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Native Americans Sue After Government Says Grizzly Bears No Longer Endangered


Grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone area are now, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, no longer endangered. It lifted protections on the animal last month, which means a certain number of them can be hunted. The bears are not only iconic symbols of the American West, but they're also sacred to Native American cultures.

Native American tribes from seven states and Canada are saying this decision violates their religious freedom, and they're suing the government. To talk about this, we've reached Ben Nuvamsa He is the former chairman of the Hopi Tribe in Arizona. Welcome to the program, sir.

BEN NUVAMSA: Thank you very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what does the grizzly bear represent to you?

NUVAMSA: The grizzly bear to Hopi is our medicine man. He is our relative. We - as Bear Clan members - I am Bear Clan - he's our clan deity. So it means a lot to us to protect the species from de-listing and from extinction.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you tell us what you are asking for in your lawsuit?

NUVAMSA: Well, a number of things. First, we are asking for a meaningful government-to-government consultation. That's what we had asked for last year. That's what we were promised. The tribes are sovereign nations, just like the United States is. And so we have a government-to-government relationship with the federal government. The other thing is that we don't believe that the species have recovered. And so we'd like to do whatever we can to help in the recovery of the species.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What kind of relationship have you had with the government so far? I mean, what have they said to your concerns?

NUVAMSA: Nothing. We went to Washington, D.C., last year, and we met with the Fish and Wildlife Service. And we talked about our opposition to their plan. Then we asked for full and meaningful consultation. But instead, what they did is just held webinars. They're not two-way discussions, it's just a one-way discussion.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What can your tribe do to make sure the grizzly is safe?

NUVAMSA: We were prepared to talk about some of the ways that we can maybe perhaps reintroduce this species into some reservations, some tribes that are willing to do that and then get into management with the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the species. Unfortunately, we didn't get to that point.

Many years ago, the tribes worked with the Fish and Wildlife Service to reintroduce the Mexican gray wolf and also protect the Mexican spotted owl. And there was a memorandum of agreement between the tribes and the United States government, the Fish and Wildlife Service. And those are success stories that have - that are good examples or models of what we can do with a grizzly bear.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ben Nuvamsa is a member of the Hopi Tribe in Arizona. Thank you so much for joining us.

NUVAMSA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.