Ole Rolvaag thought he was destined to be a fisherman like his father. Britt Aamodt looks at how the opportunity to the immigrate to the United States Midwest not only gave this St. Olaf professor a new career but also the theme for his novel, Giants in the Earth.
The Minnesota wolf hunt has killed 1,000 wolves in the past two years, and this sport hunt has shown blatant disrespect to tribal nations. As the economic, social, and political situation of tribal nations becomes more desperate, the gray wolf is delisted from the Endangered Species Act in 2011. Tribal nations agreed on a wolf management plan with the State of Minnesota, but the state broke their promise. In this program we hear from Anishinaabe elder Robert Shimek and Reyna Crow, who is Director of the Northwoods Wolf Alliance.
Colin Neary: Right now the state of Minnesota is in the midst of its second regulated wolf hunting season. As of December 10, 2013 the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reports one hundred thirty-one wolves have been harvested, and hunters are quickly approaching the wolf harvest target goal of two hundred twenty for the 2013-2014 wolf hunting season. Last year during the 2012-2013 season a total of four hundred thirteen wolves were harvested, exceeding the harvest target goal of four hundred.
Wolves were delisted from the Endangered Species Act in the western Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan on December 21, 2011. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe explains: “For one reason, and one reason only, we are proposing to remove the gray wolf from the list… they are no longer in danger of extinction now or in the foreseeable future.” Critics of wolf delisting argue that the purpose of the Endangered Species Act is not simply to prevent an animal from becoming extinct. Rather, critics argue that the purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to recover species that are endangered or threatened and also to protect the habitats on which they depend.
For years the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service along with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has been following a Wolf Recovery Plan, which set a minimum population of 1,600 and prevented any sport hunting of wolves for 5 years following delisting. However, in 2011 this 5 year ban on wolf hunts was lifted, and days after wolves were officially delisted in January 2012 the Minnesota State Legislature proposed legislation that would authorize the first regulated wolf hunt in Minnesota. Robert Shimek (Red Lake Anishinaabe) provides some historic background for the current wolf hunt happening in the state of Minnesota.
Robert Shimek: As many of you know, several days after the delisting from federal protection in 2012 the Minnesota Legislature introduced legislation to authorize the first regulated wolf hunt in the state of Minnesota ever or the territory of Minnesota for the matter. There was lots of wolf hunting and trapping prior to the wolf being placed on federal protection, but there was no such thing as a regulated hunt in Minnesota. It was pretty much take as many as you could get whenever you could get them in interests of eradicating the wolf from the state of Minnesota. These efforts were largely successful. By 1973, when the modern version of the Endangered Species Act was signed into law, there were only several hundred gray wolves left in the contiguous 48 states of America, and they were all entirely within the Arrowhead region here in Minnesota.
Colin Neary: Historically, wolf declines in the western Great Lakes region were caused by intensive eradication efforts and declining numbers of prey, such as bison, elk, moose, deer, caribou, and beaver. Bounties paid for dead wolves began during the 1800s. By the early 1900s gray wolves had been eliminated from southern Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin. By 1960, wolves were also gone from northern Wisconsin and Michigan, except Isle Royale, and from most of Minnesota, except along the Boundary Waters in the Arrowhead region. The tip of the Arrowhead Region is found in the northeast corner of Minnesota near Grand Marais. The Arrowhead extends along the coast of Lake Superior southwest past Duluth, extends east towards Bemidji, and north to International Falls. Since wolves were officially listed on the modern Endangered Species Act in 1974, gray wolf packs have expanded throughout the Arrowhead region.
In Minnesota a bounty on all predators, including wolves, continued until 1965. Between 1965 and 1974, Minnesota had an open season on wolves and a Directed Predator Control Program. During this time, about 250 wolves were taken each year, and the wolf population was estimated at 350 to 700 animals by 1974. The state’s control program and open season continued until May 1974, when the gray wolf gained protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Similarly, until the 1970s Anishinaabeg peoples in Minnesota and throughout the Great Lakes region experienced widespread land-theft, poverty, prohibition of indigenous languages and traditional spiritual ways, and erosion of treaty rights for hunting and gathering. Many Anishinaabeg believe that a parallel fate exists between themselves and wolves. Robert Shimek provides some historical background for the spiritual connection between Anishinaabeg, the human beings, and Ma’iingan, the wolf.
Robert Shimek: The wolf is my brother. These words have been heard among Ojibwe (Anishinaabeg) communities of the western Great Lakes region since time immemorial. At times it was common knowledge among all. In more recent times the idea was almost erased in many communities because of the acculturation and assimilation policies of the United States government and the churches established on Indian reservations. “Kill the Indian to save the man.” These now-famous words were uttered by William Pratt, superintendent of Carlisle Boarding School, beginning in the late 1870s. Carlisle was the first large-scale Indian boarding school established the United States. Within 20 years government- and church-operated boarding schools had sprung up all across the American landscape.
The words of Mr. Pratt nearly eliminated the indigenous Anishinaabeg way of thinking about the world, the wolf, and just about everything else that stood in the way of the white man’s conquest and colonization of America, including other tribes. Over many years of interaction between indigenous people and Euro-Americans and Americans in the Great Lakes region there has been a great deal of misunderstanding between the two cultural population groups. At times this has led to conflict on a variety of issues. The nature and essence of these differences has, in some cases, become multi-generational.
Colin Neary: When wolves were delisted from the Endangered Species Act, their management returned to the state and tribes. However, the State of Minnesota has mostly ignored and rejected tribal nations that are calling for wolf hunting bans, at least within reservation boundaries. When the wolf hunt was announced in 2012 White Earth, Fond du Lac, Red Lake, and Leech Lake tribal governments all issued letters to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, opposing the hunt. Steve Mortenson of the Leech Lake Division of Resource Management said in the letter: “There is considerable concern about taking wolves for sport. Many tribal members feel that wolves are their brothers and they should be respected as such. How can you ignore governments that have co-management authority of much of the wolf range and come up with a plan without them?”
Now we hear again from Robert Shimek about the disregard for tribal co-management of wolves by states in the Western Great Lakes, and how that reflects larger differences between the worldview of settler European-Americans and indigenous Anishinaabeg peoples.
Robert Shimek: The recent delisting of the gray wolf from federal protection and turning wolf management over to the states in the Great Lakes region has caused some push-back from Ojibwe tribes here in the same region. In Minnesota a major contention is the statewide wolf hunt that refuses to acknowledge the territorial jurisdiction of the tribes and the importance of a healthy relationship between Ma’iingan, the wolf, and Anishinaabeg, the Indian.
After hundreds of years of interaction many Euro-Americans do not understand the complexity of the relationship Anishinaabeg in the region have with Ma’iingan, nor do some Anishinaabeg understand the Euro-American relationship to the world we all share. We have been neighbors for many years. We still have much to learn about each other. To start gaining ground on a mutual understanding, some tough issues and questions have to be raised. Some here assert that here in Minnesota we can shoot, hunt, trap, and snare up to 50% of the wolves annually and the population will always rebound and be stable. They consider wolves a renewable resource that can be killed indefinitely, with no significant social, cultural, or political impact.
Some in the Anishinaabeg community would ask: How can the state of Minnesota legislate the killing of my wolf-brother? How can the State of Minnesota, after years of hard lessons, legislate a new variety of colonialism and racism directed at Anishinaabeg without consultation or consent? The statewide wolf hunting, trapping, and snaring season has become problematic for tribes to manage their resources as they see fit. Minimally, if there is something rare, endangered, special, or sacred to the Minnesota Ojibwe tribes, they should be allowed to care for it within Indian reservation boundaries.
Colin Neary: Red Lake Ojibwe Nation is the only tribal nation in Minnesota that has been successful in banning the wolf hunt from its entire reservation. Red Lake is a closed reservation, the only one of its kind in Minnesota, where the entire 900,000 acre reservation, guaranteed by the 1863 Treaty, belongs to the tribe. 2013-2014 wolf hunting regulations in Minnesota cite Red Lake as the only reservation officially closed to wolf hunting, and direct hunters to contact local tribal authorities for hunting on other reservations in Minnesota.
By contrast, both Fond du Lac and White Earth tribal governments passed resolutions in 2012 declaring their tribal lands wolf sanctuaries. However, tribal lands comprise a minority of the geographic land base of both Fond du Lac and White Earth Reservations. For instance, Fond du Lac retains 35% of its reservation or 35,000 acres in tribal trust, while White Earth retains less than 10% of its original landholdings or approximately 60,000 acres. Furthermore, both White Earth and Fond du Lac have requested the Department of Natural Resources ban hunting on remaining non-tribal lands within their reservation boundaries.
DNR Commissioner Thomas Landwehr declined both requests. "We fully recognize and respect your authority to close tribal lands to the taking of wolves, but we believe that the public should be given the opportunity to hunt on the public and private nontribal lands within the reservation boundary,'' said Landwehr in his response to both White Earth and Fond du Lac. As a result, during the 2012-2013 wolf hunting season 12 wolves were taken out of the Tamarack National Wildlife Refuge within the boundaries of White Earth Reservation. In total, 413 wolves were harvested in Minnesota last year.
For some tribal members, this is more than a sport hunt – the hunting of wolves for non-traditional purposes is a major disrespect to traditional Anishinaabeg culture. Karen Driver, chairwoman of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa explains: “The wolf is part of our creation story, and therefore many Ojibwe have a strong spiritual connection to the wolf. Many Ojibwe believe the fate of the wolf is closely tied to the fate of all the Ojibwe. For these reasons the Fond du Lac Band feels the hunting and trapping of wolves is inappropriate.”
We now turn to Reyna Crow, co-founder of the Northwoods Wolf Alliance, to further some of the historic parallels between Anishinaabeg, Ma’iingan, and Manoomin, the wild rice.
Reyna Crow: You look historically with the colonization of Minnesota, elsewhere in Anishinaabe Akiing, as well as the rest of the country, and you see that there were bounties on scalps for the Anishinaabe people as there were bounties on furs of Ma’iingan. Clearly, an animal whom is not only a spiritual brother to the Anishinaabe people, but with whom a parallel fate is shared. Having a recreational hunt on them seems to me much like disregarding the sulfate standards that are intended to protect Manoomin as a direct assault on at least the spirit of treaties and respecting culturally significant resources in ceded territory.
I think very much they’re all connected, and I know that when I’m in the area of Northern Minnesota working on these issues it’s always wolves, women, and water that seem to be under attack. And so those are the areas where we’re working hardest. It’s difficult to talk about, but I think people need to be aware that roughly half of those wolves were taken alive in traps and snares. And those animals aren’t just killed. They’re tortured, and it’s a very disturbing thing. To me this is an enormous sign of disrespect, not only to the Anishinaabe but every person who lives in the northern woods and values nature and wildlife. A lot of us are there because we value living in a pristine area and we want to be around non-human predators and it’s absolutely senseless and a real hijacking of public policy and public interest both for dominant culture people and Anishinaabe people.
Colin Neary: Perhaps the most important factors leading to wolf recovery in the Midwest were the Endangered Species Act prohibitions that made killing and harming wolves illegal and the Endangered Species Act requirement that a Recovery Plan be prepared. The Recovery Plan focused time, money, and energy on priority conservation actions. Wolves also rebounded because their primary prey, white-tailed deer, were doing well. Deer herds in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan increased through the 1980s and early 1990s because of mild winters and timber harvests that created prime habitat.
Wolves total more than 4,000 in the three core recovery states in the western Great Lakes area and have exceeded U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services recovery goals. Each state, with tribal consultation, was supposed to develop a plan to manage wolves after federal protection was removed. Originally, most involved were satisfied with the Wolf Recovery Plan in Minnesota. The minimum wolf population goal is set at 1,600. Also included in Minnesota’s Wolf Recovery Plan was a requirement that public wolf hunting be suspended for five years after delisting occurred. However, in 2011 this protection was removed, presumably from pressure by the powerful Minnesota Deer Hunter’s Association and the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association lobbies.
At the time of delisting in 2012, Minnesota's wolf population was estimated at 2,921. After the conclusion of the first wolf hunting season in 2013 wolf population estimates fell to 2,211. Compare this more than 700 wolf decrease with the 413 wolves harvested during the past season, and questions begin to arise: Are people illegally poaching wolves at such high rates? Or has the wolf hunt destabilized packs by eliminating important pack members?
Reyna Crow of the Northwoods Wolf Alliance will now talk about how these wolf hunts not only destabilize packs, but increase risk to humans as well as livestock.
Reyna Crow: Wolves are not herd animals. They’re pack animals, and wolves teach people a great deal in their family structure. Tthe older wolves, the alpha wolves, teach the younger wolves how to hunt and how to be part of a pack. So when we kill off the older pack members, we have pups that are that much more likely out of desperation to encroach on human economic activity and be considered a problem. So it seems that it’s irrational policy if your concern is really wolf depredation or wolves coming too close to people, you don’t destabilize the packs. That’s going to make things worse.
Colin Neary: As mentioned previously, Minnesota’s Wolf Recovery Plan initially disallowed general public taking of wolves for 5 years following federal delisting from the Endangered Species Act. However, the Minnesota State Legislature removed that safeguard in July 2011, several months before the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service stripped Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota wolves from the Endangered Species List. Wolves were delisted on December 21, 2011, and days after the state of Minnesota legislated a wolf hunting, trapping, and snaring season, pushed by powerful hunting and ranching interests including the Minnesota Deer Hunter’s Association and Minnesota State Cattleman’s Association.
Minnesota State Senator Bill Ingebrigsten said during a debate on wolf hunt legislation: “The depredation problem with the high number of wolves in the state of Minnesota is a big issue. People understand that. The whitetail hunting enthusiasts, 500,000 strong, want it.”
Minnesota State Cattleman’s Association Executive Director Joe Martin has gone so far as to imply the total elimination of Wolves in Minnesota, when he said, “A hunting season on wolves isn’t going to address the wolf conflicts that we have experienced and we will experience. That’s why we still need to continue the services of professional trappers to remove wolves.”
Now we hear once again form Reyna Crow of the Northwoods Wolf Alliance, discussing the conflict of interest between the Minnesota Deer Hunter’s Association, Minnesota State Cattleman’s Association, and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, resulting in the abandonment of the Wolf Recovery Plan agreed upon by Anishinaabeg tribal nations in Minnesota:
Reyna Crow: Within about three weeks I believe from the time it became official they would be delisted on a certain date, a proposal was first talked about for the wolf hunt. So it seems pretty clear that industry people, ag people, and sport hunting lobbies have been working with the Department of Natural Resources for quite some time or they just couldn’t have rolled out this plan quite so quickly. The first fall after delisting became effective there was a sport hunt. We have a second sport hunt that is scheduled to take place November 9th in Northern Minnesota. The wolf hunt, as you know, has started in Wisconsin already and Michigan, I believe that’s going to go to a state referendum, but it’s extremely upsetting.
There’s no scientific, biological reason to have a hunt. And basically there was a good plan that the Department of Natural Resources worked out with a round-table. The management plan that they worked out included people that were tribal representatives as well as wolf advocates and the sport hunting organizations as well as agriculture were heavily represented. Yet as soon as Ma’iingan was delisted at the federal level they chucked it. The Department of Natrual Resources has said that the ag people or the livestock producers as they call them and the sport hunters are their constituency. So it’s a real shame. We’re hoping that we can still stop it. I don’t know what the chances are of stopping it this year, but we’re certainly going to continue to fight.
Neary: The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources claims that last year’s regulated wolf hunt was conservative. However, the estimated gray wolf population in Minnesota in 2008, the last year for which data was available, was 2,991 and has had dropped to 2,211 by 2013, a 25% decline. Rather than suspending the hunt until a reason for the significant population decrease could be identified, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has decided that the solution for the 2013-2014 wolf hunting season is to decrease the harvest target from 400 to 220 wolves and the number of wolf hunting permits issued from 6,000 to 3,300.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported on December 10, 2013 that so far this season 131 wolves have been harvested, which places the population estimate at less than 2,100. At the current rate of depopulation in Minnesota wolves may drop below the target population of 1,600 within the next two or three years, again qualifying them for placement on the Endangered Species Act.
Part of the reason wolves have been caught at such high rates in Minnesota over the past 2 seasons is due to some of the rules and regulations imposed by the Department of Natural Resources. For instance, the baiting of wolves using dead livestock and other animal carcasses is allowed to lure animals within range. Trapping and snaring have also taken many wolves in the past 2 seasons. Many Anishinaabeg consider the indiscriminate killing of wolves an assault on their traditional culture and spiritual ways.
We now return to Robert Shimek, who explains the thoughtful deliberation and ceremony Anishinaabeg go through before deciding on the traditional hunt of ma’iingan, the wolf, and how contemporary developments in wolf management have paralleled recent blows dealt to Indian Country by the federal government.
Robert Shimek: Ma’iingan has shown Anishinaabe how to take care of oneself, family, community, land, and nation. The wolf is a foundation component of many Ojibwe ceremonies, historically and contemporarily. There were times when Anishinaabeg did take wolves, usually only for very specific reasons. These occurrences typically revolved around the request by an individual. At these times a group of elders would discuss the request and, if granted, a small group of men were selected to go out and get the wolf. The killing of a wolf only occurred after much deliberation and ceremony.
Beyond these situations, for the Anishinaabe there is no good reason to allow the indiscriminate killing of wolves. This is perhaps one of the earliest forms of self-regulation by Indian people. The improved trends for Indians and wolves continued until January 2012 for wolves and tribes. This changed when the United States officially removed wolves from Endangered Species protection in the Great Lakes region. Within days of the federal delisting, the Minnesota and Wisconsin Legislatures introduced and passed legislation authorizing statewide wolf hunts. Shortly after that federal sequestration dramatically cut treaty funds for essential tribal housing, education, and healthcare services.
Long term impacts of both of these actions remain to be seen, but this much is known. 412 wolves were legally hunted or trapped in Minnesota’s first regulated wolf season. Despite a declaration from the White Earth Tribal Council creating a wolf sanctuary within the reservation boundaries, Minnesota wolf hunters, trappers, and snarers killed 12 wolves on the White Earth Indian Reservation. Key services to tribal members on Indian reservations have been dramatically cut. A recent Supreme Court ruling dealt the Indian Child Welfare Act a major blow. Global climate change continues unabated, altering the environment for both Indians and wolves.
The State of Minnesota continues to ignore the request from tribes to let the tribes manage wolves within their reservation boundaries. The wolf is my brother. Hopefully, this information helps clarify and provide new information for those working to better understand the cultural, spiritual, and historic relationship between Anishinaabeg and Ma’iingan.
Colin Neary: While 4,432 gray wolves were delisted from the Endangered Species Act in the Western Great Lakes region in 2011, another 1,674 gray wolves living in the Northern Rocky Mountains were delisted last year. Now the Obama administration is proposing to delist the gray wolf nationwide. Americans have until December 17 to tell the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service what they think about the proposed rule to lift federal protections for gray wolves in the continental United States. As of December 5 the wildlife agency had received 194,188 comments. A majority of the comments oppose delisting. Estimates put the gray wolf population at about two million throughout North America in the 1500s. When the animals were last counted in December 2012, there were an estimated 6,100 in the lower 48 states, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
This concludes our program for Honor the Earth. Special thanks to Reyna Crow and Bob Shimek. You can find more about Honor the Earth on Facebook, Twitter, or online at honorearth.org. You can find today’s program and past programs online at soundcloud.com/honortheearth. Thanks for listening.