‘Grizzly bear czar’ taken to task by western tribal leaders
Yellowstone, Wyo. — In a strongly worded letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Sen. John Tester, D-Mont., Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council has voiced misgivings about the impartiality of Dr. Christopher Servheen in any proposed tribal consultation process over the government’s controversial delisting of the Yellowstone grizzly bear.
Servheen, long-dubbed the government’s “grizzly bear czar,” has the title of grizzly bear recovery coordinator with the USFWS. Servheen first advocated removing Endangered Species Act protections from the Yellowstone grizzly bear in the 1990s.
“Concerns have been raised with this office about the presence of Dr. Christopher Servheen in any consultation process,” wrote Ivan D. Posey, chairman of the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council.
The influential council joined the effort to save the grizzly bear’s ESA status after unanimously passing a resolution introduced by GOAL (Guardians of Our Ancestors’ Legacy) Tribal Coalition last December.
GOAL Tribal Coalition has liaised with prominent spiritual leaders, elders, and tribal governments to form an alliance against delisting the Yellowstone grizzly bear, citing spiritual, sovereignty, and treaty violations among its concerns.
The coalition has grown to 33 tribes, including all of the tribes of the Great Sioux Nation, the 315,000-strong Cherokee Nation, and the nations that comprise the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council.
“Dr. Servheen’s recent comments to the press have been interpreted by some as belittling the tribes’ opposition to the proposed delisting of the Yellowstone grizzly bear,” Posey said.
If the Yellowstone grizzly bear is delisted, the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho will sell high-dollar grizzly hunts across a landscape defined by a multitude of sacred sites to which 26 tribes have traditional ceremonial and ancestral connections.
“The grizzly bear is a living spirit that is a part of our ceremonies and our ancestors have been using the medicine given by the grizzly bear for generations,” said Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe.
“We talk about harmony, balance, understanding, and the sacred relationship between all things, while others talk about trophy hunting. Even the white ones that are born, the sacred messengers of Unci Maka, our Grandmother Earth, are being killed and will continue to be killed if this abuse is not stopped. My heart is heavy because of this,’” Looking Horse said.
One of Indian Country’s most recognizable spiritual leaders, Looking Horse opposes the delisting and the subsequent hunting of the grizzly, and instead advocates for the grizzly to be returned to vast swathes of biologically suitable habitat that it roamed pre-European contact.
“We have to honor and respect Mato Oyate, the grizzly bears, and secure a place in this world for them. The medicine Mato gives us, the Bear Medicine, is used in a lot of different ways, and those ways heal our bodies,” he said.
In a recent letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the Cherokee Nation supported that position.
“For many Indian tribes, the grizzly bear is sacred and has a significant place in their cultures and ceremonial ways of life,” Cherokee Nation principal chief, Bill John Baker, informed Jewell.
In the Cherokee Nation’s presentation, Baker stressed that tribal consultation by the government on this issue was not optional, and reminded the secretary that, “This administration has engaged in tribal consultation on federal policy decisions that have tribal implications at historic levels.”
In response to questions from the press at the turn of the year about the lack of tribal consultation in the USFWS’s move to delist the Yellowstone grizzly from the ESA, Servheen claimed that his office had done what they were required to do.
Recent letters from USFWS Deputy Regional Director John Bryan to the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council and GOAL Tribal Coalition appear to contradict that claim.
In those letters, Bryan offers to facilitate three “broad” consultation meetings on the issue, but with only 10 of the 33 tribes. The Lakota Oyate was excluded, despite high-profile tribal leaders such as Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby appealing to Jewell for the consultation process to be inclusive.
Servheen previously stated that he had written to all of the affected tribes, but disclosures subsequently revealed that Servheen had only written to four of the affected tribes in April 2014.
“I know for a fact that three out of the four tribal chairmen Servheen wrote to never had sight of his letter,” said Sara Atiqtalik, GOAL Tribal Coalition’s national coordinator.
“I had a journalist from Servheen’s home base, Missoula, call me to comment but it was more like a defense of Servheen than an interview. He told me that Servheen had consulted with ‘all’ of the tribes. ‘All’ turned out to be only four,” Atiqtalik said.
“I immediately called chairman Nathan Small of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of Idaho, one of the nation’s Servheen had supposedly contacted, and chairman Small told me categorically that he had never received or seen such a letter,” she said.
Atiqtalik said the journalist relayed to her Servheen’s view that “the tribes looked silly” for opposing the delisting and trophy hunting of the Yellowstone grizzly bear.
Servheen has made repeated statements to the media that he never received any response to those letters.
“That is patently false,” insists R. Bear Stands Last, co-founder of GOAL.