Copyright R Bear Stands Last All Rights Reserved
TAHLEQUAH, OKLAHOMA — The largest Tribal Nation in North America has declared its support for GOAL Tribal Coalition and the Tribal Nations that stand in opposition to the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposed delisting of the Yellowstone grizzly bear.
“On behalf of the Cherokee Nation, I join other tribal leaders in expressing concerns about the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) efforts to remove federal protections pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the Yellowstone grizzly bear,” begins Cherokee Nation Principal Chief, Bill John Baker, in a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and FWS Director Dan Ashe.
The 315,000 strong Cherokee Nation joined the united tribal effort to preserve ESA status for the Yellowstone grizzly bear following a process that was initiated by a meeting at the tribe’s headquarters in Tahlequah, Oklahoma between Cherokee Nation officials and GOAL Tribal Coalition in January.
Director of Cherokee Nation Natural Resources, Gunter Gulager, chaired the meeting.
“For many Indian tribes, the grizzly bear is sacred and has a significant place in their cultures and ceremonial ways of life,” Principal Chief Baker informs Secretary Jewell in the Cherokee Nation’s letter.
Cherokee society is comprised of seven matrilineal clans, the oldest of which is considered to be the Bear Clan, a subdivision of the Blue Clan.
Though more familiar with black bears in their historic and ancestral territory, the Cherokee identified the “Great White Bear,” the grizzly, as the chief of all bears, and bears as the “chief tribe” among the animal nations.
In common with many tribes, Cherokee traditions relate how the Great Bear was a benevolent teacher, and introduced the Cherokee to important food sources and medicine ways. The Cherokee Bear Dance was performed to protect tribal members from diseases carried by European immigrants.
In the Cherokee Nation’s letter, Principal Chief Baker focuses on FWS’s lack of meaningful tribal consultation.
“I understand this action is being taken without FWS engaging in formal tribal consultation in accordance with Executive Order 13175 and other policies,” he writes.
“This administration has engaged in tribal consultation on federal policy decisions that have tribal implications at historic levels,” Principal Chief Baker continues. “Fulfillment of this commitment on FWS’s effort to delist the Yellowstone grizzly bear is consistent with Executive Order 13175 and other policies that strengthen the government-to-government relationship between the federal government and Indian tribes.”
The Cherokee Nation reminds Secretary Jewell that, “only 2 percent of the historic population of grizzlies exists today, and they survive on less than 2 percent of their original range.”
Director Gulager related the State of Wyoming’s hostile attitude towards grizzly bears to that of Montana’s toward the buffalo over the last twenty-years.
“We understand what solidarity is, and how important it is to support those tribes on the frontlines of this issue,” Gulager told GOAL, while expressing how the Cherokee Nation wanted to save the Great Bear from being managed down the state sanctioned barrels of trophy hunters’ guns.
If the Yellowstone grizzly bear is delisted the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho will sell high-dollar grizzly trophy hunts across a landscape defined by a multitude of sacred sites that 26 tribes have traditional ceremonial and ancestral connections to.
“The grizzly bear is a living spirit that is a part of our ceremonies and our ancestors have been using the medicine given by the grizzly bear for generations,” explains Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe.
“We talk about harmony, balance, understanding and the sacred relationship between all things, while others talk about trophy hunting. Even the white ones that are born, the sacred messengers of Unci Maka, our Grandmother Earth, are being killed and will continue to be killed if this abuse is not stopped. My heart is heavy because of this,’” says Chief Looking Horse.
One of Indian Country’s most recognizable spiritual leaders, Chief Looking Horse opposes the delisting and the subsequent trophy hunting of the grizzly, and instead advocates for the grizzly to be returned to vast swathes of biologically suitable habitat that it roamed pre-European contact.
“We urge the FWS to commence tribal consultation so tribal concerns on the impact of delisting grizzly bears and potential impacts on their survival will be considered,” implores Principal Chief Baker.
GOAL (Guardians of Our Ancestors’ Legacy) Tribal Coalition has liaised with prominent spiritual leaders, elders and tribal governments to form an alliance against delisting the Yellowstone grizzly bear, citing spiritual, sovereignty and treaty violations among its concerns. The coalition now stands at 33 Tribal Nations.