Published May 27, 2016
BILLINGS, MONTANA—On recent campaign stops in Indian Country for presidential candidate Secretary Hillary Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton, spoke on a range of issues with tribal implications, including environmental concerns and the potential for green economic initiatives on reservations. In Billings, Montana, President Clinton met with the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council (RMTLC), followed by representatives from GOAL Tribal Coalition, and both exchanges reflected those themes.
President Clinton expressed his appreciation to the GOAL delegation for bringing the grizzly issue to his attention, as he had not previously been apprised of it. “Clearly the President recognizes the negative consequences that this premature delisting and trophy hunting of the grizzly will have on Indian Country, from undermining economic initiatives to religious rights,” summarizes GOAL Chairman, David Bearshield.
The Clinton Administration’s Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Jamie Rappaport Clark, is in accord with the tribes. “Right now, the delisting proposal looks more like a high-speed train running off the tracks,” she warns. “It’s ludicrous and irresponsible to propose to delist them based on incomplete plans.”
GOAL Co-founder, R. Bear Stands Last, notified President Clinton that policies he enacted “are at the heart of what tribes are standing on” to protect the grizzly and tribal rights, a stance the President supported. All of the resolutions and declarations issued by tribes in the unprecedented fifty-plus nation coalition cite President Clinton’s Executive Order 13175, Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments, when articulating their opposition to delisting the grizzly bear in Yellowstone from the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Delisting will enable the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho to open trophy hunts on the grizzly, which they plan to begin in 2017. Tribes regard both the grizzly and the landscape it will be hunted on as sacred.
“Authorizing a hunting season for grizzlies immediately upon delisting is completely inappropriate,” says Rappaport Clark. President Clinton relayed how he had fought for wolf reintroduction, and expressed concern that what has happened to the wolf may be replicated with the grizzly in Yellowstone.
Executive Order 13175 requires all federal agencies to engage in meaningful pre-decisional consultation early in policymaking processes. In November 2015, current FWS Director, Dan Ashe, rejected appeals by tribal leaders for inclusion in the pre-decisional process, and insisted consultation should occur after the proposed rule was published in the Federal Register. Tribes were also excluded from the Conservation Strategy, the post-delisting regulatory document the states, respective agencies, and tribes will be required to follow. “Under the criteria required there has yet to be ‘meaningful’ consultation, even after the proposed rule has been published and public comment closed,” asserts GOAL Cultural Director, James Walks Along.
In addition to 13175, tribes have widely referenced infringements of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in the delisting process, a law President Clinton strengthened during his tenure in the White House. “You cannot overstate the importance of this sacred being in our cultures. The grizzly is vital in ceremonies, traditional healing, curing, and naming practices. This needs to be recognized,” explains Walks Along.
“Hillary Clinton believes the United States has a sacred trust with Native Americans. As President, Hillary will ensure meaningful tribal consultation and empowerment,” pledges her campaign. “Hillary will commit to regular and meaningful consultation with Tribal officials in the development of federal policies that impact tribes.”
FWS and the states allege that Greater Yellowstone is at “carrying capacity” for the grizzly, a claim that has been deconstructed by one of the world’s leading grizzly bear biologists, Dr. David Mattson. As an alternative to trophy hunting the grizzly, tribes have proposed returning the Great Bear to sovereign tribal lands in the bear’s historic range where biologically suitable habitat exists.
“When I was BIA Superintendent for the White Mountain Apache we worked on several T&E species recovery plans. There was a Statement of Relationship signed between FWS and the Tribe regarding protection and recovery of endangered species, and so the precedent exists for partnering with FWS to return the grizzly to tribal lands,” details Ben Nuvamsa. “This proposal fulfills the purpose of the ESA, and provides cultural and economic revitalization to tribal communities,” says the former Hopi Chairman and GOAL Director.
“The poorest Americans still live on reservations without casinos,” President Clinton reminded his audiences, and encouraged green economic initiatives. “If you just take the Native lands west of the Mississippi, virtually 100% of them could be completely energy independent with solar, wind and solid waste.” The President recognized the potential in tribal eco-tourism plans centered on the grizzly and its reintroduction.
In his meeting with the RMTLC, President Clinton discussed economic development and how it relates to natural resources. The RMTLC were the first tribal body to pass a resolution opposing the delisting and trophy hunting of the grizzly, within which it emphasized that delisting threatens to “detrimentally impact tourism initiatives that would aid the economies of the affected Tribal Nations.” In the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s declaration, Chairman Manuel Heart confirmed, “Many Tribal Nations in the coalition opposing delisting are drafting eco-tourism models based around the grizzly bear that could ignite their economies. Should delisting proceed, and the states reinstitute trophy hunts for the grizzly as they have committed to, every grizzly they kill will kill economic opportunity for tribes.”
“Hillary will continue to stand for Tribal sovereignty and in support of Tribal resources and sacred sites. She will ensure that the Department of the Interior and EPA work collaboratively with tribes to sustainably and cooperatively manage fish and wildlife and protect the air, water, and other natural resources in Indian Country,” her campaign declares.
The most recent study found that 99% of the American people oppose trophy hunting, and a recent poll showed that nearly 70% of respondents were against delisting and trophy hunting the grizzly. In the tri-states where grizzlies will be hunted if delisting proceeds, fewer than 14% are trophy hunters, and they are 98% white and 90% male. The states’ wildlife commissioners approving the post-delisting plans FWS Director Ashe is accepting are 100% white and 95% male.
“This is most definitely Donald Trump’s demographic,” says Chairman Bearshield. Trump’s sons and campaign surrogates, Eric and Donald, Jr., are both trophy hunters. Endorsed by trophy hunting advocate, Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke, Trump campaigned in Billings May 26. “The day after Trump insults Natives by demeaning the tragedy of Pocahontas in his spat with Senator Warren, Zinke endorses him. Zinke is a cheerleader for delisting and trophy hunting the grizzly against the wishes of Montana’s 9 tribes,” says Bear Stands Last.
“We’re going to ‘Make America Great Again’; that’s code for, ‘You’ve been shafted, I’ll make it the way it used to be.’ Now the truth is, the way it used to be wasn’t so great for Native Americans, African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, first generation immigrants, women, and gays,” was President Clinton’s critique of Trump’s slogan. Secretary Clinton describes her ancestry as “French Canadian, Scottish and Native American.”
“We are the party that believes in science,” the President reaffirmed, in contrast to Trump who dismisses climate change. “Here in Montana there are pine beetles further north than there have ever been before because of climate change,” the President noted. Pine beetles have decimated the Yellowstone grizzly’s key food source, whitebark pine. In its proposed delisting rule, FWS professes that “climate change scenarios” may benefit Yellowstone’s grizzlies. “It’s an astonishing assertion, given that 85% of whitebark pine stands in Greater Yellowstone have been devastated as a direct result of pine beetle infestation due to climate change,” counters Bearshield.
During Ashe’s reign, FWS has been tarnished by violations of Interior’s Scientific Integrity Policy, with two investigations related to the Keystone XL Pipeline that resulted in “findings of misconduct and loss of integrity,” according to Interior’s Inspector General. In a 2015 Center for Science and Democracy report, 73% of FWS scientists canvased “reported that the level of consideration of political interests was too high.” On May 20, 968 scientists petitioned Secretary Sally Jewell to “implement the ESA using the best available science” free of “political special interests.”
Critics charge that the decision to delist the grizzly is political, and appeases the right-wing interests that fund the governors and congressional delegations in Wyoming and Idaho. “This decision hasn’t been based upon the ‘best available science’ from a consensus of the leading biologists in the field, but the ‘best available science’ that enables the Koch brothers’ agenda,” contends Bear Stands Last. Some two million acres of Greater Yellowstone may have restrictions lifted if the grizzly is delisted.
“It was an honor to meet President Clinton and I informed him that with our historic allies, the Lakota, we Northern Cheyenne were involved in a new Little Bighorn, battling to preserve the grizzly, and through this sacred being, protect our cultural ways and lands,” concludes James Walks Along. “The President told me that he supports us and the tribes fighting for the grizzly and our rights in this struggle.”