Native Americans say grizzly bear decision violates religion

In this Sept. 25, 2013, file photo, a grizzly bear cub searches for fallen fruit beneath an apple tree a few miles from the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park in Gardiner, Mont. Courtesy Alan Rogers/The Casper Star-Tribune via AP

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Native American tribes, clans and leaders from seven states and Canada say the U.S. government’s recent decision to lift protections for grizzly bears in the Yellowstone National Park area violates their religious freedom.

They are suing to block the government from removing Yellowstone grizzlies from the endangered and threatened species list, which would allow Montana, Wyoming and Idaho to hold grizzly bear hunts.

The Native American plaintiffs argue that trophy hunting for grizzly bears goes against their religious and spiritual beliefs. The lawsuit filed June 30 asks a federal judge to rule that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must consider the Native Americans’ beliefs and consult adequately with them before removing grizzly protections that have been in place since 1975.

“He is our relative. For us Bear Clan members, he is our uncle,” Ben Nuvamsa, a former chairman of the Hopi Tribe in Arizona, said Wednesday. “If that bear is removed, that does impact our ceremonies in that there would not be a being, a religious icon that we would know and recognize.”

The three states have not planned any hunts for this year, but have agreed to quotas and to cease all hunting if the Yellowstone population falls below 600 bears. There are now about 700 in the region.

Basing a legal challenge of an Endangered Species Act decision on religious beliefs and inadequate tribal consultation has not been tried before, said the plaintiffs’ attorney, Jeff Rasmussen. It’s an argument that differs from those of the conservation and wildlife advocacy groups who have also filed intentions to sue over last month’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision.

“They don’t feel like they’ve been listened to, both with regard to their religious beliefs and spiritual beliefs, and with regard to some of the issues in this case,” Rasmussen said. “They feel the U.S. is not listening to them, and we’re hoping to change that.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and Department of Interior officials declined to comment on the lawsuit. U.S. Department of Justice officials did not return a call or email for comment.

The government began the process of delisting the bears in March 2016 under the Obama administration, and received 650,000 public comments. The Fish and Wildlife Service says on its website it offered an opportunity to government-to-government consultation to 53 tribal governments through letters, phone calls, emails and webinars during that time.

It is government policy to conduct direct consultations with tribes, which are sovereign nations, on Endangered Species Act issues.

The lawsuit alleges that government officials only contacted four tribes initially, and only contacted the others after the decision had been made.

“They promised us that they would consult with us before they made the decision,” Nuvamsa said. “They reneged on it.”

The plaintiffs are 17 tribes, clans and individuals from Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico and Canada. Rasmussen said two more tribes from Nebraska and South Dakota are being added.

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  • Does that mean that the bear claw necklaces which have traditionally been a part of the ceremonial attire of some Native American Tribes did not include those from grizzlies?

  • How is this any different from Hindu Nationalists trying to ban beef and persecuting the religious minorities who trade in beef?? Or from the Egyptians who confiscate swine from the Coptic minority because the Copts relying on swine “violates” the majority’s religious values??

  • This is ridiculous. If they refuse to hunt grizzlies themselves, that’s fine. If they want to refuse to engage in trade with those hunting grizzlies, that’s also fine. If they can get enough voters siding with them to give grizzlies special legal status, that’s fine too. But using the 1st Amendment to prevent others from hunting grizzlies? Not fine.

  • So how you feel about abortion, gay marriage, birth control, and laws protecting gay people from religious discrimination?

  • You obviously didn’t read my post. If we translated this to to same-sex “marriage” issue, supporters of marriage would be insisting that any same-sex “marriages” taking place at all would be violations of their 1st Amendment rights.

  • I read your post clearly. What they are claiming is that their religious practice will be abridged if the hunts resume. Something is actually being removed from existence, i. e, individual bears. In the case of same-sex marriage there is nothing in it that prevents other people from marrying, too. Nor is it stopping those against it from practicing their own religion, unless their religion is preventing people from doing something they don’t like–which is not granted in the 1st Amendment.

  • “Something is actually being removed from existence, i. e, individual bears.”

    That’s an interesting standard. Should Hindus be able to sue the meat industry on the grounds that killing and eating cows violates their 1st Amendment rights?

  • Don’t hunt at all. How many grizzlies are there? Less than a 1,000! This is nothing compared to the millions of humans beings that are destroying this planet. For heaven’s sake, protect wildlife in America!

  • The right wing buffoons in Trump’s America would leave no stone unturned to acquire all the land for exploration to satisfy their greed for wealth. Trump and his cohorts are sadly destroying America and this is encouraged by the right wing religious conservatives who are of the opinion that theirs is the only true faith that would save mankind. In fact, the right wing evangelicals are encouraging a half-wit like Trump, who’s taken the responsibility of the Presidency, to destroy the country’s environment. The end is nigh!

  • Kinda missing the point. Do you think Hindus should be able to shut down the meat industry on the grounds that OTHERS killing and eating cows violates their 1st Amendment rights?

  • The standard is not that something is being removed, but that such removal can result in extinction which will prevent them from fully exercising their religion. However, as the article said, when the population reaches 600 then endangered status should be reinstated, thus, they probably won’t get what they are looking for, which really seems to be full protection of the grizzly.

    “If they can get enough voters siding with them to give grizzlies special legal status” is probably their best bet, which is slim at most.

  • This is a really interesting proposition!

    So the Indians are adamantly opposed to the non-renewal of grizzlies on the Endangered Species list on religious grounds!

    The Endangered Species List didn’t even exist back when the Indians roamed about on this land! If it had, then it would have surely had the BUFFALO on the list! That might have slowed the Indians” slaughter of the buffalo for the hides that clothed them and built their tee-pees. That would have forced the Indians to experiment–like other native peoples did, to find and use the types of fiber suitable for making their clothing, and other building materials from which to construct their homes!

  • You’re still missing the point. The Amerinds are arguing that the 1st Amendment requires the federal government to maintain the existence of grizzlies. Not only is this a fundamental misreading of the Free Exercise clause, it violates the Establishment clause. Catholic might as well insist that the federal government pay for the maintenance of cathedrals because they are necessary for Catholic worship.

  • Pray tell, what does Indians hunting grizzlies have to do with same-sex “marriage,” unless–of course–you’re talking about those queer and lesbian grizzlies who’re already engaged and hoping to be married by some liberal Democrats out there in the wild!

  • You’ll have to ask Jim, he was the one that made the comparison. Since the issues aren’t related, I have no idea why he did.

  • Actually it would be more like if people were tearing down cathedrals that were preexistent to the people and such removal would leave them without exercise of their religion. So in actuality it seems the Bear Clan are claiming the bear as its religious property: “Ben Nuvamsa, a former chairman of the Hopi Tribe in Arizona, said Wednesday. ‘If that bear is removed, that does impact our ceremonies in that there would not be a being, a religious icon that we would know and recognize.’”

  • If the Amerinds are claiming the bears as their own property, then let them foot the bill for maintaining the bear populations on their own private lands.

  • But the problem is rightnow others are allowed to demolish it, against which they have no recourse but court. Like suddenly your state passed a law that anyone who got a driver’s permit could drive your car.

  • The Native Americans hunted bear (and bald-eagles) at a time when these animals were more abundant. Some attitude might have changed due to the relatively low numbers and limited range of today’s grizzlies or for political reasons, or both.

  • Again, that presupposes that they actually own the bears, and if you’re going to argue that Amerinds own the bears because of the bears’ religious significance then you’d have to agree that Hindus own all the cows because of their religious significance.

  • They do own the bears. You own the bears. I own the bears. They are just asking that their part of the ownership be preserved so they can exercise their religion. Cows, who are nowhere near going extent, are not publically owned, but privately. It is because of the fear of extinction of the bears that they are concerned. Since the Hindus can have their own cows completely and privately they are not hindered in their religious rights. But if the bears go extinct then the Bear Clan would have no religious symbol to perform their religious practice, according to them. I can’t speak for the Bear Clan, but very likely they would not be so concerned if there were thousands of bears across the US, but since there are only 100 more than officially endangered they are wanting a buffer to prevent a critical vulnerability to disease, poaching, etc. that could easily eradicate such few in number. Cows are not in that sort of situation. It is not the killing of the bear that they are directly concerned about, but its total existence as a species, which they revere as a religious icon.

    Again with your car. if there were public ownership of your car with you owning a right to drive it, and it was the only car, and someone wanted to destroy it, wouldn’t you petition to save the car so you could also get to work when it was your turn to drive. Whether you would win the case or not is beside the point, as in the bear case, but you have a right to invoke your duly licensed ownership. It’s called partnership.

  • If I own the bears, then I suppose I’ll borrow a gun from one of my uncles and go out and shoot one, stick the meat in the freezer, and see about getting the hide tanned for a blanket. No, if I can’t exercise any of the rights of ownership I do not own the bears in any sense that means anything in the real world, and neither do the Amerinds.

  • A pragmatic view indeed, and yet according to the USFWS, the numbers have rebounded to the point that some selective “thinning” may not be amiss. Let us not wrap a “blanket” religious cloak around the question as far as Native Americans are concerned.

  • Well, we can’t discount that possibility, but I think it unlikely in light of the warrior culture endemic to most tribes. Obtaining such totems may have been a function of a rite of passage, etc. And to my original point, not every tribe processed acts and events in precisely the same way. Native Americans were not circumscribed by a mono-culture any more than we are today.

  • I feel sorry for any business partners you might have. Your attitude is an example for why we need laws to protect natural species.

  • And you do have the individual right to petition the government (the corporate board of US citizens) to allow you to hunt the bears. JUST as the Bear Clan have a right to petition for the bear’s protection.

  • How does recognition that property owned by any business I might be a part of doesn’t belong to me personally equate to not wanting laws protecting some natural species? (And what species aren’t natural?)

    And what does it have to do with Amerinds demanding that the federal government violate the Establishment clause by giving them a say in whether grizzlies are hunted because of their religious beliefs?

  • Hey Dick, WHITE MEN DROVE BUFFALO TO EXTINCTION. Note too, your stupid argument makes no f’en sense. Perhaps if white redneck male culture had more appreciation for nature instead of an easy way for them to feel manly by shooting a defenseless animal we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

  • Who’s missing the point? Cultural sensitivity is not something you have unless its the white cultural need to kill animals with guns and tell the rest of us how to live our lives following Jebus in the sky. You dickheads are all the same.

  • Should hindus < What a stupid lame response. Are there only 700 cows left in the world? Idiots like you would rather kill all of them except the ones you keep as cattle to bred for you to kill some more. Disgusting.

  • Private lands now? Guys like you prefer to rape the land and kill the cultures living there so you can feel like a tough guy. SAD!

  • You know as soon as someone burns a flag or calls you a redneck scumbag you will be crying and whining about your white privileged ass not getting the job you wanted even though you are not qualified. Probably run off to daddy crying about the mean people hurting your poor widdle feelings and how nasty everyone is when you are a dick.

  • Because those with a brain understand that 700 bears does not equate to the millions around the world. You would prefer extinction just so you could say you shot the last bear. Then proudly show off the bear hide as the real man your penis wishes you were.

  • I agree, Amerinds have the same right to petition the government as anyone else. What they as a minority do not have the right to is veto power over whether anyone else can hunt grizzlies on account of Amerind religious beliefs. If they can convince a majority to go along with them that’s fine, but not otherwise.

  • Since you offered an insult instead of an intelligent reply, I’m guessing he knows more than you do.

  • Well, Kameron, following your twisted logic, we only have two choices:

    1. Ban the ownership of guns from all those rednecks (some of whom need to hunt animals for food) plus the blue collared and white collared-necks who like to hunt, so that no one is allowed to own one, either to hunt with or protect their homes and families. Dude, that ain’t gonna happen!

    2. Put ALL the animals that might get hunted on that Endangered Species List. And Dude, that DARN SURE ain’t gonna happen!

  • I would also add that my great-grandmother was at least 1/2 Cherokee and I have great sympathy for Native Americans, though I find their traditional religious beliefs to be misplaced.

  • Why eat beef (cow’s flesh) in the first place? Hindus are against killing of the cow which they consider as their mother. Hindus do eat chicken, fish, buffalo meat, lamb and so on. So where is the First Amendment rights violated?

  • Do you think the 1st Amendment gives Hindus the right to insist that no one else kill and eat cows?