Published October 19, 2016
PABLO, MONTANA – “The CSKT is in agreement with the aspirations and goals of the Grizzly Treaty particularly regarding the reverence that tribes have for the grizzly bear, and the spiritual, cultural and ceremonial role the grizzly plays in the life and history of each signatory tribe,” said Confederated Salish and Kootenai (CSKT) Chairman, Vernon Finley, in prepared remarks at the latest signing of “The Grizzly: A Treaty of Cooperation, Cultural Revitalization and Restoration” on October 18. The treaty, only the third of its kind in 150 years, comes on the cusp of Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections being stripped from the grizzly bear in Greater Yellowstone, despite massed opposition by tribal nations. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), driven largely by the State of Wyoming, plans to remove protections by year’s end.
Initiated by the Piikani Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy, what has quickly become known as the “Grizzly Treaty” rejects post-delisting trophy hunting of the grizzly, a sacred being fundamental to myriad tribal cultures throughout Native America. The treaty promotes sweeping reforms in longstanding federal, state and provincial grizzly “management practices,” and promotes traditional stewardship that melds cultural knowledge with scientific innovation. Assembly of First Nations National Chief, Perry Bellegarde, was the first signatory of the treaty, and in three subsequent treaty signings ten tribal nations and several traditional societies have followed. “The CSKT offers its signature in solidarity with the other signatories to this Grizzly Treaty,” continued Chairman Finley in the signing statement. The position of the CSKT is pivotal to the future of the grizzly, not only due to the confederated tribes’ treaty rights in Greater Yellowstone, but also the CSKT’s geographic location in existing grizzly country.
“We adamantly oppose the proposal to delist the grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem due to our strong opposition to the inclusion of plans for sport hunting the population,” Finley explained. The Confederated Salish, Kootenai and Pend d’Oreille along with the tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy retain much of the land in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, the area the government next seeks to pursue delisting the grizzly bear. The balance of tribes in Montana have already signed the treaty, and elected and traditional leaders of the Eastern Shoshone, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, and Northern Arapaho – the three tribes with seats on Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee-Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee (IGBC-YES) – were among the first to sign. All three tribes have previously issued or been party to resolutions opposing the delisting of the grizzly bear, but the USFWS has consistently misrepresented the tribes’ position on delisting, and continued to do so the day after each signed the treaty. In response, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes newspaper, the Sho-Ban News, published an article that flatly stated: “The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes has consistently opposed the delisting.”
Tribal nations and USFWS remain at odds over what Piikani Nation Chief, Stan Grier, has classified as, “sovereignty, treaty, consultation, and spiritual and religious freedom violations.” Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Vice Chairman, Darrel Shay, stated that what little consultation there has been with a handful of tribes “has not been meaningful” and categorized it as “hostile.” By federal mandate and executive order, consultation conducted with tribes by federal agencies must be “meaningful” and “pre-decisional.”
“We are making remarkable strides with the grizzly treaty,” said Chief Grier, “and I am honored to stand beside the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in this movement, for that is what this has become – a movement.” Chief Grier credits the CSKT as one of the inspirations for the treaty. “When we drafted the treaty we looked toward the CSKT,” he continued, and cited the CSKT’s “adherence to culture in contemporary and innovative practices.” 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, while campaigning for Secretary Hillary Clinton, President Bill Clinton offered his support for the tribes’ proposal.
Grier describes grizzly delisting as the “dream scenario” for the Koch Brothers “and those who share their philosophy of backing the hostile takeover over of both Native and federal, public lands by the likes of the Bundys.” The Piikani Chief points to “ex-lobbyists for special interests” in the USFWS, such as former Acting Director, Matt Hogan, who was chief lobbyist for trophy hunting giant Safari Club International before former President George W. Bush appointed him to lead the Service. Hogan, who is now leading the delisting effort, has so far refused to comment on his work for Safari Club or his connection to Anadarko Petroleum and Gas, the largest leaseholder and landholder in Wyoming. “Let’s not fall for the spin that grizzly delisting is based upon ‘science.’ It’s not scientists in the state governments of Wyoming and Idaho that are pushing this, it’s cheerleaders for the Koch Bros. and Trump’s platform of returning federal, public lands to state control,” emphasized Chief Grier. “We are in possession of a communication from USFWS Director Dan Ashe in which even he questions that this delisting decision is being based upon ‘the best available science standard of ESA.’” The email is from Ashe to his assistant, Gary Frazer, and is posted on the Piikani Nation Treaty website (www.piikaninationtreaty.com).
Many tribal leaders have compared grizzly delisting and its consequences to the ongoing Dakota Access Pipeline struggle. “The removal of protections from the grizzly will result in the protections on the sacred lands the grizzly presently occupies being relaxed, and in some instances, removed, leaving many sacred sites and the lands that hold them vulnerable to corporate exploitation,” warns Chief Grier. Standing Rock Sioux Chairman, Dave Archambault, II, was one of the first tribal leaders to formally oppose grizzly delisting. “I appeal to President Obama to hear us, not simply to talk about listening to us, on grizzly delisting and its dire ramifications for our people, and on DAPL. There is no separation between the two,” said Grier.