Published December 28, 2016
CROW AGENCY, MONTANA – “There are times when we initiate something here in Crow Country and we think that we might not be heard beyond our nation, but this treaty and the solidarity of over 120 tribes shows that we have been heard his time,” said recently inaugurated Crow Chairman, Alvin “AJ” Not Afraid, in an address to the Crow Tribe Legislature before he signed “The Grizzly: A Treaty of Cooperation, Cultural Revitalization and Restoration.” Now the most signed treaty in history, the document has become a symbol of intertribal unity in defense of sovereignty, spiritual and religious protections, treaty rights, sacred site preservation and holding the federal government accountable for its trust responsibility to tribes. “We have always seen the grizzly issue in terms of our sovereignty, protecting our culture and our treaty rights,” Chairman Not Afraid continued as First Lady Deneen Not Afraid looked on.
Speaking in the Crow language, Vice Chairman Carlson “Duke” Goes Ahead recounted for the legislature how the Crow Tribe has been instrumental in the tribal movement to oppose the removal of Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections from the grizzly bear in Greater Yellowstone, which will enable the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho to sell trophy hunts and open seasons on the Crow people’s “brother.” Montana’s post-delisting trophy hunting regulations identify the western border of the Crow Reservation as the eastern boundary of its grizzly hunting area. The entire region where the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) intends to delist the Crow’s sacred brother and where the states will trophy hunt them is within the Crow’s 1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty lands. Vice Chairman Goes Ahead cited the Crow Tribe’s declaration of November 2014 as being among the first tribal executive and legislative actions taken to retain protections for the grizzly and by association Crow culture and sovereignty.
“This treaty reflects the positions of the Crow Tribe on the grizzly. What we expressed in our declaration and resolution is written in this treaty; our alternatives to the killing of our brother, based upon our cultural teachings, the knowledge of our elders, and what we know to be trusted science free from political special interests,” said Chairman Not Afraid, who was Tribal Secretary when the first declaration was issued. In the last interview he conducted before passing, the late Dr. Joe Medicine Crow, revered Crow tribal historian and “last Plains Indian War Chief” appealed for protections to remain for the sacred bear and denounced the proposal to trophy hunt them. “The Crows have always got along with the grizzly bear in a special way. The white man doesn’t do that. The Crows have grizzly bear songs. We have grizzly bear dances. We name our kids with grizzly bear names. Grizzly bears play an important part in the culture of the Crow Indian and we’d like to keep it that way,” he said on the widely viewed video.
“The grizzly has always been sacred to Crow. You all know the stories of our people meeting with the grizzly in the mountains,” Chairman Not Afraid echoed in his statement to the legislature. Chief Stan Grier, Chief of the Piikani Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy who instituted the treaty, acknowledged the influence of the Crow Nation on the historic document. “There is no doubt that without former Northern Cheyenne President Llevando Fisher, GOAL Tribal Coalition founder Don Shoulderblade, the Crow Tribe and Chairman Not Afraid’s support of the issue at the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, this treaty and the unity movement and awareness it has since generated would not have happened.”
Several facets of the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council (RMTLC) resolution promoted by Chairman Not Afraid appear in the articles of the treaty, including the reintroduction of grizzlies to sovereign tribal nations where biologically suitable habitat exists in the Great Bear’s historic range for “cultural, environmental and economic revitalization.” This tribal alternative to delisting and trophy hunting has received widespread support throughout Indian Country, among NGOs, and from the likes of former President Bill Clinton.
The proposal offers vocational training opportunities in tribal grizzly management programs and tribal eco-tourism initiatives centered on the grizzly. Chief Grier is a vocal advocate for both but warns, as did the RMTLC resolution, that delisting and trophy hunting “will not only kill grizzlies but kill these economic lifelines for our people.” Chairman Not Afraid has committed to diversifying the Crow Tribe’s economic portfolio, and has described the current market for the tribe’s coal as “bleak.” “The tribe has so much economic and cultural potential. We’d like to use that in the 21st century,” he said. “It’s not just our Traditional Ecological Knowledge that has been ignored in this process, it is the very well-being of our people, from the spiritual to economic,” added Grier.
Like the Crow, every tribal nation in Montana opposes the delisting and trophy hunting of the grizzly, but President-elect Trump’s nominee for Interior Secretary, Montana Congressman and self-proclaimed trophy hunter, Rep. Ryan Zinke, is a strident supporter of the action.
Interior’s Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) signed the post-delisting Conservation Strategy the week before Christmas. The document, seen as the last hurdle before delisting, is supposed to provide safeguards for the flat-lining Greater Yellowstone grizzly population of approximately 700 but requires discretionary funding from the states to implement it, a critical component Interior is powerless to compel them to do once the grizzly is delisted. None of the tribes with seats on the IGBC voted in favor of the Conservation Strategy, and none were permitted to be signatories. The Northern Arapaho Tribe has protested its omission from the proceedings to Interior Secretary Jewell. The tribe’s THPO Director, Yufna Soldier Wolf, has condemned the process as a “sham.”
“What has happened to the Northern Arapaho is exhibit A in the failure to consult and the abrogation of the federal trust responsibility by the USFWS,” expounded Grier. “In reality, every impacted tribe should have been consulted and contributed to not only this so-called Conservation Strategy but the entire process. We are an 1855 treaty tribe and we have centuries of accumulated knowledge of this sacred being and this sacred landscape. The Crow Nation is an 1851 and 1868 treaty tribe with intimate knowledge of both. I can list nation after nation like us, and this must be addressed. We have the weight of this treaty, the law, the constitution and the moral force of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People behind us,” said Grier.
“With the signing of this treaty this issue has come back to us after passing through many nations. It is an honor to complete this sacred circle,” concluded Chairman Not Afraid as he added his signature to the treaty this Christmas week. Tribal leaders are preparing to present the treaty to the Obama administration and lawmakers before the inauguration of Donald Trump.
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