A Primer on Grizzly Bear Advocacy
Of Tribes: A Powerful Voice for the Bear
Tribal representatives meeting with Representative Grijalva in Washington, D.C.
Native peoples have ancient connections with grizzlies who they still view as relatives, healers, and guides. Grizzly bears were not systematically hunted anywhere in what was to become the contiguous United States prior to the widespread slaughter of large carnivores that began with the arrival of Europeans, many of whom saw killing grizzlies as the pinnacle of hunting success. Today, Tribes almost universally oppose hunting grizzlies for trophies.
Sovereign Tribes have long-standing legal claims to enormous tracts of grizzly bear habitat. Indeed, through treaty rights, claims, and reservation lands, Tribes are key to connecting our currently isolated grizzly bear populations to achieve meaningful recovery in the lower 48 states.
Grizzlies already occupy several reservations, including those of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai, Blackfeet, Northern Arapaho, and Eastern Shoshone Tribes. Many more Tribes without grizzly bears on their lands have expressed concern about the plight of grizzlies, as well as interest in supporting recolonization and recovery of the species on suitable habitat in their treaty lands and current reservations.
In 2016, an unprecedented 270 Tribes, traditional societies and tribal elders signed a treaty entitled “The Grizzly: A Treaty of Cooperation, Cultural Revitalization and Restoration” that called for banning trophy hunting of grizzlies and for providing Tribes with a meaningful role in grizzly bear management. Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) later introduced this treaty as a bill in Congress. Numerous Tribes also challenged the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2017 decision to remove ESA protections for grizzlies and allow a trophy hunt.
Seeking Enforcement of Treaty Rights
and a Seat at the Table
Tribal representatives presenting the Grizzly Bear Treaty to a Yellowstone National Park official.
Grizzly bear managers in state and federal agencies are often dismissive of native peoples and their deep connection with grizzlies. But Tribes are not just another “interest group.” They are sovereign nations that have special government-to-government relationships based on legal long-standing treaties. Increasingly, Tribes are asserting their treaty rights and demanding to be more involved in managing grizzlies. These demands need to be recognized and meaningfully addressed.
What You Can Do
Tribes offer a vitally important voice for the bear. Their reverential and respectful view of grizzlies and nature stands in stark contrast to the control-oriented and violent approach of the state wildlife agencies.
A number of Tribes manage grizzly bears on their reservations but need more staff and resources to support coexistence efforts. And, Tribes such as the Nez Perce are poised to play a role in recovery of grizzlies in the Selway Bitterroot, but lack needed resources as well.
Importantly, Tribes currently do not have a meaningful role in public lands or wildlife management, despite legal rights afforded to them by treaties and other government policies. You can support Tribes’ demands for more resources to manage bears and for a meaningful seat at the table in Letters to the Editor or other opinion pieces in local media; on social media; or in comments to members of Congress who are engaged with tribal matters and grizzly bear conservation.
And, you can write your members of Congress urging them to support the Tribal Heritage and Grizzly Bear Protection Act.