an intent to withdraw its appeal of the Moncrief case.
“If they can do this with Badger-Two Medicine, this administration can do it anywhere, to any tribe. It’s the latest terrible betrayal in 242-years of betrayals,” added Tom Rodgers. “The NCDE grizzly issue poses the same threats we faced in Greater Yellowstone – the dismantling of tribal sovereignty, religious freedoms, treaty rights, and the government’s fiduciary responsibility to tribes,” said Rodgers.
US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator, Hilary Cooley, entered the Blackfoot Confederacy’s statement into the record at the recent Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee meeting in Missoula, Montana. USFWS estimates place the grizzly population in the NCDE at around 1,000 bears with approximately 700 in Greater Yellowstone. The 1,700 grizzlies that now survive in two isolated enclaves stands in stark contrast to the estimated 100,000 grizzlies that inhabited tribal territories from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean at the onset of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. This 98% population decrease is hailed as “a great conservation success story” and “recovery” by the Department of Interior due to the Yellowstone population having stabilized and increased from a low of 136 bears during the 1970s. The grizzly was listed under the ESA in 1975.
Chief Stan Grier, President of the Blackfoot Confederacy Chiefs
“The Crown of the Continent – what is designated as the NCDE – is the heartland of the Blackfoot Confederacy, and we will not stand by and watch our ancestors’ legacy pass into oblivion with the sacred grizzly bear, and see our children and future generations robbed once more of a vital part of their culture – that which is represented by the sacred and spiritual power of the grizzly bear,” asserted Chief Stanley Grier, Chief of the Piikani Nation and President of the Blackfoot Confederacy Chiefs.
See the full statement here.
Photos courtesy of Alter-Native Media and Horsefeathers Photography.