Led by Chief Stan Grier, the Blackfoot Confederacy of the Piikani, Blackfeet, Siksika and Blood Tribe has been at the forefront of publicly elevating the role of the Great Bear in Blackfoot culture and the bear’s role in protecting sacred lands due to its status as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Just three years ago, the Blackfoot Confederacy was joined by tribal leaders and their people from the Missouri to the Pacific at a treaty signing event in Greater Yellowstone. Hundreds of tribal members bore witness to this historic event. Only once before, when the Blackfoot Confederacy initiated the Innii Treaty to preserve and restore the buffalo, had so many united to develop a treaty with the express purpose of protecting a sacred being. “The Grizzly: A Treaty of Cooperation, Cultural Revitalization and Restoration”— now the most-signed tribal treaty in history — is testament to our unwavering commitment to defend the sacred, and to keep our ancient guardian and teacher the grizzly protected.

The tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy are not the only people with narratives from time immemorial that honor the ancient connection between the grizzly and our people, and the blessings brought by the grizzly in sacred bundles. Tribal nations from across North America have similar traditions. The grizzly is sacred to us, an integral part of our religious and ceremonial life ways. The reverence we have for this sacred being transcends any historical grievances those from outside our cultures have ascribed to us in their books.

Cultural connection

We reaffirm this very clearly here, in the words of Chairman Davis: “The Blackfeet Nation has a covenant with the grizzly bear. We, the Blackfeet Nation, do not support the hunting of the grizzly bear because of our spiritual relationship, our religious ceremonies and our cultural connection to the grizzly bear. The border separates us from our northern brothers and sisters but only as a matter of geography. We, like our northern Blackfoot brothers and sisters, are joined together as a matter of religious, historical, ceremonial and cultural covenants with the grizzly bear.”

But now, the Blackfeet Nation with the Piikani, Blood and Siksika Nations, are once again on the frontlines of another dangerous attempt by the federal government to remove grizzly bears from the Endangered Species list. Under Interior Secretary Bernhardt, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now proposing to delist the grizzly bear in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. This area is not only the heartland of the Blackfoot Confederacy, but also the heart of the grizzly bear nation. Whether you know anything about our people and culture or not, and whether you consider the grizzly to be sacred or not, if you care about Glacier National Park, you need to stand with us and the Great Bear.

We have seen the relentless efforts by this administration and some states hostile to our cultural values, to ravage our lands in taking away protections and accelerating fossil fuel extraction, that in turn is accelerating potentially irreversible damage to the earth’s climate. Yet, it is our voices — those of the original stewards of the land — that should be heard above any extractive industry corporation in listing and delisting decisions of species that have deep cultural significance to us, and which survive on our ancestral lands.

We call on the FWS to abandon this latest attempt to remove protections from the sacred grizzly — and in turn the protections on our sacred lands the grizzly roams.

We ask the government to restore management of grizzlies to tribal nations and implement the Grizzly Treaty.

Relocate, don't hunt

Instead of trophy hunting the grizzly, relocate grizzlies from Greater Yellowstone and the NCDE to tribal nations with biologically suitable habitat in the Great Bear’s historic range and inspire cultural, economic and environmental revitalization to those tribes.

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the FWS proposed relocating grizzlies to achieve a viable population in the North Cascades, so why does FWS not discuss the Grizzly Treaty with us?

Last fall, we provided testimony to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on this issue. The disregard of the federal-Indian trust responsibility by the FWS in the grizzly delisting process coupled with the uncertainty surrounding the ESA under the Trump Administration, prompted tribal nations to move forward with the formulation of a Native American Endangered Species Act (NA-ESA) as a counterweight. Sovereign tribal lands hold several threatened and endangered species and vital habitat, and it is time for tribal people to have a greater input into the management and protection of these species.

In the present political climate, for some species an NA-ESA may be the only viable path to survival. As tribal nations, our sovereignty is consistently compromised by the FWS and the states in respect to wildlife management, including FWS’s administration of the ESA on tribal lands. A NA-ESA would enhance tribal sovereignty, provide vocational opportunity for tribal members, and enable the melding of contemporary biological discipline with tribal Traditional Ecological Knowledge in management policies and practices.

When the Yellowstone grizzly was taken off the Endangered Species list, Wyoming proposed one of the most egregious trophy hunts that would likely have driven these sacred grandparents to near extinction again. Even without a hunt, the threats to grizzlies are endless: rapid changes to their habitat due to climate change and human encroachment, dwindling food sources, and endless oil and gas leasing on our ancestral lands upon which the grizzly depends. For too long, the state of Wyoming and Trump administration have ignored our perspective. Every day, the U.S. government is revealing that its allegiances to fossil fuel companies matter more than its fiduciary responsibilities to tribal nations, a responsibility that began 243 years ago at the birth of the nation.

Badger-Two Medicine

The Blackfoot Confederacy recently urged the FWS to stop these abuses and flawed attempts to delist the grizzly bear. In our submission, we urged the government to keep the grizzly listed and protected.

As we write, one of our most sacred sites, Badger-Two Medicine — a holy site imbued by the Ba’ksíkoyi, the sacred grizzly bear — is once more threatened by fossil-fuel leases. It is long overdue that tribal people have greater input into the management and protection of these species.

Our collective door is open to the federal government to sit down and discuss a positive route forward that is a “win-win” for all concerned, not least for the sacred grizzly bear. That blueprint is the “The Grizzly: A Treaty of Cooperation, Cultural Revitalization and Restoration”

The tribal coalition succeeded in protecting these sacred beings in Yellowstone for the time being, but other areas and connected populations are in grave danger. The NCDE is on the administration’s chopping block. Join with us to defend the sacred; it is not only our children and future generations that will be robbed of a critical part of their heritage – it will be yours, too.

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Stan Grier, of Fort Mcleod, Alberta, is chief of the Piikani Nation and president of the Blackfoot Confederacy Chiefs. Tim Davis of Browning is chairman of the Blackfeet Nation.