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The indigenous communities rising up to protect the gray wolf

A lone gray wolf may be roaming the Grand Canyon for the first time in 70 years. (U.S. Fish & Wildlife via AP)
A lone gray wolf may be roaming the Grand Canyon for the first time in 70 years. (U.S. Fish & Wildlife via AP)

The gray wolf was taken off the endangered species list last year.

Since then, hundreds have been hunted and killed in states like Wisconsin, Idaho and Montana.

Now, tribes are leading efforts to stop the hunts.

“The heart of this issue is what is the solution when you have a tribal population, indigenous population that has this traditional ecological knowledge about the functional landscape? And what happens when that runs into the state’s interest?” Gussie Lord, an attorney with EarthJustice, says.

Today, On Point: Tribal members have asked to meet with America’s first indigenous cabinet member about the wolves. But Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has thus far refused. Why?


Tom Rodgers, acting president of the Global Indigenous Council. Member of the Blackfeet Tribe in Montana.

Adrian Wydeven, wildlife biologist at Wisconsin’s Green Fire, a nonpartisan group. Former wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Also Featured

Dave Mabie, a wolf hunter from Wisconsin.

Interview Highlights

On the significance the gray wolf holds for indigenous tribes

Tom Rodgers: “The wolf is central to our creation stories. It is viewed as a sacred brother and sister to our people. It is viewed, also, as critical to our afterlife. So where our experience is life affirming, his experience is death. But we, as indigenous people, are like the wolf. And … [the wolf] is subject to the same mythmaking and massacres that Native people, indigenous people, have experienced. Whether it be the ultimate marketing campaign of Manifest Destiny. Or the Pine Ridge massacre of 300 women, and children and old men.

“Or the Baker massacre of 200. Or the Sand Creek massacre, or even the ultimate pandemic for native people in this country, where 90% of us were exterminated by smallpox, measles and flu. So we share the same sadly narrative that the wolf does, with the reference to the Big Bad Wolf raised by wolves. What they forgot is that the DNA that his dogs experience is the same as the wolf of 35,000 years ago.”

On concerns tribal leaders have about the hunt of wolves in Wisconsin and other states

Tom Rodgers: “It was intensely personal to all the Native brothers and sisters of this country, the indigenous people of this country. Because it was like being injured by a good friend. It was suffering a loss of innocence. And a loss of trust. Because the president — and I am a huge supporter of the president. In his own executive order, issued on January the 26th of 2021, stated the need to listen to tribes, fully engage them. And promised under his own executive order … was to listen to us. And when the statement came out in mid-July on a Friday afternoon, that the current administration, the Biden administration, would adopt the position of the Trump administration, that was such a horrible blow to our soul. To our innocence.

“Because whether it was Secretary Haaland, or even the president himself, these were our friends. These are our brothers and sisters. It was extremely dispiriting. Disappointing. And I say no person should be judged on one day in their life, or one decision in the landscape of their life. But that was soul crushing for the Native people. That they would do the same things that the Trump administration did. And the centrality of the death that that meant.

“Because that is state sanctioned extermination, what is occurring now. And I cannot tell you how disappointed, because we had already scheduled a meeting with the secretary on this issue. And so a decision had been made to to go forward with the same position as the previous administration while we were waiting to have that meeting. And so the decision had already been made and we were like, I said, it was soul crushing.”

The assertion is that the tribes were not adequately consulted around decisions regarding the wolf hunt, and that governments are legally bound to consult the tribes. Is that correct?

Tom Rodgers: “That is correct. And both President Biden and Vice President Harris have affirmatively stated that in their own Biden-Harris tribal plan. They’ve reaffirmed it in their own executive order. And I truly believe that Secretary Haaland and the assistant secretary, they know this. I believe that they will make a good faith attempt to remedy it. Because they know being Native themselves, that on this one, they failed. And I think they carry that burden in their soul. And they are trying. Knowing them as I do, I believe fervently that they will seek to remedy this wound with their Native brothers and sisters. Because it is a wound and it is still very, very raw. And it is one thing to disappoint your adversaries. It is another thing to injure your friends.”

The Interior Department referred us to U.S. Fish and Wildlife as the agency directly involved in decisions regarding the Endangered Species Act. And they sent us this statement:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently evaluating the status of gray wolves in the northern Rockies and more broadly, the western U.S. to determine whether Endangered Species Act protection is again warranted. In the course of that review, we will assess whether the recent changes in state management are adequate to ensure that wolves in the western U.S. are sustained at [a] healthy and secure population level.

Did you want to respond to that?

Tom Rodgers: “There are too many vestiges of colonialism still remaining in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department. I think there are still a number of career officials who anchor to a world view and a culture of trophy hunting or harvesting, which is an Orwellian term for killing and massacring these beautiful, beautiful brothers and sisters. So I’m glad to hear that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will perform an autopsy on this issue, when almost all of the wolves are killed in Montana, and Wyoming and Idaho. So we’re going to wait for them. And as I said, their state sanctioned extermination. And once almost all the wolves are dead, they will give us their decision. How incredibly forward-thinking, insightful. It’s just representative, unfortunately, of a culture of killing that exists too much within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department.”

On how wolf hunts buy into a ‘culture of death’

Tom Rodgers: “We at one time, as Native people, also had a problem with certain European ancestors, there’s too many of them. Manifest Destiny, doctrine of discovery. They cloak these massacres and these killings. They baited wolves the other day outside of Yellowstone Park with a bison carcass. And then sat around and ambushed them, eliminated an entire wolf pack. There is the problem in Wisconsin, because of the hounds, which is abhorrent.

“And then you have the situation in the northern Rockies, where you have these so-called men of honor, men of dignity, men of courage. Who will bait these poor wolves. And entice them just because of their own desire for survival. Being the wolves will come to the carcass, just outside the border of Yellowstone Park. Yellowstone Park, where suburban mothers and fathers come to enjoy their time with their children, almost 4.5 million last year. And yet we have these men of honor and dignity, of such courage, who will wait and bait them and then massacre them and eliminate them? It is, like I said, it’s Orwellian.

“I want to read, I want to recite to you, what I recited to the Blackfeet Tribal Council. And it’s a good guide for where we are on this issue and life in general. And says, you know now than anything could happen. Things that never happened before. Things that only happened in movies and nightmares are happening now. As if nothing could stop them. You now know that you are not safe. You know you live in fragile skin and bones. And that even steel and concrete can melt away. And that the Earth itself has come unhinged, shaken from its orbit around the Sun. You know now that anything can happen, it’s hard to know what will. And what will you do, now that you know. What words will you say? Now that you can say anything. What hands will you hold? And whose heart will beat beside you? And inside you.

“I lost the two most important people in my life within three months. My mother and my partner. To dementia and cancer. And we’ve had so much death. 871,000 from COVID-19. 110,000 from the opioid crisis. Untold homicides. Cancer, heart attacks, diabetes. And yet these individuals continue to celebrate and augment this culture of death.

“What they don’t understand and have never understood, they should read the words of Chief Seattle. That … we are all but one thread. The raping and killing of Native American women, with missing murdered indigenous women, is just reflecting of the raping and killing of Mother Earth. It is all the feminine. It is all intertwined. It is all a Jackson Pollock picture. It is one constant weaving of all threads. And what this culture of death continues to be endorsed and celebrated is they don’t understand why we are at even now with COVID-19.”

From The Reading List

EarthJustice: “Wisconsin Tribes Challenge Wolf Hunt | Earthjustice” — “Represented by Earthjustice, six Tribes filed a lawsuit in the Western District of Wisconsin against the state for its planned November 2021 wolf hunt, claiming the proposed hunt violates the Tribes’ treaty rights.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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