Published April 14, 2016
CODY, WYOMING – US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) officials refused to screen a video featuring Chief Arvol Looking Horse and Longmire star Zahn McClarnon at a government organized grizzly bear delisting meeting in Cody, Wyoming on April 11. The meeting was held for FWS to gather “public comment” on its proposed rule to remove Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections from the grizzly in Yellowstone, which would enable the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho to open trophy hunting seasons on the iconic bear that is revered as sacred by a multitude of tribes.
“It is a clear case of the US Fish and Wildlife Service choosing to suppress tribal voices. The First Amendment doesn’t come with a disclaimer that only white people who agree with you get to be heard,” says Oglala Sioux Tribe Vice President, Tom Poor Bear, one of the speakers on the video.
Tribal members have expressed reluctance to travel to Cody for grizzly bear hearings due to what has been described as both a “hostile” and “racial charged” atmosphere. The FWS meeting of 4/11was made up of exclusively white attendees, including local outfitters and trophy hunters. In the same venue the previous week, Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) held a similar meeting, during which a Park County Commissioner announced, “If we aren’t going to control these bears we may as well give the land back to the Indians and sail back across the ocean.” A journalist on the scene described being “shocked” that “the audience clapped and laughed.
WGFD’s Brian Nesvik and Dan Thompson led the meeting, and witnesses confirmed that neither did or said anything to counter the comment. A year ago in the same venue, Nesvik cut the microphone of Northern Cheyenne Tribal Government representative, James Walks Along, and removed him from the floor during a federal/state Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee meeting on purported tribal collaborations. Northern Cheyenne Tribal President, Llevando Fisher, denounced the incident as “disgraceful” and “disrespectful” and demanded apologies from Interior Secretary, Sally Jewell, and Wyoming Governor, Matt Mead, which were not forthcoming.
“If they sincerely wanted to hear tribal voices and get our comments, they would hold some of these meetings on reservations. Instead, they choose to hold them in places like Cody, a cowboy town not exactly known for its diversity,” adds Poor Bear. “How many of these white trophy hunters and outfitters would come to a meeting in Pine Ridge to make their public comments and racist remarks?” he asks.
In addition to Poor Bear, Longmire and Into the West star, Zahn McClarnon, and Chief Looking Horse, the six-minute video has contributions from Zuni Religious Society leader, Kenny Bowekaty, and the late Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow who passed April 3. Emails and phone records provided by GOAL Tribal Coalition show that FWS was given two days notice of the request to show the video, but did not respond. The meeting had only been announced five days earlier.
“We request that USFWS accommodate tribal members at the public comment portion of the meeting by facilitating the playing of a 5-6 minute digital video that features comments from tribal members who either cannot travel to Cody, WY or feel very uncomfortable doing so in what is, unquestionably, a hostile environment,” reads the email from GOAL Co-Founder, R. Bear Stands Last, to FWS organizer, Serena Baker.
GOAL Chairman, David Bearshield, confirmed that Bear Stands Last took the digital recording to the venue and spoke to both Ms. Baker and FWS Mountain-Prairie Regional Director, Matt Hogan, and repeated the request to play the video, but both declined. “Ms. Baker gave the impression that it was too short notice and they did not have the necessary equipment, but the hotel informed us that they did. Director Hogan said they wouldn’t show the video, but he would watch it later. Our Co-Founder told him that by definition playing it in the privacy of his office was not public comment. Neither did they want to show it in Bozeman the following the day,” explains Bearshield.
“We’re used to this from the federal government, after all, we’ve had a couple hundred years experience,” Bearshield continues. “FWS talks the talk on its website, but does not walk the walk.” Bearshield cites several instances where he claims FWS has tried to undermine tribal opposition to delisting, among them comments made by FWS Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator, Chris Servheen, on a previously unreleased recording.
In 2015, the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council twice petitioned Interior Secretary Jewell to remove Servheen, supported by the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe. “Dr. Servheen’s actions and his demeaning and dismissive attitude toward the massed tribal opposition to delisting the Yellowstone grizzly bear renders him entirely unfit to participate in any tribal consultation process,” wrote Chairwoman Roxanne Sazue.
The recording, made when Servheen was engaging the press in a public forum after the Walks Along incident, begins with him answering questions before it deteriorates into what sounds like Servheen confronting a female GOAL administrator. “None of that has any basis in reality,” Servheen tells a reporter after reciting some tribal concerns. “Nobody has any interest in that,” Servheen says of trophy hunting the grizzly “on reservation lands,” and adds “no one” would extirpate the bear from tribal lands. “That’s semantics,” counters Bearshield. “Wyoming’s grizzly delisting plan clearly shows that the state does not want the grizzly bear on the Wind River Indian Reservation or in the Wind River Mountains. That is fact, not opinion. WGFD and Dr. Servheen were the major contributors to the last grizzly management plan for the Wind River Reservation. This is where the matter of sovereignty arises. The grizzly issue is a Trojan horse for tribes.”
“Some of the information the tribes were given by somebody is that we’re delisting the grizzly bear, or that we made a decision to delist the grizzly bear, or that there were going to be hunts,” Servheen complains on the recording, as if tribal nations had gained an erroneous impression. However, on March 3, FWS Director Ashe announced the proposed rule to delist the grizzly bear, and all three states in the region have stated their intent to begin trophy hunts. In December, the states entered into an MOA with FWS on establishing trophy-hunting quotas between them. Contrary to Servheen’s assertions, the facts indicate that the tribes were correct twelve months ago.
“The conduct of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in accommodating states interests over those of federally recognized Indian tribes in the matter of delisting and trophy hunting the grizzly bear on ancestral tribal and treaty lands threatens irreparable harm to tribal rights if it is not challenged,” writes A. Gay Kingman, Executive Director of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, in a letter Bear Stands Last gave to Hogan.