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  • Writer's pictureStaci-lee Sherwood

It’s a watershed moment for ‘brother wolf’ and Native Americans

Updated: Sep 22, 2022

By Staci-lee Sherwood

For centuries the wolf had a special place both in symbolism and reality for Native Americans. The iconic wolf played an integral part in their lives. Almost every creation story includes them. They were seen as protectors and ancestors, living beings Native Americans were destined to co-exist with. This balance lasted for thousands of years. This shared bond and respect thrived until North America had a new predator, settlers from England.

European influence

Wolves roamed for thousands of years throughout Europe, but had mostly been exterminated by the time Europeans began to settle in North America. They brought with them the same fear and hatred and set out to exterminate wolves in North America. It took a couple of centuries but they were successful by the start of WW2 except for a few hidden away in Michigan and up in Alaskan wilderness. European settlers had a similar policy toward those who had called this land home for centuries. They set out to exterminate them as well and in the process helped change their long standing relationship with many species but their sacred view of the wolf remained.

Much of their traditions began to morph toward the European view of things. Survival is a powerful force when faced with a larger more determined enemy. Tribes were forced to give up long held beliefs in order to assimilate into a society they did not want to be part of. Scare tactics and brutality were used as a way to replace what new settlers considered ‘barbaric’ beliefs and lifestyle.

Though much of the open hostility Europeans had regarding the native ‘savages’ has gone there is still a strong undercurrent that exists today. Despite many promises and signed treaties Native Americans are still left out of policy decisions that affect them. The controversy surrounding wolves in the US exemplifies this. The correlation between how the wolves and Native Americans have been treated cannot be denied.

How the Tribes view wolves & wolf policy

As expected most Native Americans are leery of openly discussing how they see things or their policies. Centuries of persecution have caused this understandable caution of outsiders. This makes it more difficult to get a clear picture on how they feel about wolf conservation. Most did not want to express any opinions about Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. When it comes to many conservation issues they can’t be very happy with her support of the federal government especially when it comes to wolves and hunting them. Take Haaland out of the equation and you get a better look at their viewpoint. Some tribes favor a more robust hunting as management policy, while others favor more protection.

Here is a short film worth taking the time to watch and understand. The film maker Rain says "These wolf extermination bills passed and signed into law by rightwing extremists at the state level demonstrate that they are not only hunting democracy to extinction, they are also conflating Euro-Medieval sadism with so-called wildlife management to the same ends with wolves.”

FAMILY – A new short film asking @SecHaaland to relist the wolf under the Endangered Species Act.

The Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin takes the view of the wolf and horse as protectors. They support wolf conservation. I spoke with Casey Brown, Public Relations Officer. “The Ho-Chunk have and continue to respect the animals with whom we share this world. The Ho-Chunk Nation DNR Executive Director Tina Brown is a strong proponent of the sacred relationship out tribal community has with the wolf and knows it is our peoples’ duty to speak for our four-legged relatives in matters of conservation.” Wisconsin had a massacre in 2021 culminating with public outrage. In February 2022 a ruling re-listed wolves as endangered in the state and hunting is now prohibited. “The Ho-Chunk Nation Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife is responsible for monitoring and enhancing habitat for native wildlife species on Ho-Chunk Nation lands.”

The Association on American Indian Affairs represents the interest of many tribes in DC. Colleen Medicine, the program director, gave a statement at the meeting they are advocating for the return of our ancestors… because they simply don’t have a voice in this world anymore and are tasked to speak on their behalf. I see our relative the wolf as no different than that …..and have a responsibility to speak on their behalf. Wolves haven’t forgotten their original instruction and ore the protectors and cleaners . We have forgotten our original instructions and what happens to us also happens to the wolf and this feels very eerily similar to the attempted genocide of our people to the genocide of the buffalo and now we see it with the wolf .” Buffalo once numbered in the millions before government sponsored massacre became policy in part to cause suffering to the tribes who depended on them for survival.

“So much damage has been done we need to take action now to recover and prevent any further damage to our relative …. before our relatives are hunted to extinction.” Colleen Medicine

I spoke with Julian Matthews of the Nimiipuu, (Nez Perce tribe) in Idaho. “I don’t know if FWS cares what tribes think though hopefully they’ll listen and not let the states slaughter them like they have when delisted. I personally wouldn't support the wanton slaughter or removal.” Matthews said he “had applied to be on the State of WA Fish and Wildlife Commission but didn't get it. It's odd I don't know if any states have people of color on them or Indians. You'd think particularly the state of WA would want to have a variety of voices.”

Darren Talayumplewa of the Hopi tribe in Arizona showed a different perspective. “We don’t have a problem with the wolf coming back and being protected as opposed to the Mexican wolf which we’re opposed to. We are starting to get caught between two species where one would probably be more traditionally welcome as opposed to the Mexican wolf would not be welcome in Arizona."

“The reason for the difference is the Hopi tribe feels that the Mexican wolf was being re-introduced and brought back through man’s needs . There was originally only 6 wolves left and they used those 6 wolves to increase through scientific basically western science playing God in trying to protect the species. They didn’t come back naturally on their own if that was the case the tribe would have welcomed them and allowed them to be managed within Arizona and with tribal lands but that wasn’t the case."

Talayumplewa said “tribes do have their own livestock and there is a way to co-exist with both species.” Main sticking point is that tribes are left out of funding to manage wildlife policy decisions that affect them while the federal government gives states funding.

William Snell, Executive Director Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council in Montana said “Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council support strong and meaningful consultation with the Tribes regarding any issue including the Wolf.” At a meeting with Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland, who showed up but said little after Secretary Haaland failed to meet with the group. Snell said “Consultation without resolution and solution is meaningless. We’ve got to get to that level.”

Tino Villaluz of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community in Washington is their hunting and gathering manager. He seems more concerned about what he calls the ‘pro wolf crowd’ than what is happening to wolves. He supports wolves being delisted claiming that gives tribes more control of management. This may or may not be better for wolves. Currently there varying ideas among tribes of what would be good policy. Each tribe would have their own form of management instead of a broad standard one. How this would deal with wolves who then cross over from tribal to state or federal land would probably lead to a patchwork of interstate policies and much confusion. Without clear honest communication this would have terrible consequences for wolves.

Villaluz claims wolves have an expanding ‘robust’ population. Half the wolf population has been wiped out since 2019. The claim that wolves still have a “robust population that continues to grow” and that the population is doing great throughout the west including Yellowstone” is false, guess he forgot about the baiting right outside park boundaries. He objects to “with them being listed it’s problematic because tribes, then the power is taken out of their hands.” Despite some of his views most tribes would be more humane in their management than any US policy.

Authored by the Global Indigenous Council in 2019, “The Wolf: A Treaty of Cultural and Environmental Survival” embodies ITEK. More than 700 Tribes and First Nations in the United States and Canada have signed the treaty and are calling for government-to-government consultation on gray wolf management.

US government

According to the government they had scheduled two formal consultations with several tribes about wolf conservation. Contrary to that is how many tribes never got word of these meeting or knew them to be formal. This would not be the first time the government has said one thing then did another. For Native Americans their history with the US government has been anything but transparent and honest.

In 2021 there was hope that with the first Native American heading up the Interior Department long held, and ignored, treaties would be honored. Instead Secretary Deb Haaland refused to meet with a tribal delegation that traveled to DC in the hopes of restoring wolf protections, not just once but twice. Ironically Haaland has been supportive of continuing the devastating delisting of wolves coupled with unlimited hunting of a species long held scared by her people. Something is seriously wrong with that.

“I think the meeting last month was productive. As I understand it, headquarters is collecting information and hasn’t made final decisions.” Paul Souza, Regional Director for Pacific SW USFWS as of July 2022

Newly appointed head of US Fish & Wildlife, Martha Williams, made a brief appearance and scripted statement on the zoom meeting stating “one of my key priorities is to strengthen our relationship with sovereign tribal nations by engaging in meaning consultation such as the one we are holding today regarding the grey wolf in the western US.” It should be noted most of the tribal representatives attending did not know this was a formal consultation as opposed to a casual meeting. “I also want to strengthen our relationships well beyond consultation but understand it’s a very important first step. Our agency understands the tribal sovereignty and self governance as well as honoring the federal trust and responsibility with tribal nations must be the cornerstone of federal Indian policy.” In 2022 it seems about a century too late to start calling this a first step towards a better relationship.

William’s went on to say “The wolf is an iconic yet sometimes I would say most of the time controversial example of the endangered species act in preventing extinction and promoting recovery." For many the only controversy is the government policy toward wolves, not the species themselves. William’s went on to add that wolves were “making an impressive recovery” which they had been until 50% of them were killed off in less than two years. This nullifies all those years of recovery and wasted millions of tax dollars. She added they are a keystone predators that have a profound effect on the ecosystems they inhabit.”

William’s has an opportunity to stand by her words. In her previous job as the Director of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, she was in direct opposition to tribes on preserving ESA protections for the grizzly bear in Greater Yellowstone. There is little hope she will change course with wolves.

USFWS has conflicting policy when it comes to many species. Take the Sage Grouse as a prime example. The species is considered endangered and in need of recovery but is also allowed to be hunted in several states. If wolf recovery depends on this type of schizophrenic policy they will be doomed before the ink dries on any proposal. Here is the Memorandum reaffirming tribal consultation:

January 26, 2021

To this end, Executive Order 13175 of November 6, 2000 (Consultation and Coordination With Indian Tribal Governments), charges all executive departments and agencies with engaging in regular, meaningful, and robust consultation with Tribal officials in the development of Federal policies that have Tribal implications. Tribal consultation under this order strengthens the Nation-to-Nation relationship between the United States and Tribal Nations.

The Presidential Memorandum of November 5, 2009 (Tribal Consultation), requires each agency to prepare and periodically update a detailed plan of action to implement the policies and directives of Executive Order 13175. This memorandum reaffirms the policy announced in that memorandum.

Click here for the full Memorandum

After this reaffirmation many tribes felt, finally, they would be equal stakeholders in decisions that affect them. They were wrong. Shortly after this memorandum the Biden administration decided to continue the Trump policy that led, and continues to cause, massive unchecked slaughter of wolves. Many tribes felt betrayed once again. How this will play out is anyone’s guess.

The US government has a long history of not honoring treaties. They also have an equally long history of not following the rule of law when it comes to endangered wildlife. Excuses, loopholes and incompetence have covered up many wildlife crimes had they been committed by citizens and not government employees. Perhaps 2022 is when they finally learn some lessons.

To help save wolves click here

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