Piikani Nation Signing, Brocket, AB, Sept 30th, 2016
1pm, Piikani Nation Tribal Complex, Brocket, Alberta, T0K 0H0
Tribal Leaders at the Piikani Nation Treaty SigningTribal Leaders at the Piikani Nation Treaty Signing
Piikani Elder, Jim Schwag - Copyright R Bear Stands LastPiikani Elder, Jim Schwag - Copyright R Bear Stands Last
Travis Plaited HairTravis Plaited Hair, Horn Society Leader & Pete Standing Alone, Horn Society Elder
Horn Society Leader Travis Plaited HairHorn Society Leader Travis Plaited Hair signing Grizzly Treaty
Copyright R Bear Stands Last
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Speech given by Chief Stan Grier of the Piikani Nation
Today we make history - our history. Today we write our own chapter in our own history. Within self-definition there is empowerment, and within empowerment there is a collective voice – our voice – and the voices of our brothers and sisters from other tribes, who in the coming days and weeks will sign this treaty with us. To date, non-Indigenous historians, ethnographers, and archaeologists have laid claim to having “written the book” on our histories and cultures – but they have not written our books, or made our documentaries, or spoken our words, or sung our songs. Today, with the signing of this treaty, we begin to reclaim the past so that there will be a future – a future we define, not a future we adhere to, or are told to believe in. We know what belief is, and we know where our belief began – in the original dreams of our ancestors, in the realm of the sacred.
Among all of the ties that bind in the universal knowledge of Earth and the original dreams is, at the center, the Great Bear, the grizzly. She is in the highest realm of spirit, in the stars, and in the deepest recesses of the womb of Earth. We know the Great Bear’s many blessings, the teachings, the healing qualities, the medicines, and the powers of regeneration and renewal, but we often forget that without a bear and a cave we may yet be illiterate; mute in a silence without story. Where the claws of cave bears and brown bears and grizzlies had gouged cave walls out of men’s reach, a woman or a man, a priestess or pauper, a holy man or hunter in their respective orders felt compelled to enter upon that pattern themselves. At first they added their handprints to the paw prints, a formative rite in the quest for transference of the Great Bear’s power to their hearts and minds. Scratched in rock, or painted on rawhide, or quilled or beaded on buckskin, the prints of hand and paw offer entry to the spirit world. In our lands here, in the Crown of the Continent, and in Yellowstone, are pines incised by grizzlies when raised on two legs in the act and art of spring and fall. There, in each, is found the most ancient of scripts. At such places and in such moments was the dawn of literature, the articulation of the human spirit, the need, no matter how perilous, to become not only part of that journey, but to be at one with it, to reveal purpose and understand its meaning. That journey is our journey, and with this treaty that journey will continue.
The awe in which the Great Bears’ presence was regarded on cave walls commanded a reverence, out of which chapters of the human story were first written, including our story - on stone, on shields, on our hearts and minds. The first symbols in any system of characters appeared on those walls and on those trees. And yet, here we stand, gathered to sign a treaty; a treaty which is as our prayer, that the Great Bear, the Ancient One, the grizzly – a being so sacred that once our ancestors would not even say her name – will not be “managed” by lead and bloodlust to satiate the inadequacies of trophy hunters, who like their ancestors who bloodied the land and defiled the Earth, still carry the killing gene in the absence of the sacred. This will be the consequence if we do not act. The US government, through its Fish and Wildlife Service, is poised to remove protections from the sacred grizzly and hand our sacred relative’s destiny to the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, all of which place trophy hunting at the center of their so-called “management plans.”
Management? How do you manage the sacred? One does not manage the sacred; one seeks, reveres, and stands humbled by the presence of the sacred. The People of the Land, me and you, our nation, our relatives, we must reclaim that which was stolen, and once more take the responsibility for true ecological stewardship. This concept of “grizzly bear management” devised and imposed by the US federal government and the states and some provinces, is as foreign as the tongue that so recently claimed and colonized – but so recent did it happen that the memory and knowledge of what went before is preserved in heart, in mind, in the land, and in the spirit of the grizzly. Behold, she lives! Behold he lives! The grizzly, the Ancient One, the physical manifestation of our Grandmother the Earth. Let us not leave her now – for this is a struggle for the very spirit of the land, the soul of all we have ever been, or will ever become.
Within this struggle to protect the grizzly and see the Great Bear reintroduced to tribal nations from the Rockies to the Pacific where biologically suitable habitat exists, we find many of our struggles – the struggle to defend our sovereignty, our treaty rights, consultation mandates, and our spiritual and religious freedoms. Should we lose this fight over the grizzly, we may lose any part of those at any time, for if the US federal government can ignore us, and ignore some fifty other nations that hold treaties with the US, and ignore the Assembly of First Nations over the grizzly, then the precedent will be set, and it will be naïve to imagine that such a precedent will be contained by a border.
This treaty, which offers solutions and alternatives for the future of the grizzly and our people in unity, solutions founded upon our traditional and spiritual ways, states: “In our collective nations’ efforts to protect and preserve the grizzly – and by doing so protect, preserve and perpetuate indigenous cultures – this treaty is analogous to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).” Assembly of First Nations National Chief, Perry Bellegarde, was the first of our people to sign this treaty, followed by the AFN Regional Chiefs. The AFN’s support of this treaty reaffirms its commitment to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, and demonstrates the moral and political force of the First Nations’ position on this issue. US President Barack Obama supports the UN Declaration, yet his Administration is failing to abide by it in this instance. Today, I appeal to President Obama to hear us, not simply talk about listening to us.
If protections are removed from the grizzly bear through delisting, what protections exist for the land will be relaxed or removed. Greater Yellowstone contains innumerable sacred and historic sites to not only the Piikani Nation and our sister tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy, but also to the other Associated Tribes of Yellowstone. As many Tribal Nations have emphasized in their respective resolutions opposing the delisting of the grizzly bear, Tribal Historic Preservation Offices must be engaged to survey, determine, and catalog these many sacred and historic sites before delisting is implemented, for if they are not, these sites will be subject to desecration and ultimately lost, resulting in irreparable injury to a multitude of tribes. We do not need to elaborate upon the impact the trophy killing of a being we consider to be fundamental to our culture and spiritual well-being will have on our people and their ability to practice their religion, or how that will be exacerbated if that killing is committed on sacred land in proximity to sacred sites, but we do need to raise the specter of the destruction of these sacred sites if, as appears inevitable, corporate energy development is initiated on the lands the grizzly presently protects through its ESA status.
Unless the US Congress repeals the 1872 General Mining Act, that law will hold primacy in respect to the 28 mining claims with operating plans in Yellowstone that the US Fish and Wildlife Service references in its grizzly bear delisting rule. Those mines are in core grizzly bear habitat, and it remains unclear how many such claims exist throughout Greater Yellowstone. Upon development, those mines will threaten environmental harms to Tribal Nations’ sacred and historic sites, and to treaty lands in the region, therefore I ask Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to demand that the US Fish and Wildlife Service adhere to the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. We are fully aware that the plague of corporate greed that will be visited upon Yellowstone with the opening of that sacred land, will then be visited upon our lands here in the Crown of the Continent. Badger-Two Medicine is but one sacred area that will be threatened once more if the grizzly is delisted, for energy exploitation will follow.
The Piikani Nation’s relationship with the United States is enshrined by treaty. The Piikani Nation, the Blood Tribe, and the Blackfeet Nation have held a government-to-government relationship with the United States since entering into the 1855 Lame Bull Treaty, of which all are signatories. In the context of our people’s history, that passage of time is the blink of an eye. From the moment our ancestors set foot upon the Earth, the grizzly has been with us – guiding, teaching, protecting – enshrined in song, fundamental to sacred bundles. Any destabilizations in the two remaining grizzly populations in the US, the island population of Yellowstone, genetically isolated from the Blackfeet population, will, of course, undermine the grizzly population in Alberta. In the spring of 2015, that population was estimated to be at an all-time low. With fewer than 700 grizzly bears remaining in fragmented pockets of diminishing habitat, if the current trends continue, some projections show that the grizzly in Alberta could be on the verge of extinction in as few as fifty-years. Alberta is the heartland of the Blackfoot Confederacy, and we cannot stand by and watch our ancestors’ legacy pass into oblivion with the sacred grizzly bear, and see our children and future generations robbed once more of a vital part of their culture – that which is represented by the sacred and spiritual power of the grizzly bear.
We remain the stewards of the land, and our ancestors and spiritual practices will forever be the conscience of the lands that were taken from us. Our brothers and sisters gathered at Standing Rock to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline have been reminding the world that water is life. How lost many are in this modern day that they need such a reminder. Truly, water is the lifeblood of our Mother Earth, and the grizzly bear is the guardian of both.
Yes, today, we make history with this treaty - our history.