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Tribes to gather to sign Grizzly Bear Treaty

Tribal Nations sign historic treaty for sacred Grizzly Bear

Tribal representative siging A Treaty of Cooperation, Cultural Revitalization and Restorationning

On Sunday (10/2/16), Native American Tribes from the U.S. and Canada convened at Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park to sign a historic treaty to pledge their dedication to protecting the Grizzly bear. Tribes across both countries are angry after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in March proposed removing the Grizzly bear from the federal endangered species list, which would allow the three states to manage the bears and allow hunting.

The treaty entitled, “The Grizzly: A Treaty of Cooperation, Cultural Revitalization and Restoration,” offers innovative and sweeping reforms to hostile management of the states that are poised to wrest control of the fate 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 (“delisting”) later this year. The long battle pits tribes and environmental groups against ranchers and state officials who argue that there are too many bears in the Yellowstone region and they constitute a threat to public safety.

Grizzly Bears are an important part in Native American Indian culture as various symbols of strength, hard work, and even great love. Many tribes considered the "Great Spirit" to often take on the form of a bear. It would lead hunters on great chases and could die only to be reborn in the spring. Bears were mythical and "magical" creatures that existed. Some tribes consider it disrespectful and dangerous to insult bears, step on their scat, or even utter their names outside certain ritual contexts.  This occasion the speakers for the sake of the non-native observers did utter Kelowna (Grizzly bear) with explanation.

Gathered tribes at grizzly bear treaty sighning

Chief of the Hopi Bear Clan said, Lee Wayne Lomayestewa, Kikmongwi explained:  “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, “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,”

The event included tribal representatives from the Crazy Dog Society, Standing Rock, N.D.; Six Nations; Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, Shoshone Bannock Tribal Council, Eastern Shoshone Tribal Council, Gros Ventres, Crow Nation, Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes, Northern Cheyenne Nation, Colville Tribes, Pawnee Nation, Ute Mountain Tribe, Southern Ute Nation, Navajo Nation, Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, Hopi Tribe, and others. All signed the treaty and spoke about why the Grizzly means so much to them.

Chief Stan Grier of Canada’s Piikani Tribe says: “The Grizzly is fundamental to our ceremonies and spiritual practices. So to do this represents to us an act of cultural genocide.” “There should be no doubt that delisting and trophy hunting the Grizzly bear on ancestral tribal and treaty lands threatens irreparable harm to tribal rights if it is not challenged. Since time immemorial, the Grizzly has been our ancestor, our relative, the Grizzly is part of us and we are part of the Grizzly culturally, spiritually, and ceremonially.”

A mother helps her daughter sign A Treaty of Cooperation, Cultural Revitalization and Restoration

These federally recognized tribes have lobbied President Barack Obama to intervene on behalf of the Grizzly Bear and the tribes. They’re backed by The Assembly of First Nations, a national advocacy organization representing the more than 900,000 First Nation citizens living in Canada. These efforts have fallen upon deaf ears. Do far, Interior and USFWS have failed to initiate formal consultation with the Tribes involved in the Grizzly bear. 

This is the first cross border treaty in 150 years, and that it’s the role of the Grizzly in Native customs that unite so many tribes. By signing, they agree to ban Grizzly trophy hunting on their reservation and to reintroduce the species on tribal lands if possible. The signing of the treaty was open to the public and many interested in the issue attended.

The creation and signing of the treaty comes in advance of a proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delist the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear from the Endangered Species List by the end of the year (2016). The treaty is aimed at blocking the proposed hunting of Grizzly bears in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

The spiritual significance of the Grizzly Bear was palpable in the room as speaker after speaker conveyed their feelings as well as repeating oral history passed from generation to generation since time immemorial of the spirituality of the Grizzly and it’s relationship to the respective tribes. Hearing about something being sacred is one thing, witnessing the reverence can really drive home the significance of this spiritual being to the Native Americans. I wish the Secretary of the interior, Sally Jewell, Director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Dan Ashe, and the governors of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho had. I do though doubt it would have touched their hearts of stone. I’m glad I attended.


A Treaty of Cooperation, Cultural Revitalization and Restoration

Grizzly Bears - Images by Daryl Hunter
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