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Opinion. When the Indian Religious Freedom Act became U.S. law in 1978, we no longer had to hide our drums and dancing in the guise of tourist attractions, and our ceremonies were again openly practiced as necessary to the health of our communities.
That same year, Ma’iingan, the Wolf, was first included on the Endangered Species list, putting an end to an era of bounty hunting and vilification that nearly drove the packs to extinction. As core teachings confirm, the paths of Ma’iingan and the Anishinaabek are intertwined, and what happens to one also happens to the other. The persecution and extermination of family units, the revival of numbers and culture once legalized oppression ceased, and the determination to continue the practices that ensure the survival of generations all attest to this truth. Once we consider the world through the lens of brotherhood with Ma’iingan, as Giche Manido instructed us to do at the beginning of our evolved consciousness, we begin to realize how all living beings are to be understood and respected and loved as relatives.

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Every body of water, plant, and animal has an important teaching connected to them. Found within the Anishinaabemowin naming of their essential being, and often in more extended stories, the presence of that living being is directly linked to the inheritance of Anishinaabe culture. Our spiritual ceremonies, the instructions embedded in our stories and language, and the cultural continuity our ancestors intended when they signed land treaties are all inextricably linked to the other-than-human relatives who came first.
Yet these essential carriers of our spiritual teachings continue to be displaced, vilified, devalued, and ultimately exterminated without consideration for their intrinsic worth and right to exist, and therefore without consideration for the actual nature of our “Religious Freedom.” Ma’iingan continues to be targeted for recreational hunting, despite the multitude of tribal nations and leaders throughout Turtle Island who have signed onto the Wolf Treaty. This high-profile disrespect for Ma’iingan is emblematic of a far-reaching and dangerous status quo approach to wildlife overall, that favors lethal measures aimed at convenience and upheld by uninterrogated norms of human dominion. Because, as Anishinaabek, we are instructed in the principles of coexistence, with humble awareness of our dependency (dbasendiziwin), this tendency for State and Government agencies to continually sacrifice the well-being of wildlife ultimately undermines our ability to freely practice our cultural traditions and spiritual ceremonies.
This is why it is imperative for our tribal nations to demand transparency, accountability, and a transformed approach to wildlife policies that too often degrade and endanger the lives of our other-than-human relatives. A particularly egregious example of unevolved decision-making that failed to engage in robust government-to-government tribal consultation was witnessed at the May 11, 2023 meeting of Michigan’s Natural Resources Commission in Lansing. To the great dismay of those who provided hours of public comment in opposition, thousands of emails and numerous phone calls, the DNR (interim) Director Shannon Lott gave the green light to a “nuisance wildlife” amendment pertaining to the regulation of small furbearers.
The amendment made it permissible for private property owners, without any license or phone call or permission, to kill a lengthy list of beloved animals who do, or might do, damage to said property. Because of a cited “administrative burden,” the decision was made to essentially allow for a 24/7/365 open season on beaver, cottontail rabbit, fox squirrel, gray squirrel, ground squirrel (indistinguishable from chipmunks), muskrat, opossum, red squirrel, and weasel. There was no vote from the NRC, nor any explanation or justification on the part of interim Director Lott to indicate that the vast majority of the public who made their objections known were at all being listened to, or raised valid questions that warranted an answer. Tribal elders and youth who provided testimony with respect to cultural teachings were not responded to, nor was there any transparency regarding the composition of the “internal work groups” making the recommendations, nor any response about whether tribes were consulted, and if not, why not.
There is an entrenched default to lethal controls for the sake of convenience and a skewed perception of Michigan’s cultural “heritage,” wherein an ever-decreasing subset of the population that would kill animals for reasons other than fair chase, subsistence hunting are given outsized influence on committees and workgroups who set the tone for wildlife policy. It is important that individual citizens do what they can to reflect the actual majority public sentiment as increasingly in favor of coexistence and wildlife restoration. Contact the Governor, and your House and Senate legislators, to express concerns about wildlife policy that does not adhere to science, or respect the intrinsic worth of other-than-human inhabitants of the natural world. Like our shared, unownable waters, the wildlife of Michigan should be understood and treated as a public trust, essential to our quality of life.
Perhaps more importantly, our sovereign tribal nations should be entrusted with leading the way toward a more evolved approach to wildlife policy that utilizes the wisdom of Traditional Ecological Knowledge through practices aimed at coexistence, reciprocity, and restoration. In the pursuit of minobimaadiziwin, animals are our teachers and guides. They have their own talents, and roles, and care for family, and wisdom. Their original names reflect our ancestors’ awareness of those gifts, as well as our affection. Beaver is amik, squirrel is ajidamohn, the chipmunk is agongos, rabbit is waaboos, opossum is bengwajishk, weasel is zhingosk, and muskrat is wazhashk, who held a central role in the recovery of the world after a worldwide flood that was the consequence of human overreach and mischief.
These lessons are inseparable from these beings, and for centuries we have tried to communicate the vast implications of that truth. In 1978 the Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed  — and yet the colonizing mindset continues to destroy the kinfolk that carry the teachings of our spirit and language. It is our responsibility to protect them, knowing that their right to exist is also our own.
Dr. Nichole Keway Biber is a tribal citizen of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. She serves on the Anishinabek Caucus in Michiganwhere she leads the Wolf/Wildlife Preservation Team. 

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