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Tribes Make History with Signing of Grizzly Bear Treaty

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History for the grizzly bear and Native people will be made next weekend, when Native leaders will sign a grizzly bear treaty, only the third cross-border First Nations/Native American treaty in some 150 years. The treaty will be signed on Friday September 30 in Brocket, Alberta, and on October 2 in Grand Teton National Park (see details below). Tribal leaders from the Blackfeet Confederacy in the north to the Hopi in the south will participate in the ceremony and signing at a crucial time in the public debate over the region’s grizzly bears.

Entitled, “The Grizzly: A Treaty of Cooperation, Cultural Revitalization and Restoration,” the treaty offers innovative and sweeping reforms to hostile management of the states that are poised to wrest control of the fate of Yellowstone’s grizzly bears if, as expected, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) removes Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections from the Great Bear (“delisting”) later this year.

The grizzly is considered sacred by a multitude of tribes. The treaty integrates ceremonial and traditional knowledge with science to provide an alternative to current government-sanctioned bear killing policies and proposed hunting.

Fifty-plus Tribal Nations, supported by Canada’s Assembly of First Nations, now stand in opposition to the ESA delisting and trophy hunting of the sacred grizzly bear because they violate tribal sovereignty, treaty rights, requirements to consult with the Tribes, and spiritual and religious freedoms.

“The grizzly bear is not a trophy for the affluent to kill for ‘sport’. The grizzly bear is sacred. Our people have a connection to the grizzly bear since our ancient migrations,” explains Lee Wayne Lomayestewa, Kikmongwi (Chief) of the Hopi Bear Clan. “We, the Bear Clan, were the first people to arrive in the Southwest. It was the grizzly, the most powerful of bears, which guided and protected the first among our people to arrive at Tuwanasavi, the Center Place, which continues to be our home today,” he says. The Hopi Bear Clan leader will be joined at the event by Cliff Ami, leader of the Tewa Bear Clan.

The Treaty comes at a time when the US government seems to be waking up, at least partially, to its longstanding pattern of violating tribal rights and sovereignty. Two weeks ago, the federal government stopped construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, which would degrade lands regarded as sacred by the Standing Rock Sioux, responding to a tense standoff in North Dakota that has drawn support from over a hundred Tribes from across the country. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell made a commitment to comply with legal requirements to consult with Tribes and respect their spirituality and culture before further construction.

This week, at a Tribal conference in Washington, DC, Jewell praised “the unprecedented solidarity that so many of you across Indian Country have shown to the Standing Rick issue over the past weeks, through prayerful and peaceful assembly, to make your voices heard.” (link) She said that the pipeline protests touch on an issue broader than the pipeline itself. “Looking beyond the Dakota Access pipeline, it’s clear that there needs to be a conversation about something much larger than a single pipeline project. How a federal action impacts your land, your water, your sacred sites, your treaty rights, your sovereignty, is relevant, it’s important, and your voices are important.”

Yet, so far, Interior and USFWS have failed to initiate formal consultation with the Tribes involved in the grizzly bear case, many of which are the same as those engaged in the Dakota Access pipeline.

The Piikani Nation Chief and Council of the Blackfoot Confederacy initiated the treaty. “Among our people, Spiritual and Sun Dance Leaders, Elders, and Councilpersons have all denounced delisting and trophy hunting the grizzly, and warned of the detrimental consequences to our youth and future generations if this should occur. Given the significance of the grizzly bear in the traditional ceremonial practices of the Blackfoot Confederacy, myself and others have categorized the delisting of the grizzly bear as an act of cultural genocide against our people,” says Chief Stanley Grier, the driving force behind the treaty and Chief of the Piikani Nation.

In their respective resolutions and declarations in the years leading up to the treaty, many tribes have bemoaned the lack of transparency in the delisting process, and USFWS’s less than responsive attitude to official requests for data paid for by US taxpayers. As a result, Tribes have received information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). “It is now apparent that the motivational factors behind both the delisting of the grizzly bear and the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline are closely aligned,” states the Piikani Nation Chief and Council in a recent declaration (link).

Information acquired through FOIA revealed that USFWS chose one of the world’s largest oil and gas service multinationals, Amec Foster Wheeler, to manage the peer reviews of its delisting rule, a company headed by former Halliburton executive, Jon Lewis. It is noteworthy, that if bears are delisted, unfettered development could occur on over 3 million acres of public lands (link).

USFWS’s delisting rule identifies 28 mining claims with operating plans in what it considers core grizzly habitat in Yellowstone. “Unless Congress repeals the 1872 General Mining Act, that law will hold primacy in respect to these mining claims,” warns the Piikani Nation declaration. So far, USFWS’s Deputy Director, Matt Hogan, who serves as the agency’s point person on the grizzly delisting issue, has refused to divulge the extent of his alleged ties to Anadarko Petroleum and Gas, the third largest energy company in the world, and the largest landholder and leaseholder in Wyoming.

Both the Oglala Sioux Tribe and Piikani Nation have called for a Congressional investigation into the delisting process. These Tribes not only question the influence of multinational energy companies on the delisting decision, but documented connections between high-ranking USFWS officials and trophy hunting giant, Safari Club International, exemplified by Mr. Hogan’s role as a former chief lobbyist to Capitol Hill for Safari Club.

The Piikani declaration raises “the specter of the destruction of our sacred sites if, as appears inevitable, corporate energy development is initiated on the lands the grizzly presently protects through its ESA status.” To date, no Tribal Historic Preservation Office has been contacted to “survey, determine, and catalog” these sacred and historic sites throughout Greater Yellowstone. “If they are not, these sites will be subject to desecration and ultimately lost, resulting in irreparable injury to a multitude of tribes,” conclude the Piikani, based upon past and present experience – the latest exhibit being the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Through one of the FOIAs, tribal leaders received an email thread between USFWS Director Ashe and his assistant, Gary Frazer, in which they lay out their strategy for delisting the grizzly. Frazer noted that the Yellowstone grizzly population is “slightly declining.” Ashe responds: “I may be missing something, but this recommendation seems at odds with the ‘best available’ science standard of ESA.”

Many have so far “missed something” on grizzly delisting, but Tribal Nations have not, and the Piikani Nation has constructed a historic treaty for the world to witness.

                                                    Details of Treaty Signing

Friday, September 30, Treaty signing Piikani Nation, Brocket, AB

1:00 p.m. MT, Council Chambers of the Piikani Nation

Piikani Traditional people, Horn Society members, Blood Nation and Coastal Nations representatives

Sunday, October 2, Treaty signing in Jackson Hole, WY

2:00 p.m. MT, Jackson Lake Lodge, Eagle Room

Invited: Representatives from Blackfeet; Hopi; Crazy Dog Society; Standing Rock Sioux; Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, Shoshone Bannock Tribe; Eastern Shoshone Tribe;  Northern Arapaho Tribe; Gros Ventres Tribe; Crow Nation; Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes, Northern Cheyenne Nation, Colville Tribes, Pawnee Nation, Ute Mountain Tribe, Southern Ute Nation, Navajo Nation, Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, and more.

For more information: www.piikaninationtreaty.com

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Louisa Willcox is a longtime grizzly bear activist and founder of Grizzly Times. She lives in Montana.

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