Published September 28,2016
History will be made this weekend. On Friday September 30 at the Piikani Nation Tribal Complex in Brocket, Alberta, and on Sunday October 3 at the Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park, only the third cross-border First Nations/Native American treaty in some 150 years will be signed. Initiated by the Piikani Nation, “The Grizzly: A Treaty of Cooperation, Cultural Revitalization and Restoration,” offers innovative solutions and sweeping reforms to the so-called “management” practices of the states that are poised to take control of the destiny 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 next month. A multitude of tribes regard the grizzly as sacred, and fifty-plus nations, supported by the Assembly of First Nations, now stand in opposition to the ESA delisting and trophy hunting of the sacred grizzly bear on the basis of sovereignty, treaty, consultation, and spiritual and religious freedom violations.
This weekend, the breadth of that tribal opposition will be on display, as tribal leaders from as far north as the Blackfoot Confederacy and as far south as the Hopi, gather to sign the treaty and hold ceremony for the sacred bear. Blackfeet Sun Dance leader Nolan Yellow Kidney, Crazy Dogs headsman Leon Rattler, and respected Fort Belknap ceremonialist Ed Halver will offer prayer. The treaty is rooted in a cultural foundation, and harmonizes ceremonial and traditional knowledge with contemporary scientific discipline and exploration, to provide an alternative to the government-sanctioned state-oriented policy of “gun sight management” rejected by tribes. “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. Among those journeying to Greater Yellowstone with the Hopi Bear Clan leader will be Cliff Ami, leader of the Tewa Bear Clan.
“In our collective nations’ efforts to protect and preserve the grizzly – and by doing so protect, preserve and perpetuate indigenous cultures – this treaty is analogous to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP),” reads the historic document, which covers Greater Yellowstone, the Crown of the Continent, and the Great Bear Rainforest. At the heart of the treaty is the tribal alternative to delisting and trophy hunting the grizzly: the reintroduction of grizzlies to sovereign tribal nations with biologically suitable habitat in the Great Bear’s historic range for “cultural, spiritual, environmental and economic revitalization.” In May, President Bill Clinton offered his support for the tribes’ proposal, which was first presented to USFWS Director Dan Ashe in November 2015. “I look forward to working with you in the days ahead,” Ashe subsequently wrote to tribal representatives, but eleven months later he has yet to initiate that work with tribes.
“The Department of the Interior needs to institute a moratorium on the delisting of the Yellowstone grizzly bear until proper consultation is addressed with each affected tribal nation respectively, so we can get better solutions for the future of the grizzly bear and for our people,” says Shoshone-Bannock
Tribes Sergeant-at-Arms, Lee Juan Tyler, who was among the tribal leaders that met with Ashe. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes continues to oppose delisting, but its position has been consistently misrepresented in the press by the USFWS, to the degree that an independent fact checker from TGT described USFWS’s claims as “demonstrably false.” The Shoshone-Bannock and sister Yellowstone treaty tribe, the Eastern Shoshone, both support the grizzly treaty.
“Article IV of the Fort Bridger Treaty states that the Shoshone-Bannock want to make sure that our lands are protected, along with our ancestral lands that are unoccupied, but are presently classified as federal lands. Grizzlies inhabited those lands, and grizzly bears could still inhabit those lands, as that biologically suitable habitat is in our ancestral homeland. We want the grizzly bear protected with those lands, and the grizzly bear returned to those areas where we can co-manage them with the USFWS. These are our treaty lands, our ancestral homelands,” explains Tyler.
The Piikani Nation Chief and Council of the Blackfoot Confederacy initiated the grizzly treaty. “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 delisting the grizzly 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 in the years leading up to the treaty, tribes have bemoaned the lack of transparency in the process, and USFWS’s failure to respond to the official requests for data made in those legislative documents. 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 that correlates the two issues after reviewing FOIA disclosures.
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 the 28 mining claims,” warns the Piikani Nation DAPL/Delist declaration. “We do not need to elaborate upon the impact the trophy killing of a being we consider to be fundamental to our culture and spiritual well-being will have on our people and their ability to practice their religion, or how that will be exacerbated if that killing is committed on sacred land in proximity to sacred sites, but we do need to raise the specter of the destruction of these sacred sites if, as appears inevitable, corporate energy development is initiated on the lands the grizzly presently protects through its ESA status,” the Piikani declaration underscores. 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 tribal 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 the strategy for delisting the grizzly that has brought them to this point. In it, Ashe writes: “I may be missing something, but this recommendation seems at odds with the ‘best available’ science standard of ESA.” Tribal Nations haven’t missed anything on grizzly delisting, and the Piikani Nation has constructed a historic treaty for the world to witness this weekend. The treaty can be viewed at