Published August 15, 2016
GLACIER NATIONAL PARK — From the Atlantic to the Pacific coastlines, and from as far south as Oklahoma to Alberta in the north, tribal leaders journeyed to Glacier National Park this weekend for the “Prayer for the Great Bear.” Led by Blackfoot Confederacy leaders, the part-prayer part-oratory was woven together by former Blackfeet Vice Chairman, Jimmy St. Goddard, along the shore of St. Mary Lake.
“This is where the spirits are strongest. This is where the grizzly lives. This is where the power lies. The government has never taken this truly from the Blackfeet. This is the shelter for the Blackfeet and for the grizzly bear,” said St. Goddard, who now serves as Vice Chairman of GOAL Tribal Coalition.
The gathering was a show of tribal solidarity in opposition to the imminent publication of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) revised delisting rule, which will remove federal protections from the grizzly, relax land use restrictions on over two million acres of sacred ancestral tribal lands in Greater Yellowstone, and allow the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho to open trophy hunts on the grizzly, a being considered sacred by a multitude of tribes.
Bryan Yellow Horn, an elder from the Piikani Nation, opened the ceremony with a prayer, and then explained how fundamental to Native culture the grizzly is, detailing the healing and curing practices the grizzly taught the people of the Blackfoot Confederacy. “Our ancestors met the grizzly on the plains more than in the mountains. Today, the grizzly is trying to return to that homeland, and we have to learn to live in harmony with this sacred being again in those areas,” Yellow Horn stressed.
After Yellowstone, the USFWS plans to delist grizzlies in what Yellow Horn called “the Crown of the Continent,” the traditional Blackfoot Confederacy and Salish-Kootenai lands that now comprise the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which has Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Reservation in its heartland. USFWS claims that grizzlies’ attempting to repopulate the plains is an indication of a burgeoning population, speculation that Blackfoot Confederacy Leaders continue to question.
Piikani Nation Chief, Stanley Grier, has drawn attention to the impact of climate change on “berry subsets” that are a staple of the grizzly’s diet in Blackfoot Country, and the devastating effect that has and will continue to have on the Great Bear. The most recent scientific study supports Chief Grier, and confirms that a 15-year berry famine has been compounded by wildfires, which have burned some 25% of grizzly habitat. “The grizzly is seeking habitats on the plains and elsewhere not because of increasing numbers, but because of the need to find new food sources,” concludes Dr. David Mattson.
“Where we are at today, is the home to many of the grizzly bears in our country,” St. Goddard told those in attendance. “Where there used to be 100,000 grizzlies, it has plummeted down to less than 2,000,” he emphasized.
Representing his uncle, Cheyenne Sun Dance Priest Don Shoulderblade, Bear Stands Last spoke after Yellow Horn and delivered a speech that was beautifully written with a cadence reminiscent of Scott Momaday. “How do you manage the sacred? One does not manage the sacred; one seeks, reveres, and stands humbled by the presence of the sacred,” he said, in reference to “the Ancient One, the first two-legged to step upon the earth” being “managed by lead and bloodlust to satiate the inadequacies of trophy hunters, who like their ancestors who bloodied the land and defiled the Earth, still carry the killing gene in the absence of the sacred.”
Shoulderblade, the founder of GOAL Tribal Coalition, was honored last week on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation for inspiring the tribal movement to protect the Great Bear. GOAL’s Chairman, David Bearshield, offered a prayer song in the Cheyenne language that was taught to him by revered Cheyenne Chief, Lawrence Heart. Bearshield called upon lawmakers in Washington, DC to heed the calls of the massed tribal opposition.
Tribal nations have presented an alternative plan to delisting and trophy hunting the grizzly that has received support from sources as diverse as environmental NGOs, actor Lou Diamond Phillips, and President Bill Clinton. Tribes seek to have the same quota of grizzlies that would be hunted annually in Greater Yellowstone relocated to sovereign, tribal lands in the Great Bear’s historic range where biologically suitable habitat exists, to provide, as Bearshield describes, “cultural, environmental and economic revitalization to tribal communities.”
“From this day forward we must stop calling the grizzly an ‘animal.’ The grizzly is not an animal; the grizzly is our brother, the power of our people. He is the only brother that was a human being in his time on Mother Earth. The grizzly bear is not only equal to, but also far superior to us pitiful humans. To kill the grizzly is to kill our own kind,” St. Goddard explained.
Among the other speakers, former Blackfeet Chairman, Willie Sharp, urged unity to protect the grizzly and by doing so protect and perpetuate traditional cultural practices. Tribal nations oppose the delisting and trophy hunting of the grizzly bear on the basis of sovereignty, treaty, spiritual, and religious freedom violations. Ira Provost, head of the Piikani Nation’s Traditional Knowledge Services, offered a direct appeal to retain protections for the grizzly bear, and to seek unity in the cause.
“This is happening because of economics and political manipulation,” observed Chief Oquendo. In conjunction with Oglala Sioux Vice President, Tom Poor Bear, GOAL recently exposed the connections of multinational energy corporations to USFWS in the delisting process. USFWS engaged oil and gas services giant, Amec Foster Wheeler, to undertake the scientific peer review of its delisting rule. Former Halliburton executive, Jonathan Lewis, was appointed CEO of Amec Foster Wheeler within a month of the proposed delisting rule being published in the Federal Register. It has been revealed that Matt Hogan, USFWS’s key regional agent in the grizzly delisting effort, has ties to Anadarko Petroleum and Gas, the third largest energy company in the world, and the largest landowner in Wyoming. Hogan was previously chief lobbyist for trophy hunting powerbroker, Safari Club International.
“The federal trust responsibility is paramount to tribal nations. If the government removes protections from our sacred brother, the grizzly bear, the moment our ancestor starts to be killed by trophy hunters the government will be in violation of that trust responsibility,” insisted St. Goddard. Previously, St. Goddard was spiritual advisor to the late Eloise Cobell, a Blackfeet tribal member who led a class-action lawsuit on behalf of 500,000 Natives against the Interior Department that yielded one of history’s largest government settlements.
“Our ceremonies and traditions, and our religious and spiritual rights, are inseparable from the grizzly bear. Our sacred rights mixed with the grizzly bear are a powerful force, insurmountable to any who oppose us,” St. Goddard told the attendees, who came from as far afield as Europe and New Zealand.
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