Secretary Zinke has repeatedly said that tribal sovereignty should mean something. When questioned by Congressman Wm. Lacy Clay at a House Natural Resources Committee Oversight Hearing, Zinke’s testimony illustrated that “should” does not mean “does.” In that congressional hearing the morning of the delisting announcement, Secretary Zinke essentially acknowledged that meaningful tribal consultation had not been conducted on the issue of grizzly bear delisting, and then committed to carrying out that consultation prior to delisting. However, within a couple of hours of his testimony, Zinke issued the final delisting decision. To lie under oath is to commit perjury, which is precisely what Zinke did.
The relevant sections of the transcript follow, and can be seen on the House video around 2:53:50 (https://naturalresources.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=402138).
Rep. CLAY: Mr. Secretary, are federal agencies required to consult with tribal nations before they recommend a course of action that has the potential to affect their tribal rights and interests?
Sec. ZINKE: Yeah, our requirement is in interest and consultation. Talking to tribes, some of the consultation has been a website, rather than personal; some where the consultation has been more notification rather than consultation. So I think we need to do a lot of work on what “consultation” really means, and a lot of it is trust, quite frankly. Is, taking interest. And I find myself as the Department of Interior to be the champion of all things Indian, and I take that responsibility very seriously.
CLAY: Several tribes, including the Navajo, Osage, Oglala Sioux, Crow, Piikani, and Hopi have indicated that the Federal government, in particular the Fish and Wildlife Service, has abandoned that responsibility in its proposed rule to remove ESA protection for grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. In a treaty, letters, and resolutions, tribal nations have raised concerns over the science being presented by the service and the irreparable harm of tribal sovereignty, sacred site protections, treaty rights, consultation mandates, and spiritual and religious freedoms. Can you discuss your plan to honor the mandatory pre-decision and meaningful government-to-government consultation with tribes in this matter?
ZINKE: I will continue to live up to my obligation, I look forward to it. I try to have a great relationship with the tribes. Me, in Montana with the grizzly bears has been an interesting thing to watch. It extends beyond the grizzly bear—the buffalo, as well, within Yellowstone. Making sure we honor cultural and historic rights of hunt with that. But I look forward to work with the tribes. From a Congressman, I represented 7 tribes in Montana, and now I have a lot more. And I know that the tribes in Montana are not monolithic; wait until you get the tribes across our nation—are anything but monolithic. Each of the tribes has their own expectations, culture, opportunities and challenges. And what I really would like is the Senate to push along my BIA director, which I think the tribes are going to be thrilled with that. But we need some help on leadership. And also the restructure of BIA. I don’t think we’re doing a very good job. And, certainly entertaining how to do it better—working with Congress—I think, is a frank discussion.
CLAY: And will you commit to consult with affected tribes prior to any delisting announcement?
ZINKE: I will commit to that. I think it’s not only a right, it’s the law. But two things, it’s the right thing to do.
“Zinke claimed to have called tribal leaders to give them notice he was going to make this grizzly delisting announcement – we have a lot of tribal leaders here – so let me ask you, did he call you? Because he didn’t call me – and Crow Creek, Standing Rock, Oglala, Cheyenne River – pretty much all of the Great Sioux Nation – made our views known on this as soon as we heard about it.” Chairman Brandon Sazue, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe – “Reclamation of Independence” July 4, 2017
Over 80 Tribal Nations were represented at the gathering, and no chairperson, president, chief or councilperson had received a call or notice from Secretary Zinke, despite many being recognized as either “impacted” or “Associated Tribes of Yellowstone.”
Tribal Nations, Traditional Societies and Spiritual Leaders immediately filed a lawsuit. The original complaint can be read here:
The lawsuit generated coast-to-coast headlines, a sample of articles from which can be read here: