Members of the Blackfeet Tribe protested delisting grizzly bears during a meeting of key bear managers last week.
The outcry came during the public comment period of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem grizzly bear subcommittee meeting in Kalispell. The committee is made up of state and federal bear managers.
The Blackfeet consider the grizzly a sacred animal and spiritual relative and oppose its removal from the Endangered Species List.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has developed a trophy grizzly bear hunt that will take place if the bears are delisted in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, but the hunt is limited in take and scope. It prohibits shooting of sows with cubs and is designed with tight season dates that would avoid hunting of females without cubs.
Delisting of grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which includes Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness, has not formally started, but bear managers believe grizzly populations have recovered in the region.
Regardless, former Blackfeet vice chairman and spiritual leader Jimmy St. Goddard announced that over 100 tribes and the United Nations have signed a treaty to cooperate on grizzly protection and protect the rights of indigenous people.
One Blackfeet woman, Marcella Green, was in tears as she read her handwritten speech.
“You can’t call it a recovery (of the grizzly),” she said. “Delisting grizzly bears takes away Indian rights and values. The push for delisting has the footprints of big energy.”
Other Blackfeet in attendance agreed that logging, mining, and development have pushed the grizzly into farmland, where bears are seen as threats and nuisances, and that with delisting will come further habitat loss.
St. Goddard condemned the government for spending so much money to educate and assimilate the Blackfeet, stating that in the Blackfeet nation, unemployment and poverty rates continue to soar at about 80 percent and 79 percent, respectively.
St. Goddard shook a ceremonial staff adorned with raptor wings and colorful fabrics.
“This is my Bible,” he proclaimed. “How would you feel if I stomped on your Bible? It’s not the United States, it’s sacred Indian ground, and I will continue to say that till the day I die.”
St. Goddard has previously made dramatic gestures to stand up for environmental and animal rights. In March 2014, he brought a bloody bison heart to the state Capitol to protest against the Nez Perce tribe’s bison hunting. As a member of the Buffalo Field Campaign, he fought the slaughter of Yellowstone’s wild bison. St. Goddard has also supported wolf reintroduction and opposed drilling.
The Blackfeet Tribe itself is part of the NCDE subcommittee, which meets twice a year to coordinate grizzly recovery efforts in Northwest Montana. Other participating entities include Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Park Service, the Forest Service, USDA APHIS-Wildlife Services, the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.