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  • Staci-lee Sherwood

Are native Americans really better stewards of the land ?


Keep America Beautiful advertisement by the Ad Council, Original Credit: (HANDOUT)


By Staci-lee Sherwood



If Haaland, who is a member of the Pueblo Laguna, is any example of stewardship the answer is a resounding no. In fact if she and her like minded supporters are any indication of their culture and values in 2021 not only are they not better stewards but far worse. For one thing hunting in a wildlife refuge has been expanded. Perhaps her definition of refuge is different from the dictionary or most people who believe a refuge is a place of safety and free from harm not a bastion of it. Second she has allowed maybe even encouraged what must be described as trophy hunts of native wildlife in National Parks. Race should never be a factor when choosing someone for a job. Since her race was the main focal point from which most news stories centered around let’s examine just how that factors into what is happening right now.


For decades since the 1920’s our national parks were off limit to hunting of any kind. Prior to the hunting ban the National Park Service rangers would routinely go out and ‘thin’ the wildlife that had lived on the land since prehistoric times to make it safe for the human visitors. Since 2020 we had trophy hunts of Mountain Goats inside Grand Teton NP and Bison inside Grand Canyon NP. Wolves are being hunted without a limit more than once a year just 4 years after having their legal protection stripped from them. Wild horses are being rounded up and sent to slaughter en masse despite Bureau of Land Management claims to the contrary.


Anyone over the age of 50 will remember the now infamous PSA where a native American man looks at trash thrown on the ground and then peers into the camera with a tear. The image was powerful moving and the message clear and urgent. Years later it was learned that this was actually an actor, Espera de Corti who was Italian not native American, and all hell broke loose over it. The PSA was called “the crying Indian” and had Iron Eyes Cody as the now infamous actor. By the mid 70s it was the most recognizable image of the decade. The controversy that ensued over the actor’s true ethnicity overshadowed the message. Looking at our waterways filled with trash and overflowing dumpsites it’s a shame more people were concerned about the image and not the message. The simple takeaway being the image did not match the reality.


Plastered all over billboards was this image of sadness at how we humans treat our home. The subtle message was that native Americans would be better stewards of the planet. Hinting at somehow their culture was more in tune with a balanced approach with the world around them while mainstream American culture was out of sorts with nature. In fairness no one really knows all the facts about how any culture lived centuries ago. History was passed down through storytelling with a few books and poems sprinkled in between.


From what was observed and recorded by the first Europeans who came to north America it certainly seemed as the culture of native Americans offered a harmony with nature. While they did hunt their culture was not portrayed as one of vicious trophy hunting or killing for the sake of twisted sport. Instead from what we studied they only took what they needed and did not condone wiping out a species just because. they could.


Over the years the ‘Crying Indian’ was the go to image many environmental groups used when sending out the message of caring for our home, Mother Earth. As momentum for the ‘clean up the trash’ movement garnered attention there were those who were infuriated by the impending next step….regulations. The knee jerk reaction by polluting industries to what they see as an impediment to profit always follows a movement like this.


The groups fanning the flame of dissent can best be described as the pro litterbug type of people. Those who assume the planet is theirs to treat as a toilet and exploit for their own benefit. They used the actor’s ethnicity as a way to discredit the very valid message. It worked of course because we humans have a weakness for gossip and an almost sickness like need to follow the crowd even if it’s off the cliff.


Over the years idealism has been attached to many movements and sometimes even a group of people. For decades this idealism of balance and harmony toward Mother Earth was given to the native American culture. We equated their traditional beliefs with a better understanding of nature and attributed their success as a people as a symbol of proof. After all native Americans had thrived for centuries on these lands long before Europeans thought to get in a boat and travel here. We applauded their views of only hunting what they needed to survive as the standard to strive for even as our own culture failed to grasp that ideal in reality.


In 2017 there was a stir in Arizona. It came from the Navajo Nation who wanted to have a wild horse hunt as a means of thinning the herd. In America we don’t hunt wild horses, not openly anyway. The Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife had asked hunters for their support for a hunt as a way to reduce the number of wild horses on the Navajo Nation. The thought of hunting horses took many by surprise especially those who thought horses, like bison and wolves, would be off limits for hunting in the modern era. The hunt was canceled but it stands to reason this will certainly come up again.


One big supporter of the brutal and unnecessary wild horse and burro roundups comes from Roy B. Brown Chairman, Northern Arapaho who testified to Congress in 2018 in support of the roundups. He used the same buzz words ‘feral’ ‘overpopulation’ and ‘habitat damage’ as justification for their removal on tribal land. The main reason he and many other tribal nations want wild horses removed is because they feel they compete with their domestic horses for food and water. Somehow it seems for Brown and many others it’s an easier sell to the public if they piggyback on the federal government’s public plan.


Coming down the pike is the proposed idea for a horse meat dog food factory to be built and run on tribal land. If you think this might be appalling to native Americans it seems those who would be most offended by this don’t live anywhere near tribal lands. Though tribal land is seen as independent from US law there is plenty of integration and influence in policy with federal government.


Pat Hnilicka, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who is an advisor to the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes. Horses can be viewed “as invasives, as weeds in a sense, because they … spread,” he said.


Committee member Rep. Bill Fortner (R-Gillette) saw an opportunity for another way to deal with wild horses outside adoption.


“Would you be open for slaughter for a dog-food factory or something like that on the reservation … a dog-food factory and slaughter of the horses that’s not on federal land?” he asked tribal representatives. “You guys can get away with things — being an independent nation — that we can’t get away with.”


No word on how this will play out as it’s breaking news but is certainly something to watch. Rendering factories where horses were legally killed for meat in the US were shut down a few years ago. This proposal seems like a backdoor way to reopen them. This is the same group of native Americans that supports the wild horse roundups.


In 2009 the Northern Arapaho applied to the USFWS for a permit to kill bald eagles which they plan to use in their “sun dance,” an annual summer ceremony sacred to the tribe. By 2012 USFWS did approve a first-time permit allowing them to kill two bald eagles in a centuries-old religious ceremony. This was at a time when the Bald Eagle was still listed as endangered and once outlawed by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Northern Arapahos share the Wind River Indian Reservation which is situated in west-central Wyoming with the Shoshone tribe. Wyoming is currently experiencing the largest wild horse roundup in US history where the government expects to remove more than half their population or over 3500 horses, in order to make room for more livestock cows to graze.


The US Fish and Wildlife Service oversees conservation of bald eagles, which no longer have legal protection, also granted a few so-called “take” permits allowing Native Americans to kill golden eagles for religious purposes, spokeswoman Diane Katzenberger said. It’s probably safe to assume these permits were granted because the group seeking them were native American and therefore got a pass. The permit allowing a tribal take of bald eagles is believed to be the first of its kind.


Years ago native American culture was thought to be more enlightened than the rest of us but it no longer appears to be that way. If the current rampage of our wildlife going on across our public lands is any indication of current thinking among most native Americans, it’s clear to say they are just as capable of being cruel, brutal and shortsighted as the rest of us. The lesson here is to not assume any one group is going to be better for our lands or wildlife than another. While native American culture might have once been one of balance with the ‘only take what need‘ approach it no longer is that way today.


If confirming Haaland was suppose to be a symbol, if not a reality, of a new era of humane policy toward wildlife that has not come to fruition. While there have been a few tribes who spoke out against and called for a moratorium of the wolf hunts they have continued with Haaland’s support. Just looking at the last few years most native Americans have been in favor of the wild horse and burro removal, have been silent at least publicly, about the trophy hunts of bison and mountain goats, requested permission to kill eagles while they were still listed as endangered and might be mulling over going into the dog food business as a way around current US law.


Sadly Haaland along with many other native Americans are just as quick to slaughter wildlife they deem of no use to them as easily as the rest of us. Political campaigns that use the traditional images we all grew up with are just that campaigns. These glossy images and triggering buzzwords are there to fool the public into supporting what they see and not what their gut tells them to believe. It clearly worked during the Haaland confirmation hearing. Once again the image portrayed does not match the reality.


March against Dakota Access Pipeline a rare moment in time when unity for the greater good still held true


“Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. We did not weave the web of life We are merely a strand in it. What we do with the web, we do to ourselves...” Chief Seattle





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